Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Should Every Day Be Dress Down #1

The Do's and Dont's of business fashion are changing.

Robert Molloy was very clear in the first edition of his bestseller "Dress for Success." Never wear brown. Women should wear suits, not dresses, and certainly not pants. Forget dangling earrings, colored nail polish and colored nylons. Men with an eye for the fast track should only wear blue, light gray or charcoal gray suits. No one ever heard of corporate casual.

Now the dress debate is not suit versus sports coat, but how far down is "dress down"?

When Katharine Delahaye Paine, owner of The Delahaye Group, Portsmouth, worked in California's Silicon Valley, she found "casual dress" took on a new meaning. "My ax-husband was actually asked to wear ties less often. It's much less formal than the East Coast."

But the East is catching up. When Molloy wrote his first primer in the 1970s, many professionals scrambled to acquire the "correct" office look for the upward climb. But the robot look eventually lost its charm, and now '90s companies are striving to find a middle ground between comfort and the image they hope to present.

Norm Turcotte, CEO of Associated Grocers, Manchester, chuckles a bit when asked about his company's experience with "dress down" Fridays. "The results were, by and large, pretty good ... with some notable exceptions" because some employees' definitions of dress down were "vastly different" than others.

Rather than scrap the whole dress down idea, however, an employee committee recommended a policy of "business casual" all year round --and the dress down days were dropped.

AG's 150 office workers now have a detailed five-page dress code to guide them as they shop for work attire. On the "do" list: polo shirts, Oxford shirts, sweaters/cardigans, blazers/sport coats, casual pants such as Dockers, business skirts no shorter than four inches above the knee, and tailored dress shorts for women, worn with tights or nylons. Ties are optional.

On the "don't" list: T-shirts, flannel shirts, sweatshirts and tank tops unless covered. Stirrup pants and leggings are out, and shorts for men are verboten. Denim of any sort, top or bottom, has been relegated to home and garden to Turcotte's dismay, who laments that he can't wear his favorite Ralph Lauren denim shirt to the office.

The "denim issue" apparently generated heated discussion among the committee members. But, while he wishes he could work in his favorite shirt, Turcotte says the committee pondered the wide variety of denim clothing today -- from pricey, tailored designer jeans to someone's favorite well-worn holey relics from college -- and decided to nix the whole fabric. And he agrees.

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