In most office settings, plunging necklines, ultra-short skirts, stiletto heels and nose piercings are not appropriate attire.
But many job candidates and even employees still don’t get it, said Lizandra Vega, an image consultant and author of The Image of Success: Make a Great Impression and Land the Job You Want (AMA, $16.95).
“If you don’t have good sense in terms of how to dress on the job, then the perception is you won’t have good sense in terms of other decisions related to the job,” Vega said. “How you dress on the job is just as important as your performance because you represent the company’s brand when you’re at work, whether you deal with peers or clients.”
Debate over appropriate office dress was revived last month with the firing of Debrahlee Lorenzana from Citibank for dressing in a way that was deemed “too sexy.” She made headlines with claims her former bosses at Citibank banned her from wearing sexy outfits or heels considered “too distracting” for male co-workers.
Though there are no federal dress-code laws, companies can mandate dress codes as long as they are not found to be discriminatory. Lorenzana, who often wore turtlenecks, pencil skirts and high heels, has filed a sexual-discrimination complaint against the company.
A veteran job recruiter, Vega said she has seen job candidates not get hired for many dress-code infractions from too-long fingernails to exposed tattoos. She even recalled one job candidate who wore a shirt unbuttoned to reveal cleavage that looked like “panting puppies.”
“I don’t think it was intentional,” Vega said. “Many times, it’s not that women are looking to be sexy. They don’t realize their intimate apparel is not holding everything in. When you buy a new career wardrobe, that’s the time to get a bra fitting and buy new undergarments. It’s about a complete, polished look.”
Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School in San Antonio, said conservative styles often are the best option.
“Whether you’re in Oklahoma or New York, you have to dress accordingly for work,” Gottsman said. “You have to use good judgment. If what you wear in the workplace makes people uncomfortable, it’s usually inappropriate.”
Gottsman travels the country speaking to companies and universities about dress and etiquette issues. She agrees that the more provocative the outfit, the more negative attention it generates.
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