cracking the office dress code.

  • career advice
  • November 16, 2017

Few things change as reliably as fashion — hemlines rise and fall, neckties contract and expand, and cargo pants are never a good decision. Dress codes at most workplaces are rapidly changing, too. Even the U.S. House of Representatives is modernizing its policy, and traditionally buttoned-up firms like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan recently relaxed their dress codes.

These changes create particular challenges for office and administrative employees, since expectations can vary significantly depending on the industry and company. The right look for an administrative assistant in retail is different than it is at a law firm. Fortunately, no matter your industry, Randstad has you covered. We’ve cracked the dress code for office and administrative employees so you can have the right shoes on while putting your best foot forward — when you’re being interviewed and after you’ve been hired.

interviewing: do your due diligence.

First impressions are critical. But dressing perfectly for an interview presents a kind of chicken-or-the-egg problem: on the one hand, you won’t get the employee handbook — which includes the dress code — until you’re hired; on the other, you’re unlikely to be hired if you don’t have a good read on the dress code in the first place.

This means you’ll need to do some due diligence. If you’re interviewing for a position with a mid-sized to large company, reviews on job sites like Kununu frequently reference company dress codes.

You can also take a more direct approach. If you’ve been in contact with someone from the company to schedule your interview, it’s perfectly acceptable to inquire what office expectations are around dress.

your first day.

You want to fall in line with your colleagues on your first day. The key is going to be identifying which of three buckets your office’s dress code falls under: business, business casual or casual.

business.

Business — the most formal of dress codes — is often observed at law offices, financial services companies and consulting firms. Some basic expectations include:

  • Men: professional suit, tie, business shirt, sports jackets with ties, leather dress shoes and leather accessories like briefcases, portfolios and notebooks. 
  • Women: skirt suits or pant suits with formal business blouses or tops, stockings, closed-toe and heeled leather shoes, and business accessories like briefcases, portfolios and notebooks.

business casual.

Business casual, increasingly the norm at many offices, encompasses a wide range of different styles for men and women, and that can cause some anxiety and uncertainty for employees. Basics include:

  • Men: khakis, dress or wool pants, button-down shirts or polo shirts with collars, sweaters, vests, occasionally an informal jacket and tie and leather shoes and accessories. 
  • Women: smart pants or skirts, blouses, tops, sweaters, vests, occasionally an informal jacket and leather shoes and accessories.

casual.

Startups and smaller companies often have a very casual dress code — if they have a dress code at all. This means your judgement is critical. The basics include:

  • Men: khakis and jeans, shirts with collars or not, sweaters, vests, sweatshirts and casual shoes, including sandals and sneakers. 
  • Women: casual pants, skirts and jeans, blouses, tops, sweaters, vests, sweatshirts and casual shoes, including sandals and sneakers.

style strategy.

You’ve probably heard the maxim, “Dress for the role you want, not the role you have.” While you probably shouldn’t dress exactly like your boss, there’s good reason to believe that being slightly overdressed for work pays dividends. Indeed, research in this field has produced some startling findings — for instance, that simply being dressed in formal attire makes it easier to engage in big picture, executive-type thinking than when you are dressed informally.

Above all, try to be consistent with your wardrobe, as that contributes to a perception of stability and trustworthiness. And remember that expectations can change on a day-to-day basis — client visits, for instance, likely require a greater degree of formality.

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