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How can I improve professionalism in land of tank tops, flip-flops?

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Question: “Our administrative employees – fiscal, HR, data, support – are grouped together in a separate unit and we have contact with the public as well as potential employees. My question: I feel I’m the only person in an administrative role who projects any level of professionalism. Some people wear skin-tight denim capris, tank tops and flip-flops. Others apparently wear whatever happened to be lying on the chair beside their bed. How do you recommend – besides being an example (which hasn’t worked thus far) – improving the professional image of this unit?  (FYI, we don’t have a dress code.)” – Lisa



The first thing you need to do is to establish a company dress code policy, without it, the staff obviously takes advantage of not having one. I am surprised your HR department hasn't established one. They are definitely a department which needs to look professional.

Try drafting a Dress Code policy and ask for input. Our company clearly states dress code for all departments, especially during the warmer weather when capris, open-toed shoes, etc. are popular. We do not allow this type of dress for any of our staff and it really is no big deal. Your employees will adjust.

It's seems like you are the only one interested in portraying a professional-looking atmosphere, so you are fighting a losing battle - It sounds like the company is quite satisfied with their lax dress code. Although you disagree with the image they set, it doesn't seem feasible to fight this image regardless of who visits the company because it is a standard that was already set. Unless it comes from the top, it's an issue that won't be changed, and respectfully speaking, why should it change if only one person is dissatisfied with the absence of a dress code?

Our company policy has outlined a section in its handbook just for a dress code and it clearly states (so there is no confusion)that everyone should come to work in a neat and professional attire. It clearly states that no tennis shoes, shorts, etc., are to be worn at the office. Jeans will only be permitted when approved by a Manager during certain activities that may be held during the year. My point is to have a dress code policy implemented with your other company policies and be very clear on what attire is allowed and not allowed in your office environment.

I agree with Theresa. The first thing you need to do is establish a dress code policy. What we did at our company for the last couple years is had a Professional Image Campaign where during a two-hour lunch period, we had an employee fashion show where the employees modeled different outfits and held up signs that denoted appropriate business dress, inappropriate business dress, appropriate casual, inappropriate casual and why these fashions were appropriate or inappropriate. We received a lot of good feedback because people were aware of how some of the employees were dressing. As a followup to our fashion show, we also stressed the dress code and the dress code policy on our intranet. We even had signs around the company regarding the campaign. But most of all, get the dress code policy and you need to get the cooperation of the leaders within your company to police these policies.

Hi "Flip Flop" Office, the first thing I would do is get with your Office Manager or Manager to inquire as to whether a dress code is necessary. Has the company ever had a dress code for administrative staff? If not, you will probably be hard pressed to achieve the goal of implementing one now. I would, however, continue to be an example of professionalism for your professional growth. Good Luck!!

I think the best thing is to have a written dress code...and roll it out in a company ample time for people to "prepare". That's why dress codes started...because of your exact scenario. If you don't have a handbook or policies, post in the lunchroom after presenting it. Managers should then be responsible for managing what the policy states as well as being an example for all to see.

Speak to your superior about your concerns. If you have administrative support, let your peers know that a dress code policy will be developed and ask if any of them would like to help, thereby giving them the opportunity for input. If no one volunteers, then go for it, with your supervisor's blessing. Once the policy is developed, make sure to give another opportunity for everyone's input. Your Human Resources Department really needs to lead this effort; or at least support it. If your associates get upset and threaten to quit, let them. They are obviously not there for the best interests of the company. Then you can hire people who will dress appropriately for the business world, and the dress code will already be in place. Good luck!

I think it's time to develop and enforce a dress code. Put it in your employee handbook so that everyone has to adhere to it. Be as specific as possible (i.e. body piercings, wild colored hair, excessive jewelry, etc). If an employee chooses not to comply with the new dress code, then begin the disciplinary action protocol. Nothing looks worse than going into an office where the employees look like their on vacation. It is extremely unprofessional.

I'm going to have to side with Anita T. on this one. If you are the only one who is concerned, then maybe it isn't really a problem. Has management expressed concern? If so, then management and HR should address the issue. If not, relax and go out and get yourself some comfortable shoes.

Having a dress code would enable you to set boundries for the way people dress in your office. These boundries would give you solid backing in the case of a write up on an employee for wearing something that is inappropriate.

My office does not have a dress code. What we did was had a training day and brought in an image consultant that addressed the concerns we had in our office (very similar to yours). She gave us really good, concrete reasons why it is very important to dress for success and to wear professional clothing while in an office setting. She showed us how the majority of people are visually oriented and that the phrase "first impressions are the most important" means visual first impressions. It worked for the most part. We still have underdressed people (jeans/t-shirts/tennies), but we don't see midriffs, cleavage, or flipflops anymore.

How is management dressing? I would believe that should set the tone on how the administrative staff dresses. I think I would be more concern with admin staff wearing flip-flops especially if they have to file, lift boxes, etc., think safety and OSHA. Our office is casual unless there are meetings then we are required to dress in slacks,jackets, heels, dresses etc. Otherwise we wear bluejeans and one of the shirts our department bought with our logo on them to wear all other times.

I think the first thing is to talk to management to determine if they think a dress code policy should be developed. If management thinks a policy should be developed, it will be essential to make certain the policy is followed by all staff members.

Take a note from your boss and the executives of the company, as an admin you are a reflection of your boss. Boss wears a suit, you wear a suit. Boss wears khaki's and a button down (Business casual) then you can wear a skirt and blouse or khaki's and blouse.

I work in a very casual environment, we wear what we make! T's, tanks, shorts,and flipflops. For the Board Mtgs the boss wears a button down and denim and I wear a nice shirt with khaki's and heels.

We can always tell who the newbies in the office are because they usually dress up for the first month. Sooner or later they feel over dressed and start to wear our casual apparel.

We've found that this unique environment is still very professional, however everyone is more relaxed, less stressed and is more productive. We have Wall Street Analysts come to visit as well as Execs from other companies, everyone always comments on how fun of an environment this must be to work in.

I say embrace your culture!

In our professional environment a dress code is essential. We have a policy manual that addresses this issue. Even though most everyone in our firm dresses professionally, there are always the younger ones who believe that "fashion" from the magazines dictates what to wear in an office DISPITE the dress code policy--this is what one young lady said to me. Even if one models what is appropriate to wear in the office, there are those individuals who refuse to take their cue. I have since contacted a labor lawyer to discuss this issue (among other things) and learned that the employer must make certain that when handing out the employee manual and policies, the employee must sign a form within a week indicating that they have read the manual. If anything is violated, the employee must be given a warning(s) (but not just for dress codes)and subsequently terminated. I urge everyone to contact a labor lawyer just to protect yourselves. The size of the firm and whether or not the firm is incorporated, if one lives in a State that has "at-will" laws, etc. dictates which rules apply to the company. Good luck!

Here we are professionals and we dress more conservative than our competitors. Our employees are told from the final interview/ hire that we are not as casual. We can wear sandals but must wear nylons with them. Khakis are allowed, but more on the dressiers ide. Most of our customers do not want to see armpits and clevage. Although some is unintentiaonal. Jeans and business t-shirts are only for events that the management decree. I think it helps our morale and our customers to see that we care about our image and therefore theirs.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ryan Kulp October 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm

While I appreciate the sentiment, there is a new reality for modern-day professionals.

Specifically, the term “professional” no longer bares any relation to “professional attire.” To be professional simply means to be good at something and make a living doing it.

For more thoughts, check out my brand new book “Professionalism in Flip Flops.” I think you’ll be delighted as it brings new light to this controversial subject matter. To learn more about the book and to read a free chapter, check out



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