May 16, 2012
Summer work attire: flip-flops, tube tops and Speedos, oh my
With so much rain and gray all fall and winter, an early spate of sun and warmth is all we need around here to go a little crazy.
You know what I mean: Shorts as soon as the temperature hits 60 degrees; Seattle beaches blanketed with stripped-down bodies desperate to soak up the elusive Vitamin D, Puget Sound winds and icy water be damned.
Whether you're working or job searching, be forewarned: Some clothing trends are best avoided no matter how beautiful a summer we have.
Because we're so unused to sun, the potential for a workplace fashion faux pas here is high. Some things are appropriate for off hours, but not for work.
Case study: Around the corner from me lives an elderly gentleman who loves to tend to his perfectly manicured lawn in nothing more than a teeny-tiny electric-blue Speedo. As long as the sun is out, it seems no temperature is too cool for him to slip into his little suit and move about his corner lot, bending over weeds and clipping away.
This is a slightly shocking, if iconic, image no matter how many times the neighbors see it. But the guy is retired, and is on his own property, and therefore his Speedo is OK.
Compare this to an employee I know who favors neon-colored tube tops, her midriff dangerously close to sneaking out, in a semi-professional dress-code atmosphere. That employee was recently fired, actually. Not for the tube tops alone, I'm sure, but you never know.
Dress codes vary from one workplace to the next. But some general guidelines apply to most everyone, unless you work from home or that super-laid-back vegan coffee shop.
Flip-flops: Almost never appropriate. In fact, this "shoe" was voted the No. 1 "don't" of summer work attire by employees last year.
Northern exposure: Tight miniskirts along with too-short shorts (men or women) fall into this category. What's OK for the gym is generally not what you want to show to your cubicle mate. Mid-thigh or lower, as opposed to a just-under-the-behind hemline, will be much appreciated by those you work with.
Athletic wear: Obviously, if you work at a gym, you'll be right at home. But for most professions, yoga pants, stretchy tanks and sloppy sweat shorts are a solid no. As Nike doesn't say: Just don't do it.
Victoria's secret: Bra straps or underwear peeking out (or visible through your clothing) are never appropriate. Keep your lacy underthings and manly Calvins to yourself.
Gray areas: Many of the wardrobe pitfalls can be found here, and the answer depends on how conservative your workplace and industry are.
• In some places, open-toe shoes of any kind are too casual. Make sure that the shoe is appropriate, that it is not a flip-flop and that the parts of the foot that are visible are clean and tidy.
• Strapless tops can be OK in a professional day dress or tailored blouse, especially with a sweater on top. Casual cotton tank tops are bad. Men should avoid any strapless shirts unless working on the docks unloading cargo.
• Shorts? It depends. If they're appropriate for your workplace, make them tailored (no jean shorts) and follow length guidelines above. Make sure the length stays acceptable even as you sit.
• T-shirts and polos: You'll know if this flies in your workplace by looking to others. If it's a yes, make sure they fit well, are not sloppy or wrinkled and do not exhibit any juvenile or offensive slogans, beer brands, profanity, your college passion for AC/DC, nudity or holes.
Finally, when trying to figure out whether something is appropriate, ask yourself: What do others in my industry wear? How conservative is my workplace? How will I be perceived by my co-workers, bosses and clients if I wear this?
When in doubt, set it aside for the weekend.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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