CASUAL DRESS CODES

Dear Mr. Molloy:

 

I am a corporate consultant who works on a  computer from 8 to 14 hours a day six and when necessary seven days a week. I manage seven corporate consultants but it’s not always the same seven. I love my job but the company has just been taken over by a  corporate giant and their management really doesn’t understand what we do or how we operate.  My base pay is $142,000 and last year I earned $32,000 in bonuses. In addition I often get what we refer to as goodies.  For example last month I had a client in San Francisco that I visited for three days. I was given a first class round trip ticket and the company didn’t care if I traded that ticket in to help pay for 3 coach tickets. I took my wife and my daughter with me to San Francisco and although my job ended on Friday the company paid for my hotel over the weekend and Monday night. We spent four days enjoying San Francisco.The company let me use two vacation days so I returned to work on Wednesday.

 

This new company gathered all the consultants together and announced things had to change.  The way the old company ran things was inefficient and unfair in fact that’s why they had to  sell their company.  Everyone sitting there knew that the owners made a  fortune and while they were by contract forbidden to open a competing company for a year we know one day after that they intend to start a new  consulting firm using the same type of people they use today and rewarding them as they rewarded us. The new firm said that bonuses were out and they had many corporate consultants working for them and those incentives were never used and their consultants were very effective.

 

Right after the meeting I was called in to speak to the executive of the new company and they said they were doing me a favor that I would be able to keep my base salary but I would be put in charge of handling their consultants in India,  who do 80% of their work. My job when dealing with Indian computer people was to watch them very carefully because they weren’t that good and I  had to check their work.  I didn’t say anything but I intend to start looking  for a new position tomorrow and I’m sure most  consultants in my position are  going to do the same.  I have two master’s degrees and I’m sure I will not find it difficult to find a new position. Over the years half-a-dozen client companies have tried to steal me away, as my boss said on many occasions, so that’s not my problem. Although I put on a suit, shirt and tie when I’m visiting a  client most of the time I dress very casually  as do most in my field.

I’ve already contacted two companies and set up interviews for next  month and because I read your blog I asked them how I should dress for the interview. They gave the same answer, they said they had a business casual dress code. When I went to buy business casual they  wanted to sell me everything from sausage suits to jeans. That’s a term I read in this  blog six months ago.  Most men  look as if they have just gained 20 pounds and  their suit no longer fits.  I understand that if I fit in I’m  likely to receive a good offer but I also understand that I must look professional. My problem is both companies said business casual was what was expected of men at my level.  When I read about business casual  I discovered there was a variety of definitions.  Since I remember you discussing business casual, I would appreciate if you could  tell me  how to dress for an interview with a company whose dress code is business casual.

 

                                                                                    Name and Address Withheld

Dear Sir:

 

When I coined the term business casual about 40 years ago I was talking about the dress codes in high tech industries mainly in California. The reason I became involved in the subject was many of my clients found that some of their employees were not dressing casually but sloppily. While dressing casually does not make one more creative many creative people had been convinced that dressing casually created an environment in which creativity was more likely and as a result it was much easier to get them to work for a company that has a casual environment.  To attract  creative people many hi-tech companies In which creativity was essential to success,  adopted casual dress codes.

 

At the time, I suggested that the managers who worked with the very casually dressed employees dress better than their subordinates. It has been well-established that  when people in authority are easily identified large organizations run more smoothly.  This lesson was learned by the Chinese when officers were ordered to wear the same outfits as the enlisted men, that created real problems not only for the officers but the enlisted men. If a sergeant told a general to go to hell, even though he didn’t know he was a general, he was in trouble.  So even though they wore the same outfits officers put pens in their pockets and  everyone could tell their rank by the number of pens. To solve this problem for companies I suggested that those in charge of technical people dress slightly better than the people who work for them.  In companies where everybody wore jeans Including many of the executives, our research found that if a  manager wore a nice pair of pressed jeans with a conservative belt and loafers with a blue shirt and a solid tie he would not be looked upon as an outsider and at the same time command the respect of his subordinates.

 

Today all that has changed, business casual has become far more traditional and conservative but not everywhere. There are some workplaces where people still wear ripped jeans although in most  casual dress means wearing a decent pair of slacks and a golf shirt or a business shirt. My original advice to managers to keep a sports jacket, a shirt and a tie at the office Is found in most casual dress codes. While there are dress codes for almost all casual environments, as I suggested to my clients years ago, they are not written they are unofficial but understood by everyone. Written dress codes invite lawsuits. If you have to visit a company where you don’t know what the casual dress code is wear a nice pair of beige, blue or gray slacks, a blue shirt,  a solid tie, polished dressy loafers with a traditional sports jacket.   If when you arrive you decide you’re too formally dressed, take off your jacket and loosen or take off your tie. If you  take off your  jacket before the meeting starts, you’ll fit right in. However, my original advice to ask about the dress code still goes, only today you have to ask for details  because casual dress codes vary.  Ask specifically what the people you’re going to be dealing with will be wearing and take your cue from them.

Good luck!

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