Earlier this year, the New York Times featured a Room For Debate discussion on the topic, “The Casual Couture of the Average American.” The article series drew opinions from six debaters with thoughtful responses on the topic, from fashion bloggers to a fashion psychologist as well as the curatorial director of the nearby Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. Their opinions varied: some argued that casual attire fosters a more accessible workplace; others thought that casual dress might send others the wrong message about ourselves. Each debater lends an interesting perspective from his or her own professional background.
One argument that was particularly resonant with our approach here at Corporate Class Inc. was that of psychology professor Karen J. Pine. Pine notes that clothing choices are inevitably tied to a good first impression: according to Pine, “People take a nano-second to judge us on first meeting and clothes are a good shortcut.” Even if an individual is intelligent, organized, and competent, others may perceive him or her differently if their appearance suggests otherwise.
We agree that first impressions – of dress, body language, behaviour, and attitude – can greatly influence a professional relationship. No matter how valuable the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” can be, inevitably appearance will factor into the perception of one’s character, especially in the workplace. If an individual appears apathetic about his or her appearance by wearing jeans and flip-flops to the office, others may assume that he or she is apathetic about work or professional success as well.
As we’ve discussed in a previous blog, first impressions are not only about attire, but also about attitude and body language. Besides presenting yourself well with a tidy and professional appearance, the way you interact with others also has an important influence on how they perceive you. Smiling and eye contact suggests that you are listening and invested in the conversation. Good posture and an open stance show that you are confident yet welcoming. All of these tactics can help to start a professional relationship off on the right foot.
When it comes to casual attire in the workplace, however, there can be confusion about what is appropriate and what is not. As Jonathan Walford of the Fashion History Museum suggests in the Room for Debate discussion, the 1990s saw a rise of casual attire in the workplace and a transition from “casual Fridays into everyday business casual.” In order to clarify what is appropriate and what is not in your own work environment, we suggest establishing a business casual dress code policy at work. This way, if there are any questions about whether employees can wear open-toed shoes or the most appropriate length for a skirt, managers can refer directly to the policy instead of allowing discussions to get personal.
What do you think? Are workplaces and public spaces becoming too casual? How does your office handle the balance between professional and everyday attire?