Why you shouldn’t dress to kill (your career)


When students start work immediately after finishing their exams in the spring, some find the transition from student life to working adult difficult. Although most students and new grads have the skills and potential to fulfill their job description, manydo not know how to dress appropriately for their jobs.

I recently spoke with Laura B., the divisional controller of a mid-size trucking company, to find out what she thinks of the wardrobes of young employees. Laura is a recent grad herself: she completed her honours Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) at Wilfrid Laurier in 2007 and is currently working towards her CMA Designation.

At Laura’s workplace, the dress code (business casual) is explained twice: first in the offer of employment and again in orientation on the employee’s first day. “Business casual is almost a continuum in many workplaces. Employees typically ask or observe to understand the degree of business casual,” she says.

How is the dress code at your office bent or broken?

I think younger employees typically haven’t transitioned their wardrobe from “university casual” to business attire and we see the classic, a little too tight, too short of skirts or too revealing for the workplace. Tube tops or revealing tank tops should be kept for outside of office hours. It fails to present a professional image for clients.

It’s important to have good slacks and dress shirts, not cargo pocket khakis. In more casual environments nice golf shirts and khakis are very acceptable for men, and equally dress pant capris and short-sleeve blouses for women are appropriate in the summertime. Flip flops should be saved for the beach. They simply are not appropriate in any office environment, it conveys the wrong image.

Why do you think newly-hired employees violate the policies?

It’s part of growing up: what’s acceptable in high school and university just doesn’t pass in any workplace. I believe young adults don’t want to date themselves or not express their personal style or believe fashionable business attire isn’t readily available. Business attire, if anything is quite stylish. It’s just a matter of finding a balance between style and appropriateness and finding stores that carry what you’re looking for.

What advice do you have for entry-level employees so they don’t commit any clothing faux pas? Also, what do you suggest the course of action should be if a faux pas has been committed?

It’s important to be stylish but, most of all, as young adults in the workplace, being conservative isn’t a bad thing. How you present yourself is just as important as how you perform in your role. The initial years of your career are extremely important and do set the stage for your progression within the organization and your overall performance. Being remembered for your work and attitude is rarely forgotten and far out-weighs wearing something inappropriate.

How do you think newly-hired students and grads can avoid this?

Starting a work wardrobe is expensive, I believe the key is starting with essentials and basics that you’ll get great wear out of and are conventional for the workplace.