The flip-flop flap is on again.
The advent of hot weather has renewed attention to what's proper work attire. Even in a time when summer dress-downs and casual Fridays are common, some workers stumble on the line between what's acceptable office wear and what's not.
Unfortunately, that line — between summer casual and summer sloppy — is hard to define, much less police. Not even the human resources boss wants to decide whether a leather sandal, covering exactly the same part of the body as a plastic flip-flop, is appropriate or not.
Most workplaces have expectations, some written and some unspoken, about what to wear.
What constitutes appropriate work clothes has opened the door for people to tweet about the summer influx of "skinterns," a reference to young women in skimpy attire. It's also why managers take time to huddle about whether the guy without socks offends customers.
And there aren't just corporate culture consequences to work clothes choices. Retailers have adjusted their merchandise to fit buyers' preferences. Sales of summer suits for men and women have paled compared with polo shirts and sundresses.
"The traditional needs of business clothing have more than evolved. They've dramatically changed," said Spiro Arvanitakis, who recently explained why his longtime Kansas City professional clothing store is closing. "Jack Henry doesn't meet the current needs, which are more contemporary."
At Hallmark Cards, the standard is simply for employees to be "neat and professional," said employee relations director Haylee Kelley. But those criteria differ depending on whether someone works in the distribution center — where safe and comfortable are the guidelines — or at headquarters, where business casual rules.
But even the office dress code has a squish factor. Jeans are fine for "file-clean-out day," Kelley said.
Dress code consultants say jeans and T-shirts have proliferated in workplaces because of the influence of round-the-clock Silicon Valley, or dot-com, workplaces. Also, the ever-larger presence of the millennial generation, recently off college campuses, has dialed down workplace dressiness.
Casual is fine, of course, in many offices that have little customer or client contact or are in more industrial or manufacturing environments. But human resources experts point out that clothing that's too revealing, soiled or just plain sloppy can bother co-workers in any location, so it's always okay for management to set some standards.
Human resources blogs frequently mention the difficulty of dealing with illustrated T-shirts or sayings on the job. What one worker finds funny or non-controversial may be offensive or hurtful to another.
Sometimes, there's a style sea change because of corporate leadership. Under chief executive Bill Esrey at Sprint Corp., there was a fairly specific dress code. At one time, even back-room employees who never saw clients were told they couldn't wear Dockers or other casual-brand pants.
But when Dan Hesse took the Sprint helm in 2007, he announced that employees could wear jeans any day of the week, not just on designated Fridays. The once-formal dress code has disappeared, except for retail store employees.
Now, said Sprint spokeswoman Melinda Tiemeyer, "employees are encouraged to work with the supervisor to understand appropriate attire for their role and location."
Human resources consultants have long advised to "dress for the job you want, not the job you have."