Printer Friendly

Here come the suits: raising the style standard in the office. (Inbox).

When paralegal Whitney L. Culbreath learned her law firm was planning to reverse its business-casual dress code and adopt a formal one, she thought, "Thank God. Now I don't have to guess what I should and shouldn't wear to work." The 28-year-old typically dresses in pants, button-down shirts, and sweaters for work, but says that many of her colleagues wrestle with their firm's current dress-down policy. Although the policy lists no-no's such as halter tops and stiletto heels, it doesn't spell out what is allowable. "You have to figure it out on your own," Culbreath says.

Many companies are working to eliminate such confusion since business attire is taking a turn toward the serious. Professionals who have become accustomed to dressing down in khakis, jeans, and golf shirts over the past few years could soon find themselves suiting up again.

A January 2002 survey commissioned by the Men's Apparel Alliance (MAA), a national, nonprofit industry trade group in New York City, shows that 19% of over 200 companies with more than $500 million in annual revenues are returning to formal business attire. Respondents also believed that productivity would increase as much as 40%. Last year, several firms reversed their business-casual dress policies, including Bear Stearns, Deutsche Bank, and Lehman Brothers. According to a 2002 survey by Jackson Lewis, a law firm focusing on workplace issues, 67% of companies had a casual dress code at least one day a week, down from 75% the previous year.

Many companies adopted casual dress policies during the heady 1990s. As a result, bankers courting business from twentysomething dotcom millionaires dressed to relate to their clients. But some companies are now concerned that casual clothing conveys a negative impression, particularly during a tough economy. Others find that relaxed clothing can result in less-than-professional activity. In another survey, Jackson Lewis noted that 44% of companies that adopted casual dress policies had an increase in tardiness and absenteeism, and 30% saw a rise in flirtatious behavior.

"Tough times require better performance [from employees], and that includes dress," says James Ammeen, president of the MAA. "Credibility in business is a tremendous issue. When you are dressed appropriately, people listen to what you have to say."

Once a company decides on a dress Code appropriate for its industry, experts say, executives should spell out the dos, not just the don'ts. Vince Rua, president and chairman of Christopher's Men's Stores, a men's clothing retailer with four New York locations including Albany, Poughkeepsie, and Syracuse, concurs. Otherwise, "you give [people] the opportunity to slip to the lowest common denominator if you only tell them what not to wear," he notes.

Reversing its business-casual policy last year, Lehman detailed its requirements in a memo to employees. "Business dress for men is a suit and tie, and for women, a suit with either a skirt or slacks, a dress, or other equivalent attire," it read.

For many professionals, a dressier code means updating their wardrobes. Some companies work with retailers to refine their dress codes and help their employees make the transition. New York City-based business `clothier Brooks Bros. holds seminars and fashion shows for firms with employees who are confused about new dress guidelines. In addition, about 200 companies take part in the retailer's Corporate Imaging Program, which provides a 20% shopping discount.

For employees going from a casual dress code to a formal one or looking for work in the current environment, here are a few tips:

* Build on what you own. "Look in your closet and see what you have," says Geri Corrigan, director of public relations at Brooks Bros. For men, "It's easy to update your wardrobe with shirts and ties," and "women can update with sweaters and scarves."

* Stick with the basics. Corrigan recommends investing in 100% wool suits in neutral colors such as navy, gray, or black, which can take you through three seasons. Also, pay attention to fit. "Classic, but current" is the goal, she says.

* Get help. If you're unsure of what to wear, ask a knowledgeable salesperson or someone whose style you admire.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Egodigwe, Laura
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Previous Article:Keep in contact. (Cyberwise).
Next Article:It's not just the suit ... : it's how you wear it. (Executive Style).

Related Articles
The CEO style.
Ratliff Likes the Kitchen, But Not The Heat.
E-mail: managing the inbox.
E-mail security. (Technology Tools).
Adding polish to your style: fashion critic offers tips. (Inbox).
Dressing the man: Bernard 0yama's fashion story.
Reminder: monitor your spam inbox.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters