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Dress for Success or Stress?

A relative told me that during a recent conference she had to attend a session on proper work dress. It was humorous for her since she usually works from home. Later, a former colleague of mine took to social media to ask about company policies on tattoos. She points to one survey which suggests one in five Americans has a tattoo. There is even a Facebook page pushing for tattoo acceptance in the workplace. Legal experts advise companies to make sure their dress codes are linked to business impact and not personal preferences. 

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So let’s talk about dress codes. The topic got me to thinking how much times have changed when it comes to acceptable business attire. I know very few women wear pantyhose to work, especially in the summer, but two decades ago that would have been unacceptable. I remember when you paid a dollar to wear jeans on Friday with the money going to charity.

After nearly two decades as a manager, here are the three biggest issues I have found when it comes to workplace attire.

Short Shorts

I have found that “booty” is in the eye of the beholder and that the idea of what is too short can vary based on the person. However most HR experts agree that such shorts are never a “go to” when you are going to work. I was recently at a mall and passed a kiosk where an employee bent over while wearing short shorts to pick up something. I thought; “does this company even have a dress code policy?”

Some companies allow shorts during the summer on casual Fridays, but they must be knee-length or only slightly shorter.

Tattoos and Piercings

Once taboo in the workplace, tattoos are getting more acceptance. As the parent of two millennials I have debated this issue. I refer to them as Gen “Why” because their most often asked questions center around the word “why.” My response is that in the workplace you don’t set the rules, you have to follow them.

Legal experts point out that if a company says no to your body art or piercings being displayed at work, there is little you can do, but cover them up or remove them. The laws protect against the discrimination of protected classes such as race, color, religion, age, nationality, origin and gender. In some cases piercings have been allowed in the workplace if it part of a religious practice. If this is a deal-breaker then you may want to check with your employer prior to accepting a job.


This is a modern dress code debate there is the never ending question over whether leggings are undergarments or pants. I have been in the position of having to tell an employee that wearing leggings with a short top is not appropriate professional work attire. The argument was necessary as this person’s appearance reflected on the company’s image which was not one of a casual nature. Many companies allow leggings with long sweaters or blouses.

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Remember, the goal is to “dress for success” not to cause you and others stress. It may be time to do a little shopping.

Photo Credit: flickr

Tonya McCleary Tonya McCleary is a veteran TV journalist and manager, talent coach, managing editor for Exhale for Women Empowerment Magazine and author of "How to Get Your Kid in College and Live to Tell the Tale." She is an expert in financing higher education and saving on college costs. Tonya is also the owner of Tri M Media Marketing Maven LLC, providing crisis management and media-readiness coaching to businesses and athletes. For more info: www.MediaMarketingMaven.com.
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