Recently, I attended a business-related workshop where the dress code was listed as "nice business casual." I saw everything from formal business attire (suits) to jeans, cutoffs and T-shirts. I heard several people commenting about how confusing today's dress code has gotten. I had to agree with this; it seems we are seeing all kinds of dress (or undress) at work these days. • Even if the standards have gotten more relaxed over the years, people still think a person's clothes send a signal about his or her professionalism, which impacts the reputation of the company. • In general, clothes should be clean, unwrinkled and look professional. Your clothes should have a good fit and anything too revealing is definitely inappropriate. Err on the side of being more conservative. Joyce E.A. Russell, special to the Washington Post
Hats: Usually hats and ball caps are seen as inappropriate in the office. This doesn't include head covers worn for religious purposes.
Footwear: Dress heels, deck-type shoes, loafers, flats, dress boots and walking shoes are usually considered appropriate. What are often inappropriate are flip-flops, slippers, hiking boots, sneakers and overly flashy athletic shoes. Key to remember: Shoes should be clean and polished (not scuffed).
Slacks, pants and suit pants: Generally those slacks that are wool, flannel, corduroy, linen, cotton (such as khakis) or nice-looking capris (for women) are acceptable. Inappropriate: jeans, sweat pants, leather pants, cargo pants, short shorts, leggings, biking shorts, exercise pants and overalls.
Skirts, dresses and skirted suits: Casual dresses and skirts of a length that let you sit comfortably in public are fine (usually skirts should fall to the knee). Short, tight skirts, miniskirts, beach or sun dresses and spaghetti-strap dresses are inappropriate for the office.
Shirts, tops, jackets and blouses: Usually casual button-down oxford shirts, dress shirts, sweaters or golf shirts are seen as acceptable at work. Inappropriate tops: tank tops, midriff tops, halter tops or shirts with offensive graphics (logos, pictures, slogans) or sweat shirts. Basic white and chambray are good colors. For women, sweater sets are also fine.
Accessories (jewelry, makeup, perfume or cologne, scarves, belts): Accessories should be conservative and in good taste. Wear perfume and cologne sparingly since some people are allergic.
Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership, negotiations and career management.