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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

How to Dress Down at Work

Dear Sue: I supervise a young group of people, and have concerns about the way some of them dress for work. With the warmer weather, everyone has been dressing more casually than usual and some of the young girls, in particular, dress very inappropriately for an office environment. Iíve made a few comments from time to time, but donít feel it should be my job to monitor what people wear.

Our office is casual, so people donít think what they wear matters, but it does. Some time ago, you printed guidelines for dressing casually in the workplace. I would love to see them again and post them in the office -- I think it may have more impact coming from someone other than me.

Ė Supervisor

Sue Says: You are right, it shouldnít be your job to monitor what people wear, and people should know that dressing casually for work is and should be different than dressing casually outside of work, but it remains a gray area for many.

Younger employees werenít working years ago when most workplaces were quite formal and casual dress was reserved for time off of work, so dressing casually may be all they are accustomed too. If you havenít provided your employees with a written dress code, consider doing so as it will help everyone understand what is expected. That way, when someone dresses inappropriately, you can refer to the dress code rather than your opinion about what someone is wearing.

It may help to explain to the younger employees why what they wear matters. Many people underestimate the impact their appearance has; it can impact the way people perceive you, treat you and determine a promotion or job offer. Although not fair, it is true; dressing appropriately is just as important as acting appropriately.

Dressing for a business casual workplace shouldnít differ too far from dressing in a traditional workplace; just a bit more relaxed. Remove the tie, take off the jacket, wear lighter fabrics and more casual styles, but make sure you dress professionally and that your clothing is clean, well-pressed and in good condition. The following should never be worn to work unless specified as permissible:

  • Jeans
  • Ripped or torn clothing (even if it came that way)
  • Work-out or athletic gear
  • Spandex or any fabric that is body-hugging and tight fitting
  • Baggy, oversized or extremely low-rise pants (watch for undergarments that show when sitting down)
  • Shorts and mini skirts
  • Sleeveless and low-cut tops (no cleavage or undergarments should be exposed)
  • Tank tops, muscle shirts and tube tops
  • Flip-flops and most sandals
  • Sweatshirts and sweatpants
  • Hats, caps, visors and other headgear

Finally, if you are in doubt, leave it out! Nothing is more embarrassing than being sent home because of the way you are dressed, and it has happened! You are always better off being slightly overdressed than underdressed; too dressy is better than too casual, so take the time to think about what you wear because it does matter.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

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