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Dressing to fit in is best policy at work

Perhaps you heard about the 43-page dress code at Swiss bank UBS AG. • Yes, 43 pages. • The human resource community was all atwitter about the code's excruciating depth, exposed on the Internet. • Jewelry and metal eyeglass frames should match. Jacket shoulders should have "natural" proportions. Jacket pockets mustn't bulge with stuff. • And one of the biggest doozies: Underwear should be flesh-colored. • Pity the boss assigned to check that.

After worldwide derision, the Swiss bank backpedaled from the code and said guidelines were under revision.

Meanwhile, in comments posted to a blog, someone suggested a far simpler dress code:

"If you can see up it, down it or through it, don't wear it."


But that may not be enough guidance for those who stumble in matters of taste, propriety and suitability. So guidelines are handy.

Others simply want to fit in — whether having a job interview, starting a new job or trying to advance in the ranks.

The best advice in those cases: Look around.

Notice what the people who do the job you want to do are wearing. Usually, it behooves you to blend in.

Tattoos, piercings, cleavage, oddly dyed hair, baggy pants, illustrated T-shirts — anything that distracts attention because it's not the workplace norm may work against you.

We can champion self-expression and individuality, but human nature gravitates toward sameness.

People tend to prefer doing business with those who make them feel comfortable. And in this "judge a book by its cover" employment world, appearances count.

Studies have shown that it's not just apparel that makes a difference in job offers and pay levels. Height, weight, skin color and accents sadly have been shown to matter, too.

Diversity is a valued goal. We need it in the workplace. But we have to acknowledge that those who fit the appearance code have an edge.

Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at the Kansas City Star.

Dressing to fit in is best policy at work 02/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 17, 2011 3:31am]
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