For those businesses such as marketing, fashion, sales, education, real estate, and a multitude of others, jackets are optional. Having jackets optional for many companies signaled business casual in the past; however, for many this form of workplace attire communicates an approachable professionalism and does not put off customers. Further, if you are in sales, one day may take you to someone’s office inside a building where a jacket is preferable while the next day is outside at a construction site. Often you want to appear professional but also appropriate for where you’re at.
You may be required to wear a tie but a jacket is your choice. Sometimes you may choose to wear a jacket but not a tie if you desire but it’s not required. If you live in Phoenix in the summer, jackets are definitely not worn even in retail. It’s too darn hot! Here we have the opportunity to relax our look with greater leeway when it comes to introducing fashion and our own personal style into our professional appearance. Further, nontraditional fabrics such as denim, knits, with interesting textures can be considered. However, let me caution you, satins, brocade, shiny metallics, and sheer fabrics are a no go for work. You might consider leather or suede for your jackets but stay away from the leather pants unless you’re in the fashion business.
For Men: Although jackets are optional great consideration must be made in your pants, shirts and accessories such as belts, shoes and socks. Depending on the type of business you may even consider a tailored denim blazer if you want to wear one. Blazers either structured or unstructured, worn with shirts and trousers, provides an approachable yet professional appearance. In this category, V-neck and/crew neck sweaters and cardigans are another option to create versatility in your wardrobe and provide warmth during the winter. Vests give men another option outside of a jacket. If you choose to wear a jacket single or double breasted blazers are great choices and are considered suit separates or sportswear when trying to find them in a store.
Regarding tops, shirts either short or long sleeved, turtlenecks, polos, or pullover sweaters are options. When it comes to sleeves for dress shirts, consider long sleeved varieties. Even when it’s hot, it looks cooler to roll up the cuff a couple of times rather than wearing a short sleeved shirt. For button-down sport shirts that are tailored, short is fine. However, when it comes to whether you should wear your shirt tucked in or out, tucked in with a belt is best. Even though the look is not as traditional as when a jacket is required, your professional appearance is a must.
When it comes to pants, dress pants, either plain front or pleated in fabrics such as cotton twill, or wool blended slacks with or without a cuff are great choices. Your pants should be in tip top shape without holes or frayed on the edges. Regarding the color and design of the belt go towards a conservative belt buckle and the shoes and belts should match in color. Shoes might include loafer styles with flaps and tassels. If you desire comfort, there are many companies that offer softer soles and leather uppers that enhance comfort for everyday wear. Avoid the athletic shoes and sandals.
For Women: Options, options, options but still professional appearance counts. Again, like men you can choose to wear a jacket or not; however, there are lots of possibilities. For example, consider tunic tops with pants and a short jacket for interest. Fashion becomes a player in this category particularly if you are in the creative fields such as interior and fashion design, architecture and theater arts. If you want to go sleeveless; however, do wear a jacket or perhaps a knit cardigan. Skirts in a variety of lengths yet a minimum of three inches above the knee and a maximum mid-calf are choices to consider. Pants also have a multitude of lengths available from city shorts that are about three inches above the knee to cropped, ankle and regular lengths work well. Try fitted shirts worn alone with pants or a skirt.
Dresses such as a sheath or shift with princess seams worn with a belted cardigan work well for this category. Consider two-piece dressing that can mix and match with pieces already in your wardrobe, or sweater sets, pull over sweaters, bulky turtlenecks as options for colder months.
Fabrics might include traditional ones as mentioned above or those with interesting designs and textures. Stay away from metallic, brocade, translucent and sheer type fabrics. Although this category allows a lot of freedom of expression, your appearance must remain professional. Denim trousers and jackets that are tailored are an option but DO NOT wear jeans (there is a difference!). Accessories such as scarves, hosiery and jewelry play an even more important role in personalizing your style. Shoes such as pumps, tailored boots, open-toed shoes (not sandals), slip-ons and loafers are options for this category.
The work place has become a kinder, gentler place regarding what to wear; however, that does not mean that dress is not important. Your level of professionalism, expertise, and likelihood to succeed is communicated first and foremost in your appearance with a large part being made up by what you wear. The fact that “suits” are not required for a lot of businesses does not equate with tattered jeans and a T-shirt. What we saw in the movie, “The Social Network,” is not business as usual, rather, work apparel is different than clothing for socializing with your friends.
So given the more relaxed atmosphere of work and the options available to us here is a new approach that will help guide you on what exactly should constitute your wardrobe for work. As opposed to the past with only one way to look, today’s formula presents a continuum of possibilities based on the culture of the business, where you are based and your profession/occupation. Not every job requires a suit. Further, where the business is located may not mandate one. Wearing a suit in my town is not very common; people are just more casual here. Further, perhaps your company’s culture is more relaxed rather than traditional, so a suit may not be necessary.
However, the suit is NOT dead and is appropriate in select situations. But in many instances just wearing a jacket will elicit the same professionalism as a suit and not be deemed too formal. Now realize that when it comes to an interview, most times a suit and tie is the best option; however, as an individual established in your career or in high tech organizations, there are avenues for dressing that are considered appropriate for work that don’t mandate a suit.
I have broken down this continuum of work apparel into three distinct categories and will describe each and how they function: they are 1) Suits required; 2) Jackets optional; and 3) Jeans permitted. You say JEANS?! Yes, in many businesses jeans are ok. Further, given that denim has come a long way regarding fabrication, denim trousers are very much ok when jackets are optional. As a dress continuum it varies from very traditional to very relaxed contemporary business attire, but no matter your profession or job when you dress for work it is a decision each morning that requires some thought as to the appropriate look for the work you’re in. In Part 1 we’ll look at the choices available when suits are required, whereas, Part 2 will provide choices when Jackets are Optional and the last part will talk about options when jeans are permitted at work.
This category is the most formal of the three categories along the continuum. In your job a suit is required at the workplace and, in many cases, for men a tie may be required as well. Some professions such as law, banking and finance would more than likely require a suit as well as a corporate culture that is more traditional and formal. Moreover where you live has an impact so living in a major metropolitan city such as New York or London would be inclined to wearing suits.
A suit communicates a formal and professional appearance and completes an outfit. When suits are required there are other options that are just as appropriate such as a jacket, blazers and sport coats. For women there are blazers, as well as, short and long jackets that can be worn with a skirt, pants or over a dress. Moreover, depending on the formality of the workplace, the variety of fabrications available for jackets includes wool, cotton, Tencel, raw silk, and linen. Wool is probably the best fabric for a blazer but camel hair and cashmere is just as good. Let’s talk about options for men and then women.
For Men: If the workplace requires a suit consider building your wardrobe around a single suit and then adding jackets and blazers that coordinate if getting started. For example, starting with a grey suit you can add a navy blazer and a camel sport coat. A navy blazer can be paired with jeans for your time, khaki, olive, camel, taupe or light gray slacks. Now you have access to a multitude of blazers to choose from to build your wardrobe without investing in suits all the time. There are blazers in raw silk, and linen besides the basic wool. Plus there are a wide variety of easy care fabrics such as Tencel and polyester blends that are also suitable.
The suit and tie is the ultimate in formal business attire and communicates instant expertise than an opened shirt that is considered very approachable and says, hey, I am like you. Further, a suit and tie often is expected by those in that industry as well as the clients they serve.
When it comes to this category, conservative is best. Focus on established fabrics and patterns such as tweed, herringbone, gabardines in solids and subtle patterns such as pin and chalk stripes. Glenn plaids rather than scotch plaids are better when the business mandates a jacket because it’s expected and established in business. You might even consider getting a black blazer either in a double or single breasted style since black is considered a neutral and therefore goes with a lot in your wardrobe.
Choose traditional silhouettes regarding suits, sport coats and blazers. For this category, being a fashionista is not the focus. Jackets in bulky fabrics, novelty colors and textures and with a lot of designs are not appropriate. You will want the jacket to land below your derriere and to fit correctly. Choose a blazer or coat that is lined with a traditional fit including set in sleeves and tailored-notched collar lapels. A single breasted jacket can have two to three buttons and the width of the lapels may vary depending on current fashion trends. Accessories for this category include kerchiefs in the breast pocket, leather belts and shoes with subtle pattern hosiery while jewelry is kept to a minimum.
For Women: Given that this category requires the most formal of business attire, women still have a lot of options. A suit is probably something that you will want several of; however, it is not the only option. Consider a dress, either with or without sleeves with a matching or contrasting jacket. And like men, a great addition to your wardrobe that helps build variety are blazers in black, navy, gray, taupe, camel or olive. You can team a navy blazer with jeans for your time or with a pair of slacks for work. Depending on fashion trends blazers fall below the waist and can land mid to below the derriere.
Traditional suit jackets and blazers, either with or without lapels, should be structured or lined to provide stability to the fabric and makes it easier to put on over dresses and shirts. Details might include single or double welt pockets, breast pockets, patch or slit pockets with or without a vent in the back. Regarding princess seams let them provide a pleasing shape to the overall silhouette yet you don’t want the jacket to be so fitted that you can’t really move comfortably. Tailored and polished is what you’re aiming for.
Another style of jacket for consideration is the box- and Channel- styles. With or without a lapel or collar and less tailored than a blazer, this style is great because it works for a multitude of body types. If you’re like me, a pear, the box style adds more “weight” to the upper torso and balances the shape. This style of jacket can be teamed with pants, skirts or dresses.
The types of fabrics to consider for jackets include gabardine, polyester blends, tweed, wool, Tencel, linen blend, cotton, raw silk and some of the newer synthetics. Consider solid colors or subtle patterns such as Glenn plaid, pin- or chalk-striped and herringbone so as to give yourself options for coordinating it with other pieces of your wardrobe. As with men, businesses that require a jacket are seeking the ultimate in formal business attire and so conservative is best when it comes to choices.
Accessories work to pull your look together and include scarves, belts and jewelry, such as lapel pins and earrings. Hosiery and shoes are essential details that warrant a conservative professional appeal and might include pumps and slip-ons. Stay away from flats, athletic shoes and sandals.
No matter what your business climate, whether formal or informal, a dress policy should be part of the company mode of operations. With uniforms the dress policy would likely address hygiene, jewelry, tattoos, body piercings, hosiery and shoes if not provided. Further, if implementing uniforms for your business will the conduct of the employee outside the business in the uniform be an issue? For example, would the employee be able to wear the uniform to and from work and would they be able to drink in public with the uniform on?
In writing your dress policies follow these simple steps:
- Identify your company needs and how the dress policy will achieve the desired results.
- Communicate what your company dress policy is and what that policy means.
- List acceptable attire for men and women in explicit detail. Break it down by categories such as pants/skirts, suits, shirts/blouses, shoes/hosiery/socks, accessories and grooming.
- List unacceptable attire and hygienic habits for men and women. Use the same categories to eliminate confusion.
- List how the policy will be enforced.
- Finally, provide a statement to the effect that management is available to employees to discuss, in private, individual concerns and that every effort will be made to accommodate special situations.
Company dress policies in the past have been a problem because they were not explicit enough. Being abstract gives employees too much latitude and brings about abuses of the policy resulting in a negative business environment. Hence, it is important for employers to decide what their company stands for and the desired business climate they want to achieve with employees and customers in development of a meaningful dress policy that all can benefit by.