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CONTEMPORARY COURTESIES

Etiquette column: Clothes can say lot about business

Well-defined dress code is beneficial.

Friday, September 14, 2012 - 12:01 am

Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at news-sentinel.com.

Q. Karen, I am so surprised at how casual people dress for work these days. On our casual Fridays, they dress even worse than the other days of the week. Do you think there will ever be a return to traditional business dress?

A. While it is important to stay in step with the times, there is evidence that some companies are returning to a more traditional dress code for employees. Some of the reasoning for that has to do with how casual people became in their dress, and that it was creating a negative impression of the company. How employees look plays a big part in how an organization is perceived by the public.

Traditional business dress guidelines seem to be easier for employees to follow. There is little room for ambiguity, whereas the business casual dress code leaves a lot of room for interpretation and can have some pretty serious consequences. Also, the casual dress has a much greater negative impact on women than it does on men — not fair, but true. How we dress is a language all its own. And how we dress has a huge impact on how people respond to us. The better we are dressed, the better the response.

Every company should have a well-defined dress code. The dress code should be specific on what people can wear and what they cannot wear. And the nature of the business should be reflected in how its employees dress. Have you ever seen a funeral director in cargo pants, a beach print shirt and flip-flops? No, because they are dealing with people at very serious times in their lives. I think the same should hold true for the financial and legal arenas.

So if you are going corporate in your dress here are some guidelines:

•A suit is a matching jacket and pant or skirt made of the same fabric.

•Skirt lengths should never be shorter than 1 to 2 inches above the knee.

•Dress in the morning for every place the day will take you.

•Purchase better clothing and less of it. Traditional styles stand the test of time.

•Be age-appropriate.

•Carry quality accessories and polish your shoes.

•Closed-toe and/or sling-back pumps are the most professional styles for women with 1- to 2-inch heels.

•Keep jewelry simple. Avoid noisy bracelets, large rings and long dangling earrings.

•Shirts should be ironed.

•Keep all clothing well-pressed.

•Always have a jacket handy.

•Choose fabrics that have a little stretch and wool in them. They won't wrinkle as easily.

If you are ever in doubt about what to wear, dress up instead of down. It will serve you better. And if you ever have to apologize for what you have on, it's wrong!

So, get out the employee manuals and take a look at your dress code and see where it needs tweaking. It may be time to take your company up a few notches in the dress department. I guarantee you, people will notice.

Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email clarson@news-sentinel.com, and we’ll forward it to her.