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

Office Dress Code

Dear Sue: I work in a company with many educated, intelligent people. A few of us got into a discussion that left me confused. Our company has provided us with a new policy regarding business dress. Rumor has it that they did it because they felt some people were dressing inappropriately. My colleagues are certain that the policy is meant for younger or newer employees and that because they have been here awhile they shouldnít be expected to dress differently. One person outright said that it is too late for his image to make a difference. I think the company wants to up its image, and that the policy is meant for everyone. We have had many discussions about this. Does image really matter? Who is right? - Unsure

Sue Says: I agree with you, and am sure that the policy is meant for everyone. It is not uncommon for people to convince themselves that they are exempt from something (such as the policy) if they donít agree with it, and easy to interpret things to suit our needs.

Image matters a great deal to most companies, yet can be a highly personal and sensitive issue when communicating expectations to employees. This is why so many companies struggle with ways to communicate and enforce what is expected with regard to appearance.

What you wear and how you look tells others more about you than you realize. What you wear informs others that you either care about your appearance or you donít, that you got dressed in a hurry or took you time getting dressed and whether you pay attention to detail or not. Your appearance can communicate your sense of style, level of success, social rank, and your feelings about yourself and your job.

The next time someone tells you that clothing/image doesnít matter. Ask him/her if it matters:

  • What a bride and groom wear at their wedding?
  • What you wear when you go swimming?
  • What team members wear when playing a sport?
  • What is worn to a costume party?
  • What a priest, minister, or rabbi wear to conduct services?
  • What a police officer wears when on duty?
  • What the conductor of an orchestra wears when performing?
  • What a nurse or doctor wears when seeing patients or performing surgery?
  • What Olympic contestants wear when they compete?
  • What a judge wears in the courtroom?

In each of these scenarios, clothing matters, and it does in offices, too. When you look as though you took the time to prepare yourself for whatever you are doing that day, people notice. You are telling people that you take yourself and your job seriously. Not only will you probably feel better and more professional, but your company will appreciate your efforts and benefit too.

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

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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