Jennifer Cortner almost fell off her chair two summers ago when her intern walked in, dressed in a midriff-baring shirt and wearing a navel...
Jennifer Cortner almost fell off her chair two summers ago when her intern walked in, dressed in a midriff-baring shirt and wearing a navel ring, ready to go to a video shoot for a corporate client.
“We, like most companies, especially because we’re more of a creative shop, dress more casually,” said Cortner, president of EFX Media, a video-marketing firm based in Arlington, Va. But sometimes an employee will go too far, like the intern. Cortner sent her home to change into something that covered her belly.
“She said, ‘It’s just a shoot,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, but it’s a corporate client. You can’t look like Britney Spears.’ “
It’s summer, which means dress codes and clothing sense sometimes are thrown out the open window. In addition, trendy styles have morphed into work wear for some.
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Does the fact that celebrities made them fashionable a few years ago make it OK to wear any old flip-flops to the office? Flip-flops: good for slipping shoes off under the desk, bad for co-workers who have to deal with the thackety-thack every time you get up to fetch something from the printer.
Fashion trends often spur questionable office wear. There was (gasp) that crazy trend not all that long ago that 42-year-old Cortner remembers: “Back in my day, there were plenty of companies here that used to say women couldn’t even wear pants,” she said.
So does that mean that today’s flip-flops are tomorrow’s pants suits?
Probably not. Pamela Burns, a personal shopper in the Washington, D.C., area, said she is used to working with recent graduates who want to get a more professional look (or, perhaps more often, whose parents want them to look more professional).
So she steers her clients who prefer comfy casual to items that might be a little more acceptable in the office. Many of her male clients who want to be comfortable but professional buy a new Cole Haan shoe that looks like a loafer but has a Nikelike sole.
“Guys who are used to just wearing sneakers, I put them in those and they look really good,” she said.
Some fancier thong sandals may work for women, as long as they are worn with a professional outfit.
“I do think the college generation and under is more casual to begin with,” Burns said. “It’s kind of that old dot-com thought that you can wear whatever you want to work and it doesn’t matter. But unfortunately, it slaps everyone in the face. I do feel that years ago I would do seminars where people were wearing Tevas [sandals] in financial institutions, and now they’re wearing suits.”
Sometimes, those recent graduates just need a company to explain how it works.
“With our new grads, it’s understanding what’s business appropriate,” said Jay Fernandez, vice president for human resources with Terros, a Phoenix-based behavioral-health network.
He admits that the dress code is pretty generic, and when it gets above 90 degrees in the area, the office dress can get pretty relaxed.
After a board meeting recently, an executive asked Fernandez if he “found it disturbing” that a new female employee was wearing a “rather low neckline.” Fernandez asked a female vice president to speak with the employee.
Most recently, however, Fernandez has been dealing with a different type of dress-code issue. The organization has been hiring a larger population of Latino workers who come to work and interviews in guayaberas, or open-collared dress shirts, sometimes embroidered, that are worn untucked.
The shirts are formal in Latino culture and are often worn to weddings. But, Fernandez said, the shirts caused a bit of a stir among non-Hispanic employees who wear suits: They thought the shirts looked too casual.
Instead of asking the employees to forgo their traditions, Fernandez, who also wears the guayabera, is trying to educate his work force.
And therefore, soon, who knows? Maybe the guayabera will become tomorrow’s women’s pants suit. Just don’t wear it with grungy flip-flops.