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The well-dressed man walked in off the streets. He took a wrong turn and got lost, and so was looking for directions to a business that was, coincidentally, just behind our office building.
As I began to give him directions, one of my colleagues (let’s call her “Sarah”) darted out from nowhere. And that’s when the gentleman had a moment of whiplash! With the sudden snap of his neck in the opposite direction of Sarah, it was obvious there was something behind me that he was trying his best not to see.
I stopped speaking for a moment to find out what on earth could possibly have made him NOT want to look my way-and that’s when I saw Sarah’s mode of dress – or rather – lack of dress, which was abominable. For whatever reason, Sarah, who was an otherwise practical person, decided to dress in a sleek black pantsuit, complete with a vest…which would have been very classy had she worn an actual blouse. With her perky breasts peeking out of her vest, I stood speechless.
After confronting my supervisor on the matter, we determined it was time for an intervention of sorts. In all my years on the job, I never thought I’d have to tell a room full of women not to show their underwear (namely thongs), to keep their cleavage buttoned up, and to dissuade them from wearing open-toed shoes in our industrial building, to name a few items on the list.
I analyzed the group that I was to address and made a discovery: the ladies I had more trouble reaching were all influenced by MTV. Young, club-hopping, finger-popping, “just-graduated-college” types – so many had never had a “real” job before coming to our agency. They need guidance.
Which brings me to this point: in an ideal world, you would never have to tell adults to ‘pull up your pants, pull down your skirt, button your shirt (or blouse), cover your midriff, or any of a dozen practical wardrobe details that you might teach your four-year-old before he performs at a school recital.
But this world is far from ideal. And a lot of people on the job are not savvy enough to figure out the “proper” way to dress on their own. Of course, not all work environments require “proper” dress codes – but don’t think for a moment that it doesn’t reflect on you, one way or another.
I once had a businesswoman tell me that she turned down a contract with a large agency (that was extremely qualified) – simply because of the way they showed up to present. As she put it, “They can dress anyway they want back at their offices. But when you present to me and my people – when you want my business – you’d better dress as if you care.”
On another occasion, after a year of conducting business over the phone, an entrepreneur was scheduled to meet with the CEO (and thus me!) for the first time. Usually dressed in a simple blouse and slacks, on this particular occasion I dressed in a pantsuit with complementary accessories. “Jack” noticed immediately. In fact, he told the CEO, “This lady here is the whole package. She’s swell on the phones, she dresses beautifully, and her nails are beautiful and trimmed. The whole package.” (Nevermind that my pantsuit hadn’t seen the light of day in months, or that my nails were $5 press-ons, I had accomplished my purpose: I impressed the client, which gave a positive impression of our agency.)
So when you wonder if a dress code is necessary, you might want to look at it this way: As “Jack” would say, dressing is part of ‘the package’ – much like coffee or copy paper. It’s a part of doing business, and it just might make the difference between getting that much-needed contract and those mega-layoffs you’ve been trying to avoid.
And if you get complaints, just tell your people that you’re running a real business with real clients. Let them know, “this is NOT your MTV!”
write by Orborne