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“Men in Black,” is an article in an early April 2004 Wall Street Journal publicaton that discussed how this time of year thousands of young men and women are making their first attempts at looking grown-up by dressing up to attend their proms. It also described the confusion shared by young and mature people alike in knowing what to wear to various parties and events. Attire, at any age, expresses a person’s lifestyle. For prom night, what you wear adds points to your high school “coolness” factor. In the working world, what you wear is an indication of your professionalism. Studies indicate successful people in virtually every business have developed a look and image that says success. Think of clothing as currency used to barter goodwill. Wardrobe conveys messages of status: authority, power, rank; personality: friendliness, dependability, adventurousness; class distinction: upper-, upper middle-, or lower middle-class; character and taste: trustworthiness and good judgment. An appropriate wardrobe is a strategy for image development equally as important as other business and personal plans. “Having a good public image makes friends, builds customer loyalty, attracts investors, motivates your staff, and helps you survive difficult economic times. A weak image is a liability that can cost you lost opportunities and can drive you out of business.”
A. For Women
Dressing isn't what it used to be. In years past, professionals were trapped in dull business attire, even while attending after-work events. But in today's more colorful corporate world you shouldn't feel trapped by a basic-black-and-pearls dress code. New options, fashion experts say, include colorful leather blazers, must-have bags and briefcases, and gorgeous scarves and accessories. When updating your spring wardrobe to incorporate stylish casual flair, make certain that your everyday professional look is polished, office-friendly (for your specific work environment) and on point. THE RULES: Corporate Attire There are two levels of business attire: Business professional (the most conservative corporate dress) and informal business professional (a more relaxed version of the business professional look). The business professional look includes a conservative suit in a solid or pinstriped pattern. Preferred colors are navy, dark brown, gray and black. White and pastel-colored blouses are acceptable. Pumps with a closed heel and toe accessorize your suit. The informal professional look incorporates more pizzazz and color--in jackets, sweaters and blouse styles--and even dresses and skirts in silky prints combined with tailored jackets and sweaters. When selecting your workday wardrobe, be aware that every company has its own work environment and often unwritten dress codes. To evaluate the dress code of your office, take a look at the movers and shakers around you. Look at those Sisters who are in the big offices, those who are making decisions in the boardrooms and presented as the "ideal face" of the company. What are they wearing? How are they dressed day in and day out? These are your fashion templates, the Sisters who have set the pace for what is deemed acceptable attire in your workplace. And more often than not, these power players know that a sophisticated professional look is important to success. THE RULES: Casual and Chic Casual attire has been called the most relaxed corporate dress code, and subsequently, the most abused and misunderstood dress code in the nation. A professional woman's goal is to blend the casual with the chic. Steer clear of your favorite sandals, disco boots, jungle prints, leather miniskirts, tattered blue jeans, and other items that may be in your current rotation of party clothes. Casual and chic business attire includes incorporating colorful sweaters and leather blazers, and your favorite accessories into your professional look. When done right, your casual chic wardrobe can take you from "Casual Friday" at the office to "First Fridays" social events.
STRICTLY BUSINESS: Dress Code For Executives (General) There is no casual chic look for those pounding the pavement at a job; strictly business professional is the best way to go. Your attire should send the message that you can fit into the work environment. Here are some tips for looking your best on that job interview: Suit: The most appropriate suit colors are black, navy and charcoal. Your buttoned-up blouse or shell should not be sheer; silk and cotton impress best. Employment experts say a skirt suit should be worn on a first interview, and can be exchanged with pants on the second or third interview. Your suit skirt should not be too short or form-fitting; that could send the wrong message to your employer. Shoes: Shoes with 1- to 2-inch heels are appropriate, and the should be polished and in good condition. Flesh-toned hosiery or hosiery that is compatible with your attire is ideal; stockings or tights in fishnet or wild designs are not appropriate in most office settings. Accessories: Jazz up your suit with a tasteful (and trendy) brooch or classic jewelry. But jewelry should be kept to a minimum. Body piercing (in nose, tongue, eyebrows) is generally unacceptable in a corporate environment. Hair: Your hairstyle should be neat and your hair color should be natural-looking and complementary to your complexion. Wild colors (blue, pink, platinum streaks, etc.) and hair glitter are a no-no. Nails: Short, well-manicured nails in one tone, including French manicures, are ideal. Long exotic and colorfully designed nails send the wrong message to a potential employer: that you are more concerned about pretty nails than you are about producing quality work.
B. For Men
If you don't want to be perceived as radical, you should always dress according to the type of work you do. Conservative careers warrant conservative dress. While this rule has taken a relaxed stance over the last few years, it's still very much in effect. Mostly, this is to put your clients at ease. Picture a banker: Would you trust him with your hard-earned money if he were wearing jeans and sandals? On the other hand, liberal professions call for a more laid-back wardrobe. Some of these people are actually suspiciously regarded when they dress too conventionally. For example, only studio executives are expected to wear suits to work in Hollywood. Filmmakers who do so are immediately believed to lack creativity. With the advent of the dot-com industry, casual dress was spurred forward. In a short time, the trend took over and conservative businesses encouraged their employees to be more lax in their attire. But with the Internet hemorrhage of late, it seems like the trend is now back to suits.
THE RULES: Know your environment Rest assured, you don't need to wear navy pinstripes all the time. When summer comes, you can wear lighter colors and still project power. If the area you live in is home to a tropical climate, you can still wear all the colors you want, just choose lighter fabrics. Just remember that short-sleeve dress shirts became extinct in the '60s and you should never be seen wearing one at work. THE RULES: Men can accessorize too! In addition to color coordination (yes, your tie should match your shirt), you should take great care in your tie selection process. Solid colors and striped ties are essential as they are stylish and still conservative. If you want to be more aggressive, pick out designer ties or funkier patterns. Remember that this is power dressing, not I-want-to-be-a-wallflower dressing. You're the man and you want everybody to know it. Think about business gods like Bernard Arnault and Larry Ellison and the impact their appearance makes. If you don't accessorize, you are not a serious power dresser. It would be like putting on a façade over a hollow shell. You need to play the part all the way. Cufflinks and tiepins are always noticed. They are accessories that don't necessarily fill an indispensable function but they certainly get spotted. Wear cologne that is rooted in tradition and doesn't scream for attention. THE RULES: Not neglect the shoes Again, you must be stylish through and through. While comfort should definitely be one of the deciding factors, aim for leather footwear. If possible, avoid rubber soles and opt for leather ones instead. Black, brown and oxblood (i.e. burgundy) are your color options. Always make sure they are properly shined, as dirty luxurious shoes are as useful as wearing Bermuda shorts to a board meeting. You can even take advantage of these shoe-shining moments to catch up on the office gossip. Shoe shining professionals are fountains of knowledge as they're constantly present during people's conversations. THE RULES: Quality It's a given that your clothes should look good but you shouldn't discard quality. It's easy to save a few dollars for something that looks good but that would never pass a quality insurance test. Spend a little more money to get garments that will not only last you a long time but will enhance your image. Tailor-made suits and shirts of high-quality fabrics don't just cost more; they'll make you feel different in all respects. You'll look better and feel a lot classier. Quality is worth it. THE RULES: Dressing Goals Before slipping into your clothes, take a moment to ask yourself what you want to achieve with this particular attire. Do you want to intimidate a colleague? Do you want to impress a superior? Or perhaps you want to put a client at ease? Whatever your objective, you must unquestionably think about it beforehand and establish a game plan to sort out all the details. You might even want to reconsider how your nails and facial hair are presented.
Not long ago, offices were places where legions of similarly dressed people arrived at the same time, sat in neat rows of desks and performed nearly identical tasks. At noon, everybody vacated the office, then returned in exactly one hour, refreshed and ready for an afternoon of highly predictable behavior. It was boring, but at least you knew what to expect and how to act. That was then, this is now: Casually dressed people come and go at different times. Many organizations have reduced office sizes and moved them closer together Some people share offices Some people have no assigned office – they find a workspace when they arrive each day Often there is a kitchen on-site where employees make their own meals anytime There are more snacks available – soda, coffee, candy, bagels etc. There are more meeting spaces mixed in with cubicles, creating “teamspace” There are more open, collaborative spaces for impromptu meetings More people are working part time, flex time, as temps or on contract Fewer people are trying to do more work as a result of downsizing and a tight labor market Although a relaxed work environment has many advantages for worker recruitment, retention and productivity, new work conditions can create confusion, frustration and stress when noise and other distractions are common. As casual workspaces and meeting spaces are mixed with more traditional offices, workers have a greater number of distractions to deal with, while at the same time common behavior rules become blurred. Which behaviors are OK in which spaces? Developing and communicating a set of shared expectations can create a more positive office atmosphere. Such “rules” reintroduce a sense of predictability, lower stress and allow people to focus more on the tasks at hand.
A. Appearances Count
With people working various schedules, it’s becomes difficult to simply track down the people you need to see at any given time. For example, if one person drives to the office to collaborate with others who are working at home that day, the effort is wasted. To save coordination time, it is helpful to set core hours or core days when each member of a work group will be onsite, or otherwise available. Regardless of how your organization decides to handle flexible work arrangements, there are several group behaviors that can smooth the way: Etiquette tips: Always use sign-out boards (electronic if possible). This allows coworkers to quickly and easily locate each other Have a predetermined method of notifying other group members if a person decides to work at home; how to notify, who to notify, when to notify, contact information If you find out that coworkers are inheriting your calls and crises when you work away from the main office, take on extra tasks that help them, or cut back voluntarily on time away until a fair way to manage this overflow can be worked out Coordinate set work times for your administrative support person to be available to the work group. For example, if the group routinely needs secretarial help preparing for early-morning meetings, flexibility for the secretary to show up later will cause frequent disappointments. Take the time to work this out before trouble starts. Dressing for success no longer means formality. But if you are meeting with customers or others who expect more formality, dress appropriately. If your organization has a dress code, find out what it is. If you have the option to set your own hours, don’t abuse the system or become unavailable. If this way of working does not get results or causes workgroup problems, everybody suffers and formality has a way of returning.
B. Let’s Meet
Meetings are frequently named as the biggest office time wasters. They don’t need to be. With people working different hours, meetings are more important than ever as a way to set project directions and get to know coworkers. Consistent meeting behavior helps make this time count. Etiquette tips: Be on time. Busy people don’t want to wait and will bail out if others don’t show up. If meetings routinely don’t start when scheduled, people will stop taking meeting notices seriously and nobody will show up Plan ahead when it’s your meeting. Check the space before the meeting starts to be sure needed equipment is there and working. Are markers, flip charts or other needed supplies in the space? Do you have enough copies of handouts? Start and end meetings as scheduled. People have other places to be and other things to do. If you don’t need a full hour, just schedule 30 minutes and end even sooner if you can. Get to the point. First announce the purpose and the desired outcome of the meeting. When you’ve reached your desired outcome, end the meeting. Turn off your phone during meetings. Your conversation about the taking the dog to the vet is not pertinent to the other people at the table. If something truly urgent does come up, leave the meeting and attend to it privately. If the meeting space is tucked into an area of cubicles, be aware that people are trying to concentrate. If the meeting cannot be conducted at conversational volume levels, move the meeting to a space where the noise will not disrupt others. If you rearrange a meeting space, put it back into usable order before leaving. Erase marker boards, take down charts and clear up all papers etc. If you borrow items from other meeting spaces, return them promptly.
C. Let’s Eat
In many offices, people often work through lunch and dinner; eating snacks, even elaborate desktop dinners at their workstation. Food is often catered in, and snack machines are everywhere. The result is an all-day cacophony of soda HISSES, microwave BEEPS, CRUNCHING, MUNCHING and the BANG-SCRAPE-BANG of silverware on dishes. Add a variety of strong food aromas, and you have a recipe for workgroup distraction. Etiquette tips: Don’t use china and silverware within 50 feet of anyone who’s trying to concentrate. If you want formal dining, go out. Use office areas outside of workstations for lunch. It’s better ergonomically to take a break, and routinely eating quickly is not healthy. If there is no café, break space or cafeteria, find a spot outside or by a window. Or take the opportunity to interact with others over lunch in a casual space. If you have to eat at your desk, choose “quiet” foods. Cut back on the crunchy stuff. Stirring ice tea with a vengeance is also hard on group peace. Also think twice about foods that have strong odors – remember that other people will have to live with those odors all afternoon. Get a grip. Coworkers may be trying to cut back on fat, salt and calories. If you are choosing food for a meeting, offer healthy options and/or agree as a group on whether the meeting needs to include food. Be respectful to the next group to use a teaming space. Always clean up unless you know there is a cleaning crew on the way.
D. Cube Life
58% of offices use some type of open plan layout. Commonly called cubicles, these workstations offer some privacy, but typically do not have doors or ceilings. Although open plan layouts increase collaboration, they also require basic consideration of others. Etiquette tips: Respect others’ privacy. Don’t borrow items from other peoples’ workstations or hover over their shoulder while they finish a phone call. Never open drawers or cabinets in other peoples’ stations without permission Never use a computer without permission. “PC” stands for “Personal Computer,” surprise visitors are rarely welcome. If you do have permission to use someone’s PC, remember that settings should not be changed without the owner’s knowledge. E-mail and files should be considered confidential and off limits. Your organization may have some rules about decorating. Check with your facilities person or coworkers to determine what the corporate culture accommodates. Even if there is no written policy, pictures or other items that could offend coworkers are never a good idea. Music should be played on headphones, not speakers—tastes in music vary too much for anyone to choose for a whole group. If you share a cubicle, remember to clean up after yourself each time you leave and store shared materials where the coworker will be able to find them. When using a shared printer, reload paper when it’s your turn and save huge print jobs for times when your work group will not be in a hurry for printed documents. Just because you have some visual privacy, don’t assume your annoying habits are a secret. Chewing ice and clipping nails are not ways to make friends in open plans. Respect your coworkers’ concentration. If you see someone deeply involved in typing, reading or thinking, come back later or send an email if possible. Using speakerphones keeps your hands free, but ties up both ears of every coworker in your immediate area. Not a good tradeoff—pick up the receiver, or get a headset. Group cultures vary. In some organizations it’s OK to carry on a discussion with someone ten-feet away. In others, that would cause distraction. Pay attention to the conduct in your office and if there’s a problem, talk it over with your work group.
7 Net don’ts: Email & more #1: Discretion is the greater part of replying We’re fairly certain that Bill Gates doesn't need to know if you’ll be attending the annual Microsoft picnic with one child or twelve. Not that he doesn't care, mind you; he just has other types of e-mail that may be more pressing. Shocking but true. So please, don't hit that Reply to All button. #2: Stop yelling at me USING ALL CAPITAL LETTERS IS NOT ONLY RUDE AND IRRITATING, IT'S ALSO HARD TO READ. Save your caps for special occasions, such as those times when you want your recipient to know you're shouting. #3: Save the stationery for snail mail We know it's important to you that everyone knows you're creative, arty, and colorful. Your cubicle fairly screams kitsch; how could we not know? But we're at work here, and Idon't want to have to hippity-hop through your "bunnies 'n love" stationery just to figure out what your message is. #4: This is not a chain letter Let's put this another way: when you're replying to an e-mail message and you want to include what the sender wrote, add your comments at the top of the mail, not the bottom. I know what I wrote — why would I want to reread it? #5: Don't be a cyber-coward If you've got something to say to someone that is: Highly personal Scary Sad Angry Tragic Vicious Shocking Any combination of the above… …please do it in person. #6: I love you but not your 500 KB image file As we see it, there are two main reason why you should refrain from sending really large files via e-mail: 1. It takes a long time to download a large file.. This is particularly true if you are on a dial-up connection. 2. E-mail servers have limited space. #7: Itchy trigger finger? Count to 10 before hitting the Send button