Your Appearance Your Brand

Your Appearance Your BrandSince Val Grubb & Associates was founded (almost five years ago!), the subject matter of this blog has changed and evolved as the company has grown. I’m excited to say that your comments and ideas have also helped shape the direction of our writing.

To that point, today’s blog is a follow-up to a previous post, “Building the Brand of YOU.”  Reader Carrie Roberts posed the question, “What does ‘business casual’ mean and how does it affect my brand?”

Keep your comments and questions coming on my blog and website or visit our Facebook page. I’m also delighted to address individual questions at Who knows, perhaps your question will be the next blog post similar to Ms. Roberts’!

Now, about business casual…..

Your Appearance, Your Brand

Style may be in the eye of the beholder, but “business casual” is in the eye of the boss. And in most cases, the boss has a particular look in mind.

—  Julia Layton, contributing writer to HowStuffWorks

Image matters and whether we like it or not, clothing is one of the first things people notice about a person. Business casual or not, your appearance and wardrobe choices reflect the brand you are or want to become.

Rules that govern business casual vary from industry to industry which only complicates the situation; the dress code at a Fortune 500 company in New York City is going to be quite different than the rules at a start-up in Silicon Valley. Where you live also plays a critical role in determining what “business casual” means in terms of dress (regardless of where you live in the world). The seasons can play havoc on our choices as summer can bring a plethora of bad clothing options!

With so many variables on the standards of dress, it’s no surprise we’re left wondering what to wear.

Decoding  “Business Casual” Rules

Style is synonymous with the appropriate.

Bill Blass, American fashion designer

It never hurts to ask. If your workplace has an official business casual policy, chances are good it’s defined in writing somewhere, so check with the HR department or consult your employee handbook. If a written policy doesn’t exist, ask your boss or take a cue from the rising stars in the office or those employees whom are well respected in the company. Take inventory: what are they wearing?

Here are a few general guidelines to help you make good choices when dressing for any business casual environment:

  • Keep it covered: Avoid showing too much skin. Be sure to cover your midriff, shoulders, back, upper legs, shoulders, and chest.
  • Keep it neutral: Don’t be afraid to add a splash of color to your outfit. If you’ve got a great orange top that fits you well and makes you feel great, go ahead and wear it. But when in doubt about what to wear, you can stick with basic colors such as black, brown, tan, khaki, blue, hunter green, and white.
  • Keep it classic: Wear outfits that are classy and timeless. Choosing clothes that suit your body type and fit properly (without being too tight or too baggy) adds a touch of sophistication to your business casual attire.
  • Keep it tidy: Just because your workplace has a business casual policy doesn’t mean you can wear clothes that are ripped, need to be washed, or need pressing.  Remember the “business” in business casual.

In addition, specific recommendations for men include:

  • Button-down shirts
  • Polished black shoes (with socks)
  • Slacks that complement the jacket

Specific recommendations for women include:

  • Skirts that hit just above the knee or tailored slacks
  • Simple jewelry
  • Just a hint of makeup (reapply at the end of the day if you’re headed out to meet friends at the bar)
  • Go easy on the perfume
  • Polished flats or moderate heels
  • Sweaters
  • Pantyhose may be the office standard. Ask.

Although some of these items may be appropriate in your specific office environment, if you aren’t completely sure (or you’ve not seen other rising stars wearing any of these items), it’s best to avoid:

  • Flip-flops, sneakers, extreme heels, or hiking boots
  • Very tight or very baggy clothing
  • Too short or too tight skirts
  • Loud or distracting prints, colors, or logos
  • Tank tops and sleeveless shirts
  • Shorts (especially short-shorts)
  • Distracting or overly creative hairstyles
  • Hats of any sort

Just as building a brand is a journey, so is honing your style. Your wardrobe and appearance will develop and change over time. It’s important to stay comfortable and appropriate, but don’t forget you are presenting the brand of YOU through your clothing choices.  Not caring about how your look can, however unfairly, color people’s perceptions of your work.

When it comes to business casual dress, err on the side of caution. You want to be recognized for your efforts—not remembered for an inappropriate outfit.

What Do You Think?

We want to hear from you!  Visit Val Grubb & Associates Facebook page and tell us what business casual dress means to you. What do you wear? What do you avoid?

1 thought on “Your Appearance Your Brand”

  1. Dear Val,

    You missed all this at Allison. Early 60s. Dress code for women was skirts or dresses. (Men could smoke at their desks, women couldn’t. Now NOBODY can smoke at their desk.) But I digress. Pant suits for women came into fashion and the dinosaurs that ran Allison said OK to them. Pants matched the top. Polyester. Six months later it was slacks and tops. Tops started getting tighter and more revealing. Slacks morphed into jeans. Last straw was when Dave Clingman had a young woman who worked for him come in wearing orange hot pants…almost cheekers. Of course he had to send her home to change. It was like a death spiral. I don’t know how it stopped but eventually some semblance of code prevailed.

    I never lived into casual Friday. I wore a tie every workday of my life. And lived to tell about it. As social chair of my fraternity and later as president I noticed a correlation with dress and behavior. Dress-up functions, ties for the guys, ‘heels and hose and better clothes’ for the women and the party was polite and mannerly. Go casual and rowdiness sets in. Don’t ask about the toga parties.

    I’m a firm believer in appropriate appearance. If you are in business, dress like it.

    And by the way, it doesn’t hurt to call me Mr. Jones rather than “Bob” as soon as you find out my first name. I’ll let you know when a first name is OK.

    Nice to hear from you. I’m still a volunteer at R-R Museum/Archives.

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