What is Appropriate?

What is Appropriate?There’s something about wearing pastels, pinks and peach tones that makes me feel super girly. I’d have to say I’ve never really been a tomboy, if I can wear heels I will. My outfits effect me very strongly, if it doesn’t come together my mood is off and my day usually reflects that I don’t feel on the ball. Guys wonder why it takes considerably longer for most women to get ready in the morning, a concept such as this that they would never understand. I strive to look better than “fine” and I think we all should put in some effort in the morning. Everyone has excuses, I have my share some days too. But if a girl such as myself that is very sleep-deprived can get up at 6:15 every morning, shower, style my hair, do my makeup, design an outfit and prepare a lunch for myself – I think you can too.

There is an obvious divide in my workplace in regards to dress code. I would say an office, especially one that offers quality high end product, not to mention the design of said products – the employees should reflect that level of standard. My job does not connect me directly with the public, no one has to see me, I can stay in my office all day if I so choose sitting in my chair. I could be wearing a graphic tshirt with an oversized hoodie that probably belongs to my significant other, sneakers that have seen better days and hair piled on top of my head. This says to me that your mouth probably reflects your appearance…. and I’d be right.

Maybe I am looking at it from a single perspective, not having children to deal with in the morning, but in my office there are women that have children, very young ones at that – and they dress appropriately for the office. When I was hired, it was my first question, always is: “What is the dress code?” To which the general reply is always the fail-safe: “Business Casual”. This term makes my neck switch. It depends on who you ask, it depends on the day of the week, the mood the person is in, who your employer is, what the job requirements are and good ol’ weather conditions. A survey conducted in 2002 and 2007 suggests a huge decline in formal work attire. By my standards, “formal” is “business appropriate”. For arguement’s sake, we will go by my standards.*

In 2002, 12% of men and women wore formal attire to the workplace, while 23% wore uniforms. A steady decline to 2007 brings the formalwear number down to 9% and uniforms to 19%. A whopping 9% of the workplace is formal (or as I would say, appropriate business attire.) If we break this factoid down even further my stress level grows. In 2008, so this is just barely 5 years ago – the percentage of men that wear formal attire to the office grew to 12% (the same as it was in 2002) whereas the women declined to 6%. 6%! The label “business attire” takes the cake for women at a gastly 52%. In 5 years I can only imagine how that number has changed. I asked before I began this position what their idea of business casual is, supplying her with what I find to be typical: clean cut denim, blazers, heels, blouses… She said more or less as if to dodge having a solid understanding of what the company envisions. A good way to find out what the dress code should be, is over dress in the beginning until you meet the owner of said establishment. Lucky for me that was on day one. Dress shoes, dress pants and tucked in polo shirt. On other days he is more formal with a dress shirt, although I don’t recall ever seeing a tie.

Business casual should indicate being formal but with more comfort, if you had to suddenly meet a board of directors or potential client you look appropriately dressed but you are comfortable enough to sit at a desk all day. My position doesn’t have me walking around a warehouse lifting boxes, so my perspective is strictly from a professional office or administrative position. My previous position as a Gallery Curator and Public Relations Coordinator, I was meeting with clients unexpectedly at any time of day, any day of the week. I could be meeting with the newspaper that afternoon. I just had no way to know who I would run into. Also to keep with the level of quality and professionalism, we all wore what is considered “business formal” which would strictly state no jeans and no flip flops. A temporary receptionist we had thought dress pants were the same as yoga pants.

Excuse me a minute while I slap my palm to my forehead.

I wore heels almost exclusively, dress pants always and if I was wearing a dress (unless it was stifeling hot outside) wore thin panty hose. Panty hose? You ask… yes the annoying invention that makes one’s legs look more attractive and provides a hint of insulation on an otherwise bare leg. Clients that walked in knew it was high end, the atmosphere and the employees wore dresses and suits, the photographer himself wore a tie to photograph even simple graduate students. Presentation is everything.

I once accidentally forgot to wash out the shampoo in the shower one morning before heading to my office. It was sadly not the first time I had become too lost in thought that I had forgotten this crucial step – so I finished the rinse cycle by leaning over the raised glass bowl style sink in the bathroom when I arrived. Luckily it was a photography studio so we had all sorts of combs and styling products readily available – I was able to brush my hair and style it up in it’s soaking wet form and no one was the wiser. I was presentable despite my morning of chaos.

What I wore yesterday is my idea of business casual and appropriate for my age. Skinny dark denim jeans, paired with nude flats, matching purse with rose gold accents – peach floral and lace blouse, cardigan, ruffle embroidery scarf and khaki blazer. This is about as casual as it gets unless its a themed day at the office such as Valentine’s Day. I can walk into Walmart after work wearing this and feel the stares on me. I’m aware our society is becoming more and more comfortable with lounge wear and disgusted by formal wear. It’s sad that we now need to inform people on invitations that a wedding is traditional formal attire. Unfortunately respectful formal attire is not even worn to funerals anymore – ask my father he attends one or two a month always cloaked in suit and tie.

*Survey data obtained from Gallup.com


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