Tailor Paco Fernandez has a word of advice for workers thinking about wearing flannel pajama bottoms, torn jeans, a backless dress, bike shorts or sandals with socks to the office: don’t.
“That is not proper business attire at all,” said Fernandez, of Northwest Indiana-based Paco’s Custom Clothiers. “The clothing industry launched Casual Friday thinking people could still wear a jacket and shirt with nice jeans or khakis … but people took it to the extreme.”
With dress-down Fridays and the dot-com era, dress codes and personal style have relaxed. Even at NASA, a worker who helped guide a rover across the surface of Mars was launched into superstardom for sporting a red-and-black Mohawk hairdo.
Local companies agree business attire still has an impact and appearance still matters, but what’s suitable depends on where you work and what you do. Shorts, exposed skin, ripped denim or a Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg-style hoodie simply don’t pass workplace muster.
Business casual may have become one of the most dreaded terms in the office. Dale Tanis, owner of Zandstra’s Store for Men in Highland, said it was supposed to be relaxed yet pulled together and neat. Instead workers got confused and didn’t understand what it meant.
“It may have gotten to the point that it was more sloppy, but that has changed too,” Tanis said. “People have redefined what’s appropriate for business and it seems like the pendulum has swung back a little bit.”
In his career, Matt Valuckis, of V as in Victor in Hobart, has seen workers remove flip-flops and go barefoot. “It was more ‘go to the beach attire’ then it was a professional casual atmosphere,” he said. Management eventually mandated collared shirts and closed shoes with socks.
Highland Chamber of Commerce executive director Mary Luptak agrees that except for the banking industry, styles have gotten less dressy.
Erin Trzcinski, of Staff Source in Hammond, said typically her client companies don’t request suits and ties and have specific casual attire dress codes.
“Attire is position- and industry-specific and by no means is it on a performance list for us as to what the company values,” said NIPSCO spokesperson Kathleen Szot. “We value the quality of work more than anything else. For the majority, unless they are customer-facing, it’s not critical to their job.”
At NIPSCO, office workers can wear business casual attire Monday through Thursday and jeans are only permitted on Friday. Polo shirts or shirts without ties are common looks during the week, however, employees giving a presentation or meeting with a client, for example, are expected to dress more professionally.
Fernandez’s business has skyrocketed as more customers opt for classic business attire.
“First impressions make a world of difference,” he said. “If you don’t present yourself to the best of your ability in the first 30 seconds, you may lose the next step.
“You can’t afford to lose that contract because it may be the only one that week; to lose the interview because you may not have another for a month; or to give your boss a second thought of the promotion you were supposed to get.”
Trzcinski said it’s not enough to ask employees to “dress professionally” because the phrase is subjective and being too vague causes confusion. Employers need to give specific examples.
Valuckis, whose typical attire includes dress shoes, dress jeans, untucked dress shirt and sport coat, said you can be creative with dress without getting sloppy. Being comfortable and expressing style can create an atmosphere of creativity instead of rigid conformity and starchy formality.
“When you work for somebody, you are a brand ambassador for them whether you like it or not,” he said.
“People should understand the company they work for and the audience that company is trying to reach at all times. Between 9 and 5 everything you say and do is a reflection on them. You are on the front lines of representing that company.”