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Idealog—in the ideas business

Just what constitutes appropriate work wear?

I’m quite fond of clothes – they keep you warm and cover the bits that some deem naughty and others find interesting, allowing us to maintain a little bit of mystery or dignity as we see fit.

penelope whitson work adviceFor many, there’s a minor difference between how we clothe our flesh for work and play, although what you don for work does of course depend entirely on where you ply your trade. My work wardrobe has gone from jeans and trainers through to pencil skirts and bank account-draining dry-clean only items. My dad’s wardrobe hasn’t changed at all – he’s still the epitome of farming style in denim shorts and John Bull boots. Dog optional.

However, for those who work in offices, with the rise of casual Friday and the tie-less working week, what to wear to work has become a lethal minefield with the potential for bits of flesh to explode out of clothes and into your line of sight at any moment.

Sure, we can argue that as long as we do our jobs, does it matter what we’re wearing? Y’all debated something similar in another blog on tattoos. However, if your job involves interacting with others, you do need to take their delicate sensibilities into consideration. As a paying customer would you want to discuss Gran’s cremation with a funeral home director who’s wearing stubbies and t-shirt reading ‘Generation Fuck You’?

A chum in HR recently had to tell a new and quite young employee that her outfits, while no doubt appropriate for some occasions, such as Friday night bar trawling in the Viaduct, were not appropriate for the office. While I am all for freedom of expression, if you are a receptionist for a corporate firm then maybe miniskirts and ankle boots aren’t quite what’s called for.

Sadly, being told what to wear can go too far in the other direction, as demonstrated by this article. Apparently, some Australian companies have gone so far as to hire style consultants to help Gen Yers who don’t dress to company standards –  although I don’t think wearing inappropriate clothing is the exclusive domain of Gen Y.

This does rather beg the question, ‘What is appropriate’? If, as the article states, women are told they need to wear skirts and make-up to look professional, aren’t they actually just being told they need to look ‘feminine’? What’s wrong with trousers? Does make-up really make you look more professional and if so, why aren’t more men wearing it in the office?

And keeping it equal – I think men get a bit screwed over in summer time. Their options include almost exactly what’s on offer in winter. Shoes, socks, trousers, shirt. No knee-length shorts for those hot and sultry days when women get to prance around with bare legs and skirts. Men must suffer the horror that is sweaty socks all year round.

Have you ever been asked to buck up your wardrobe? Or tone it down? Is what you wear to work closer to a three-piece suit or a bathing suit?

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When I started working I was told to a) keep an eye on the boss for an indication of the company dress code and b) if you weren't sure at a new job, start at the professional-corporate end of the spectrum and move back if necessary. Definitely one of those pieces of advice that has helped through the years.

At my current job, if I followed a), it would be suits to meetings, shorts and jandals all other times! But I think there are professions that need to be 'suited-up' more than others. Its a tricky line sometimes.

The only advice I ever got on what to wear at the office was during a management course.

The advice went like this: “As a manager, you should dress up slightly more than your direct reports.”

Fortunately, since I'm in IT, wearing pants of some kind usually addresses this issue.

Back in the day I got told off by HR for wearing a long skirt that was split too high up the thigh. It was part of a suit so looked smart but perhaps a little too risque for the office!

I think it is best to always interview and start a new job dressed up and you can soon dumb it down if need be. For me, these days I am what you would call smart casual at work but meeting clients I always wear a suit.

Being smart does tend to impress!

I got told off once for wearing my Glad Wrap dress to work.

No knee-length shorts for those hot and sultry days when women get to prance around with bare legs and skirts. Men must suffer the horror that is sweaty socks all year round.”

Yup an absolute burden this /peripheral-perve

Also I get tied of wearing a suit to work sometimes but I think it's a bear minimum for the kind of role I'm in and the kind of place I work for (Govt). It's just getting annoying that even after setting this prescedent early, I still get asked why I'm dressed up and what interview I'm going for. I'm still thinking of some polite quip response that goes over their head but makes me happy in that fact that I've called them a complete douchebag.

I also mean bare minimum although this mistake always makes me think of cute cuddly widdle bears which is never a bad thing.

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