Take Care of What You Bare At The Office

Working

By L.M. SIXEL Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle
April 21, 2010, 10:44PM

It’s getting warmer, and that’s a signal to many of us that it’s time to drop the jacket, undo the tie and get a little more comfortable at the office.

But don’t get too relaxed.

Just because it’s hotter isn’t an excuse to start wearing flip-flops, showing off cleavage or walking around the office in bare arms. It not only shows poor judgment about what’s appropriate at work, but it can affect your career by broadcasting that either you don’t care how you look or you don’t know any better.

“The more skin, the less power,” Houston corporate and personal image consultant Helen Perry said, referring to too-plunging necklines or too-short skirts.

Perry said she’s been hearing complaints lately from executives at conservative suit-and-tie energy companies that female employees are shedding their jackets and walking around in sleeveless blouses. The effect is too revealing in a formal office culture.

“People think about comfort, they don’t plan,” Perry said, and don’t spend time on the weekends paying attention to their workaday wardrobes like shining shoes or taking their clothes to the dry cleaner.

“It takes a commitment to be well dressed every day,” she said. Unfortunately, women have a lot more ways to shoot themselves in the foot during the summer than men.

° ° In conservative workplaces, women need a jacket, even if it’s a soft cardigan – a third piece, Perry said. A jacket is a power accouterment and gives the wearer a finished look.

She recalls the “Ally McBeal” short-short skirts worn by the television lawyer that became a fashion statement and popped up at some work events, including hers. “It was a style, but it’s still a really short skirt,” said Boswell, who adds that it’s not a good idea to show too much leg.

° °Men should never wear a tie with a short-sleeved shirt. “It screams outdated nerd,” Perry said. Ditto for athletic shoes and sandals.

“Unless you work at Vogue, the leggings and the tunics might be a trickier silhouette to do,” admits Vogue magazine fashion news director Sally Singer. “But for the creative professions, (clothes with) voluminous shoulders and dramatic sleeves are fine because the clothes have authority.”

Pamela McConathy, who owns the Foresight Communications Group, a public relations firm in Houston, goes for the conservative look, which typically includes a jacket during the summer.

“In most cases, you need to take your cues from the company culture in which you are working,” she said. “Then, dress a step above that. You won’t go wrong.”

So what do you do if you’ve got employees coming to work in see-through clothes or something similarly inappropriate? Or disrobe once they get there?

She recommends visiting the couture department of luxury stores for fashion ideas even if you don’t have the budget. “See what the top designers are doing. It all trickles down (to discount stores),” she says.

While some managers would use the opportunity to create a dress code, Houston human resources consultant Kathleen Kelley suggests calling the offending employee in and explaining why the outfit doesn’t work.

“You won’t be able to regulate the world,” Kelley said. But you can remind employees that if you’d wear it at the beach, it probably doesn’t belong at the office.

lm.sixel@chron.com

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