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Is your company losing money? Featured

9:37am EDT July 22, 2002

Scott Adams' cartoon depicting casual day sums it up.

The owner of the company watches the employees come into work. One is in a ballet outfit, another is in a bathrobe and the last person is naked. The caption reads: "Casual Day. It seemed like a good idea."

This is what has happened in the real world. The reality of casual dress in the office is that it is not working. If it were, no one would be talking about it. Instead, you walk into a company and the first words spoken are, "Please excuse our office. It's dress down day."

Stop. If everyone were dressed appropriately, no one would be apologizing.

But can business casual work? Yes, if people are aware of what casual attire is for the office. The problem is that no one has taught us.

Consider what would happen if no one taught your employees how to do their jobs. They would muddle through, costing the company valuable time and money. That's exactly what most people do when they stand in front of their closets each morning trying to get dressed for work. People do not intentionally dress inappropriately. It is because they do not know what to do.

We need to be taught how and why, just as we are taught everything else in our lives.

How much money does your company lose because of casual attire? How much more money could you make if your employees presented themselves professionally?

Before you begin a litany of excuses about the importance of casual attire, understand that dressing professionally does not mean you have to wear a dark business suit. There are many different levels of business casual dress, depending on your profession and industry.

Here's a tip everyone can use: Keep the business casual wardrobe separate from the weekend wardrobe. By keeping it separate, the mindset will be on the job. If clothes are worn on the weekend, then to work, the mind is still on the weekend.

Clothes stay neater and look more professional if you only wear them to work. Let's face it, on the weekend, we do not pay attention to our clothes. By keeping this attire separate, you never have to worry about wearing something to work, then discovering it has a stain or tear.

You will also save money. If an outfit starts to get worn but still has some life, move it to the weekend attire.

If you feel uncomfortable in business casual, here are some ways to be more casual, yet highly professional:

  • Women, wear a sweater top in place of a silk blouse. Slip on flat shoes vs. shoes with a heel.

  • Men, wear a dark-colored shirt, with or without the jacket.

Give serious consideration to how you want others to perceive your employees and your company. Think about how you feel when you walk into a medical facility and cannot figure out who is the nurse, doctor or patient. Or when you walk into a store and can not figure out who is the sales clerk. People need that security of recognizing the professional. Attire is that powerful communication tool.

Look at my photo. What words describe me? Conservative. Tailored. Confident. Professional. I am all those. But, do I appear to be a woman with large tattoos on her body?

You may laugh, as do my audiences. But I do have tattoos, thanks to my son, Gregory Christian, a national tattoo artist.

My point is that it is important to be your own person and present yourself professionally. Attire must enhance your personal coloring, body structure, preference in textures and patterns. Professional attire, whether it be power professional, professional or business casual, needs to be specific to your industry, position level and the types of people you interact with daily.

So ask yourself this question before you leave for work every day: "If a client or guest walks into the office today, do I look and feel totally professional in what I am wearing?" If everyone in the company cannot answer "yes," then your company is most likely losing money.

Dawn Waldrop is a national speaker, trainer and author of the book, "Best Impressions: How to gain professionalism, promotion and profit." She is president of Best Impressions and conducts training programs and executive one-on-one consulting to Fortune 100 companies. Reach her at (888) 577-BEST or online at www.best-impressions.com.