WorkZone: Bosses should not button up on dress code

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Michael Crom had traveled to Microsoft's Silicon Valley, Calif., facility to discuss a business deal and he followed his usual routine of donning a jacket and tie for an appointment with professionals.

The software company's representatives were decidedly more casual.

"They put on their nicest and cleanest T-shirts for me," said Mr. Crom, chief learning officer for Dale Carnegie & Associates, a Hauppauge, N.Y., training and coaching firm.

He wasn't offended, he said, because casual attire is widely accepted as the standard for the tech sector. Think Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' black turtleneck and jeans.

But clothes that don't garner a second look in the California tech belt wouldn't necessarily be as well received in Mr. Crom's office on the opposite coast.

"It depends on the organization, and there are clearly different expectations in different parts of the country at different times of the year," he said.

During the summer months, many workplaces relax their dress standards. Still, there's a risk that employees will show up at the office better suited for a picnic if managers don't spell out a policy of what's acceptable and what's not.

"You're always better off expressing what you would like to see happen," Mr. Crom said. "If you don't announce the policy or expectations, then anything goes."

The Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., suggests a summer dress code policy be in effect from Memorial Day in late May through the week in which Labor Day falls in September. The society's model for such a policy, found on its website,, stipulates that employees dress more casually only "on days when they have no in-person client contact."

While solid-color T-shirts, walking shorts (with hems that fall about one inch above the knee), tennis shoes and denim jeans and skirts are deemed appropriate in the human resource society's hypothetical summer dress code, other things are not. That includes standard shorts, clothing with logos, halter tops and thong-type sandals.

For companies trying to draft a dress code, the society advises including a sentence stating that employees who don't follow the rules will be asked to leave work to change, "and will be required to use personal time or vacation time to do so."

At the Post-Gazette, summer interns this year received guidelines on how to dress when working in the newsroom and when assigned to leave the office to cover stories and conduct interviews.

Among the don'ts for women: spaghetti straps (unless they are layered with a sweater or blazer), strapless mini-dresses, shorts and low-cut tops. For the guys: no baggy pants, graphic T-shirts, wrinkled shirts, cut-off shirts, shorts or sandals. For both genders: no flip-flops.

For bosses who need to address issues about skimpy or inappropriate dress, Mr. Crom said it is easiest when a written policy is in place.

Whether the rules are documented, "I would start in a friendly way and not make it a criticism of the person but of their clothing."

businessnews - fashion - yourbiz

Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.


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