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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Too Dressed Up

Hi! I am the Director of Public Relations/Community Liaison for a non-profit counseling center in Wyoming. I am a young(in my 20's) professional female with a college degree and a passion for what I do. Recently I was pulled aside by my Executive Director and Clinical Director and given a lecture on my dress.

I dress in very professional business suits and dresses that are no shorter than knee length with business heels everyday, and I have worked hard and enjoy wearing designer clothes(Dior, Prada, etc). I was told that I needed to tone it down and think about wearing jeans, etc because I was dressing too professionally and that coworkers had complained that it made them uncomfortable. They then continued that donning designer shoes/bags/dresses makes my coworkers feel like I think that I am better than them. I was told that this is Wyoming and business is casual. Am I nuts or does this sound absurd to you? Thanks for your response
!

You're nuts. Heck at my office, people pay $5 to be able to have the priviledge of wearing jeans once a year in order to raise money for March of Dimes.

Sorry. If your co-workers and boss (especially the boss)are wearing jeans and you're wearing a Prada suit with heels, you are inappropriately dressed.

Not that I would recognize a Prada suit if it bit me (I'm way too old and fashion challenged, plus a little bit cheap), but there are times it is inappropriate. I don't know much about Wyoming's dress code (does a state have a dress code?), but I did grow up in a town where suits were known as "marry 'em or bury 'em" clothes. Someone in a suit was out of place in most settings outside a church.

Now, I'm not one to criticize your sense of style and as long as your armpits aren't showing I'm fine with whatever you are wearing. However, there are consequences to all of our actions. The consequence for dressing up is that you co-workers feel uncomfortable.

They may be irrational. You may be the only appropriately dressed person in the entire place. It doesn't matter. Perception is reality and their reality is that your outfits make them uncomfortable.

As a commmity liaison, you should understand the importance of being able to communicate with your community.

Now, you don't have to dress exactly like everyone else. That might be a little creepy, because it's not your style. Dress like you would dress for business casual.

If your suits are too important to you to give up, fine. But, there will be consequences to that choice. Since the leadership at you company doesn't approve, a consequence could be a lack of career growth. Take a hint from your bosses and follow their leads.

29 comments:

Heather said...

You could think of it as an experiment...

Can I be just as productive in jeans from Target?

I mean, *I* can, but I'm wondering about her. Some people's productivity is linked directly with how good they think they look, etc. It's just a thought...

Dataceptionist said...

I see what the questioner is saying here, my last company was large, it was easy and appropriate for me to wear a suit everyday, I didn't have to think about what to wear, I just wore a suit.
The company I work for now is very small, only 4 of us in a casual beachside suburb. I recognised immediately that my suits were completely inappropriate. Everyone thought I had a job interview all the time, so I wear jeans and thongs (flip flops for those of you above the equator).

I still get raised eyebrows if I wear a collared shirt. But you have to work into the environment you're in.
If you like Prada, maybe stick to some more of the dressed down items from their range. Or if you are trying to take presentation across the board up a notch, look at what everyone else is wearing, and improve it only slightly by say wearing heels with your jeans, or wearing a collared shirt when everyone else wears t-shirts.
:)

Chris Young said...

Couple of comments...

One... Armpits? What is wrong with armpits? Had to laugh about that comment Evil HR Lady!

Secondly... "Likeability" is directly tied to how well one will do in a career. A sure-fire way to reduce likeability is to be dramatically different from everyone else. I agree with your thought on her decision ERL... There will be consequences with that choice...

Noah Sanders said...

My office wears jeans and "appropriate business shirts" (which means no t-shirts I've found out). I've found I can dress in darker jeans, a dressier shirt with a jacket, and polished shoes. I feel good, I don't overpower everyone else because I'm not too far off what their wearing, and everyone is happy with it.

You have to bend a little to fit the company culture, try it, you may find out you like it.

Anonymous said...

What you wear almost certainly does not make a difference to the quality of your work, but I agree it can affect how others see you, so you need to blend in with your co-workers and clients (I suspect people seeking charity counselling feel bad enough about themselves as it is, they don't need your great looks making them feel worse). Did it occur to you that they might not like your taste in dress because they are jealous that they don't have your youth, figure or budget? Yes, this is their problem, but you are PR - do yourself some good PR and go along with it.

Keep the skirts for days when you need to impress people (interviewers), and try trouser-suits or some of the other suggestions above. If you must indulge your passion for designer clothes at work, why not try jeans and t-shirts (or underwear, as long as it can't be seen?) Or get a job in a city or a professional firm where the designer gear is compulsory. Then you too will be happy to pay $5 to wear jeans on fundraiser Friday.

PS have to agree with EHRL on the armpits thing. Singlet/vest tops shouldn't be seen at work.

Anonymous said...

I can understand you very well.

I have been working in the media industry for a couple of years now. And although I hate jeans, I wear them to adapt to those 'wanna be creatives' (quite often the case)!!! I even wear T-Shirts with a 'normal' jacket or something, so I really can't wear less than that to adjust to the office environment...BUT STILL people judge me because my wedding ring is a diamond band which has nothing to do with being rich or poor or making a statement. I am French and it is in the French culture that you are given the grandmother and mother's valuable rings. I am very attached to this jewellery and wear them. It is very personal and I do not see why I should have to justify wearing them. There are limits to everything.

And sorry, what about all those VIPs and Royals who are Patrons of charities and whenever they have their appearances they wear a made to measure suit or hat etc with their big diamond on their finger? Nobody says anything, right?

And what about the Community Relations/Charity Manager (CSR) in big Fortune 500 companies? They have to wear suits as well and are directly linked to underprivileged communitties.

So,it is not you who is crazy, but what about the people who go behind your back to see your boss for complaints. They should come and talk to you directly, if it is such a SOCIALLY aware environemnt.

Rachel - Employment File said...

I wonder if it isn't so much about what you wear as how you act about what you wear. If someone compliments you do you say "Oh thank you it's Dior."

Either way you need to suck it up and adjust to the culture. I had a friend who started an HR job in manufacturing wearing a tie and all of the employees laughed at him so he had to stop with the tie. Non-profits are tricky as well. I work for a non-profit with a very casual business casual approach. The PR director is the only one that wears suits because she has to represent the company. However she doesn't wear designer suits because that would alienate the employees, the clients, and the community (if our PR director can afford designer suits do we really need donations from the community?).

class factotum said...

Rachel - Your friend might have been laughed at not just for overdressing but also for wearing a tie in a factory. That's a safety issue.

Lilly said...

This is the questioner! Thank you everyone for your input! I appreciate all that you have said and it really put a new light on things! I probably should have mentioned that I just moved here from a large city and the culture has been a shock to how I was raised and my business school preening! lol I will definately try some of these things!

Ms Bart said...

Wow -- I could have written this letter 15 years ago. (Well, almost - I was too poor to afford labels.) I was a records librarian at the headquarters of a medical company and showed up four times a week in a suit and heels. Everyone else were in casual Docker style khakis and button downs. I had a 50 something peer tell me I dressed older than she did.

I switched jobs. Personally, I like dressing up a bit for work. (On the weekends, I'm very casual, though.)

Ask yourself if you like the job. Is there anything in the area that meets your skill sets and is dressed up a bit more?

And EHRL, I agree about armpits. I will wear sleeveless to the office, but I wish the designers would spent a bit more on fabric and give me short sleeves (and waistbands that fit at my waist, which is not where my derrierre splits.)

Just another HR lady... said...

We have two facilities, one Manufacturing, one is our Corporate Head Office and I have an office in both locations. When I'm in the Manufacturing facility I wear jeans. When I'm at Head Office, I wear a suit. Manufacturing staff wouldn't be comfortable with me if I was wearing a suit, and the Head Office folks would look down on me for wearing jeans. Dress for your environment, it's just that simple.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the writer responded, but I would have guessed she/he came from a city where business suits are the norm, which is NOT the case in Wyoming! Wyoming is a very laid back and friendly state. The appropriate dress code probably correlates to the cultural attitude--and in Wyoming, you're going to need to dress it down. There have been several great ideas mentioned.
I appreciate this question because I am new at a place where the dress code is "business casual" which I find to be one of the most slippery terms. Business casual in my metropolitan city office might be slightly more dressy than for a PR person in Wyoming. Odd, but that may be the case. Didn't you ask about the dress code before taking the position?

Ramona said...

When in Rome.....

My husband just started a job in a new department in his organization. He went from a "corporate" structure to an academic structure at an Ivy League institution. They told him repeatedly to "lose the tie" his first week of work. He wore it for a couple more days and they said, "no really, lose the tie."

Just do it. Express your individuality and your supreme fashion sense in another manner. Say, with super cool sunglasses.

class factotum said...

I feel your pain. I continued to wear suits and heels to work after my company went business casual because I just couldn't stomach wearing khakis (show me a woman whose ass doesn't look a mile wide in khakis) and polos.

HR Godess said...

I work at a manufacturing company that has an office attached. Our dress code for the office is professional. Most of the manufacturing employees don't feel comfortable walking through the office to get to me. My office is at the top of the back stairs so I have easy access and they don't have to parade through the office. I also am not afraid to dirty my clothes by pitching in when I'm on the floor. My clothes don't shock them because I don't freak out if they touch me and their hands are dirty. It's all about how you act in the clothes in my opinion. I like dressing nicely for work but I don't act like I'm better than the people who aren't dressed as nice. I think attitude is the key here.

Raymond said...

There's lots of offices with dress down days. One place I worked was all around business casual, so a couple of us started an unofficial dress up day for suits and ties. Everyone thought we were nuts, but eventually got the joke.

Rachel - Employment File said...

@class factotum - It wasn't a safety hazard. He was in HR (with me) and when walking through the plant we could only walk within certain approved of lines with safety glasses and closed toe shoes. If we walked into the actual production area the safety precautions were increased.

class factotum said...

Rachel -- Don't you love those shoes and safety glasses? So flattering, especially over my real glasses! I never thought I would own my own steel-toed boots. Who knew?

Arthi Madhusudhan said...

Wow! I can imagine the looks and comments you get from your co-workers if you weren't dressed according to the organizational culture. I work in a consulting firm and the rule is business formals when visiting clients, irrespective of their internal culture. And 8 out of 10 times, I'm over-dressed and look completely out of place. But I can't help it, my job demands it.

Would I do that if I were sitting on the other side of the table? No. I would rather tone my dressing than make others uncomfortable.

Lilly said...

This is the writer one last time! =) I really appreciate everyone's comments. I did want to specify too, because it seems that it is coming up quite often, my position never comes in contact with clients. Instead, the day to day people I meet with are city council, mayor, chief of pd, mental health funding legislatures, business owners, etc. I dont know if that matters at all in Wyoming. Oh,lol, and for the record I thoroughly enjoy dressing up, even if it is just a sun dress. (And I dont show my armpits!! lol) Thanks again all!

Lilly said...

This is the writer one last time! =) I really appreciate everyone's comments. I did want to specify too, because it seems that it is coming up quite often, my position never comes in contact with clients. Instead, the day to day people I meet with are city council, mayor, chief of pd, mental health funding legislatures, business owners, etc. I dont know if that matters at all in Wyoming. Oh,lol, and for the record I thoroughly enjoy dressing up, even if it is just a sun dress. (And I dont show my armpits!! lol) Thanks again all!

jaded hr rep said...

Funny, I've worked for conservative companies (read: financial services)and when I wore a suit every day, I never felt the need to mention they are Dior, Prada, etc. They're just suits. I sense a culture clash not just of suit vs casual (the Wyoming factor), but also designer/high-end vs. non-profit. Depending on how this feedback was given, I would treat this as "others don't feel they can connect or relate with you..". The writer needs to decide if having good working relationships with the team to be effective in the job is more important than her designer suits.

Anonymous said...

I knew lilly was a pretentious ass as soon as she referred to "donning" clothes.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I thought that exact same thing about "donning."

Wally Bock said...

My father was Pastor of a large church in midtown Manhattan. He was one of the first pastors to call on people at work. He found that some people wanted him to wear clericals. Others preferred that he show up in a business suit. There was no business casual back in the early 1960s.

His solution was to change clothes as needed. Some days he made several changes. When he retired the first time he said that a huge benefit was that he wouldn't have to change clothes during the day.

You can change clothes to see the city council people. But you don't have to tell that what label's inside your suits. If you've bought quality and the piece is properly tailored, they'll know you wear expensive suits without instruction from you.

Joe said...

Ultimately, the best rule of thumb to go by is” When is Rome, Do as the Romans do”. No matter what the situation, you do not want to stand out too much. I like to dress slightly nicer than my coworkers soo as to be considered well dressed and well put together. It also makes me feel good…. I think that when one goes too far against the cultural grain, it only works against you as your peers begin to feel as though they can not relate to you. If people are wearing jeans, Pick up some DIESELs and wear jeans too… That’s the idea….

Anonymous said...

Interesting scenario. Having worked in non-profit before though (and as a PR person myself), I will say this: you do not want to appear ostentatious - either in the materials you produce or in the way you project yourself. You may enjoy wearing Prada suits and saving up three paycheques (or equivalent) for it, but if I was a prospective donor and saw you wearing designer duds all the time, I'd question if my donor dollars were going to your high salary that would afford these designer clothes - esp. if everyone else in your organization is dress-casual.

I find it ironic that sometimes PR people are so good at advising and counseling others, but miss the obvious when it comes to their own image and reputation management. Anyways, just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

I don't think having and using a vocabulary makes you a pretentious ass.

desiette@yahoo.com said...

I work on a farm that employs 800 employees. I like dressing in fine expensive clothes. Don't let the nay sayers bother you. People can think what they like. But to move up in the career ladder you need to DRESS and act the part. My job (although not often) sometimes involves crawling under farm furniture that hasn't been dusted since the beginning of time, to get to the computer network underneath.
I just keep an old t shirt and a pair of rubber boots in my office, for when I get such calls, otherwise lam ALWAYS impeccably dressed, every strand of hair and makeup in place, perfectly accessorized. The people trying to get you to dress down probably feel threatened that someday you might end up being their boss.
The heck with them!
As long as you 're not wearing revealing clothing, its nobody 's business but your own, if you want to dress professional. Go girl!