Your Dilemma Answers: Too much casual, too little business

Too Much Casual, Too Little Business

I spend a lot of time on the road at trade shows, and in the trade show world, proper attire is part of the brand experience. So, I was shocked at the less than casual attire in my office this summer. If some of our customers stopped by our headquarters, what would they think to see my coworkers wearing flip-flops, tank tops and shorts? Should I take my concerns to upper management or HR, or just keep my big mouth shut?

— Trudy, Event Manager, Tradeshows


It’s time to put the ‘business’ back in business casual


Business casual is in itself an oxymoron. Business dress is business-like. Casual attire is, well, casual. And how to mix the two confuses many people. Because of that, someone needs to take steps, so your office doesn’t start to look like a tailgating party at a Jimmy Buffett concert.

With this in mind, our readers suggest you:

  • Let HR/management deal with it.
  • Set a good example.

Let HR/management deal with it

Your company isn’t the only one with the problem of how much dress policies can be relaxed during the summer months. At one company, HR is already working to resolve the matter.

Gail Amor, sales & marketing coordinator, describes what’s going on at North American Signs.

“We have the same problem. Our policy for business casual states clearly no tank tops, flip flops, etc. However, so far, upper management hasn’t stepped up and held those accountable to enforce the policy.

“I agree it’s a very uncomfortable situation when a visitor/client comes into the building. Right now, we’re working with HR to try to put into place a dress code policy that’s more attuned to business casual as opposed to summer beach casual.”

A marketing VP explains why going to upper management or HR is essential.

“Business is business, and unless your business entails selling T-shirts and surf boards, your office folks should dress to represent the business you’re pursuing. Overly casual attire indicates they don’t take the business as seriously as they do their own comfort.”

Set a good example

While taking your concerns to the folks who set policy is a good idea, some readers believe you should go a step further.

A marketing support specialist talks about enforcing standards and what you can do to encourage everyone’s compliance.

“Competition is tough, and your company’s image is at stake. As much as Zappo’s environment might be attractive, it is a rarity. My employer instituted specific guidelines for proper office attire a few years ago — and publishes reminders every summer.

“We’re business casual in the office; however, shirts must have collars (golf/knit shirts are OK). Shoes have to be supportive (no flip-flops), no shorts and no shirts with offensive/negative messages on them. If someone has visitors scheduled, the host is expected to dress professionally.

“Definitely take your concerns to HR/upper management. If nothing else, set the example, and don’t listen to your peers’ possible negative remarks. You can still have a casual environment while wearing business casual attire.”

Jean Krauth, exhibit coordinator for Thales Components Corporation, advises you to remember actions speak louder than words.

“As much as I agree that summer office attire has become way too casual, you shouldn’t be the one to complain. Management and/or HR should issue the dress code, but you should set a good example by dressing appropriately yourself.”

Trudy, your office isn’t hermetically sealed in a plastic bubble, so clients — as well as potential clients — are bound to stop by unannounced from time to time. While relaxed is OK, attire that’s too casual reflects a lack of professionalism that could hurt your company’s reputation and business. Speak to upper management or HR about your concerns, maintain your own standards and, just remember, autumn is less than two months away!