A good first impression is key to starting a business relationship off on the right foot. But the first impression of your business, organization or firm often does not start with you, but rather with the receptionist or administrative assistant. In most cases, when clients or partners walk into an office, they are greeted by the employee at the front desk and have a chance to view and interpret the reception area even before you have a chance to make your own first impression. Since the receptionist is the first point of contact, it is very important that he or she presents the image and level of professionalism that you would like to represent your business as a whole. To ensure that everyone in your office is on the same page, plan so that all staff members understand the guidelines with regard to dress.
To start, define the dress code expectations to staff as soon as they are hired. What kind of attire and office culture is in place? Do you uphold a business standard code, or is business casual more suitable? Once the foundations are laid, provide further, more specific examples of what is appropriate and inappropriate to wear to work. This is especially important with regard to business casual, which has much broader definitions and can vary greatly between generations or workplaces. The guidelines below provide excellent starting points.
Business Standard Attire/ Formal Business Attire
- For Men: A business suit (or sport jacket and dress slacks with shirt), tie, dress shoes
- For Women: A business suit with skirt or pants, hosiery, conservative heels (closed toe and closed heeled pumps). The colour and cut of both suit and blouse should be modest and conservative, as well as any accessories
Unlike business standard attire, which has straightforward expectations, business casual has such a wide scope that it is sometimes unclear to staff what qualifies in the dress code. Because of this ambiguity, if your office abides by a business casual code, it might be a good idea to provide a list of what is and is not appropriate to ensure that all employees are on the same page.
Appropriate Business Casual Dress:
- Pants: Dress pants, khakis. Dark denim is also appropriate in certain office cultures, and works best in a business setting if paired with a blazer or a tailored shirt or blouse
- Shirts: Pressed button-up shirts, blouses with modest cut, polo shirts
- Skirts and Dresses: Both solid colour or patterned acceptable; skirt or dress is not too tight and cut is modest
- Jackets or Blazers
- Shoes: Flats, heels, loafers, boots, clean and conservative walking/athletic shoes, leather deck shoes
Inappropriate Business Casual Dress:
- Any overly casual clothing, including beachwear, athletic wear, clothing worn for socializing after work, flip flops, slippers
- Any shirts/t-shirts with text or images (especially those that may be offensive)
- Any immodest clothing, including skirts and dresses that are too short or tight, thin-strapped or halter tank tops, transparent tops, cropped tops, leggings as pants
Clearly defining a dress code will ensure that your whole office will represent the professionalism of your business. After all, first impressions do matter!
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