Donald K. Burleson
First impressions count. A professional consultant who doesnt take the time to maintain a professional appearance presents the image of not being able to perform adequately on the job. Our professional dress code is codified because many professionals have never been taught appropriate professional appearance and demeanor.
Professional dress code standards are alive and well in major financial and executive management levels. Anyone who aspires to top management knows that personal appearance counts.
If you look and behave like a highly trained and well-groomed professional, you will win the respect and honor of our valued clients.
A fresh haircut, spit-shined shoes and a crisp suit go a long way in establishing a professional demeanor.
It's also about taste and quality; most professionals can spot a cheap suit at ten paces and it is easy to spot cheap shoes.
If you have never worked in a professional environment and you are not sure how professionals look, watch the lawyers on an episode of Law & Order on television.
Remember, employers in the USA have a legal right to ask you to adhere to dress codes:
"A person can be fired because the company doesnt like your shoes, explains Robert D. Lipman, who manages the New York employment firm Lipman & Plesur, LLP . . .
People say This is America. We should be able to do what we want. But I tell them that once you walk into a private employers workplace, your rights are limited.
Plus, it's not sexual discrimination to require separate grooming standards and dress codes for men and women:
"In 1998, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Harper v. Blockbuster Entertainment upheld Blockbusters dress code that mandated male employees to cut their long hair, but not female employees."
Have you ever gone to church on Sunday and instantly noted the people who normally do not wear a suit? You know, the men with striped shirts, plaid ties and lime green sport coats? Sadly, professional dress and grooming standards have fallen from popular culture, and we don't have to look far to find examples of unprofessional dress. Here are some examples of inappropriate male grooming:
No Neanderthal-style unibrows are allowed, and you should shave any loose hair on your forehead or the palms of your hands. All ear hair must be shaved, and remove any "Admiral Zumwalt" style giant eyebrows. If you must wear a toupee, have it custom fitted and secured properly. Please, no Trump-style comb-overs.
Here are some examples of inappropriate female grooming:
Let's take a closer look at specific dress codes for male and female professionals.
If the client wants you to wear tattered cut offs, that's fine, just make sure that you check with the client first to ensure that you are not dressed inappropriately for their environment.
I'm not trying to be a chauvinist here, but many of our client organizations have standards for professional appearance, and it's better to be safe than to be embarrassed.
When the client specifically requests that you dress down, the following dress code applies:
The only exception to this casual dress code is when the client specifically requests you dress down below our casual standards (shorts, t-shirts).
When consulting for clientele in tropical areas, Burleson Consulting requires our professionals wear ties and dress clothes. You may, at your option, wear tropical suits when working in balmy climates (Caribbean, Polynesia, Hawaii, etc.). This DOES NOT apply to any consulting done in cities within the contiguous states (San Diego, Miami, etc.). Also, after the first day, you may dress down, but only at the client's behest.
When consulting in these tropical areas, white, tan and light gray linen suits are acceptable for men and women, provided that the suits are permanent press and wrinkle-free.
You may supplement your white ice cream suit with a straw hat or felt fedora, but no hat styles that may have cultural intonations.
Your tie must be worn at all times, but you may remove your jackets and roll up your sleeves, if this is the custom of your client.
Short sleeve white dress shirts are not permitted. You may wear casual dress shoes, including white dress shoes, but sandals are never appropriate.
For female tropical dress requirements, trousers are permitted, and pastel and white colors are considered acceptable.
You would be surprised how many people will judge you by the quality of your shoes and how you maintain them. Your shoes are important, really important. Did you know that you can be legally be fired if your boss thinks that you wear shabby shoes?
"A person can be fired because the company doesnt like your shoes, explains Robert D. Lipman, who manages the New York employment firm Lipman & Plesur, LLP, and is President of Interactive Employment Training, Inc.. . . We get a lot of calls like this, he said. People say This is America. We should be able to do what we want. But I tell them that once you walk into a private employers workplace, your rights are limited.
To prevent foot odor and increase the life of your shoes, many consultants travel with two pairs and rotate them every day. Wing-tip shoes are allowed but not encouraged.A pair of top-quality ($200-$300) shoes is a good investment because they can be resoled as needed and last for decades. All professional shoes must be low cut lace-up shoes with a fine leather grain capable of being polished to a mirror finish. However, it is not necessary to spend hundreds of dollars on dress shoes. Standard military-style Oxford shoes are both inexpensive and appropriate for a suit, especially when polished to a fine shine. Corfam shoes are not acceptable (plus they make your feet sweat).
I recently got a pair of Florsheim dress shoes, which have such high-quality leather, and they shine so bright that I thought that they were Corfam!
Since I required a spit shine, you might check these out, hardly even a need to polish them, and you can see your face on the toes!
They also come in wide widths, highly recommended . .
Always carry a shoe care kit when traveling and make sure to touch-up your shoes before going on-site with a client. The toes of the shoes should be polished to a mirror finish, and you should be able to see your face in the shine of an acceptable shoe shine.
To establish a great base shine, you can easily locate a shoe service at any fine shoe store or military base. U.S. military bases (especially Marine bases) have open-to-the public services where you can get your shoe mirrors started. Once your base shine is complete, basic care will keep them looking spectacular. Many consultants place their shoes in sealed bags to prevent the hairline cracks that can occur in dry climates.
Optional Headwear dress code for non-USA consulting
While hats have not been considered appropriate attire with a suit in the USA since the 1950s, in some foreign societies the wearing of hats is both practical and fashionable.Panama hats also go great in topical areas, and a super-fine Panama hat is a great status symbol.
High quality Panama straw hats are appropriate with tropical dress suits. They are also utilitarian, adding shade and retarding sweat.
A super-fine Panama hat can be had for as little as $200.00 on the web; although, a men's store may charge over $500.00. The best deals are purchases in South America where a "super ma fin" Panama hat can be had for under $150.00.
When choosing a hat, it is important to choose a hat style that is culturally and/or religiously neutral, here are some examples of hat styles that are not acceptable:Oriental-style hats are a no-no. Sombreros often imply cultural stereotypes. Rastafarianism is a legitimate religion. The news is full of reports of anti-French sentiments. Not everyone wants to be cowboy. Bowlers and derby hats are distinctly British.
When representing Burleson Consulting, it is not acceptable to wear any cultural or religious garments that may offend a client. See this page for details on working with different cultures.
Burleson consulting respects the religious beliefs of you and our clients, but our clients come first. When representing Burleson Consulting it is unacceptable to wear any garments, icons or jewelry that may have overt (or covert) religious, racial, cultural or national connotations that may offend a client.
It is important to any professional not to advertise religious affiliations.
For example, when consulting in areas with large Muslim populations, you may not wear customary garments unless you are a practicing member of that religion, and then, only when the attire is consistent with the other tenets of our dress code.
Here are some accessories that you might want to consider:
However, all accessories can be abused, so be careful that your accessories remain in good taste:
Any of the following might be cause for immediate withdrawal from any client site:
However, all on-site engagements require absolute professional quality dress and demeanor. Spit-shined, high quality shoes and a professionally tailored suit are immediately apparent to anyone who must wear a suit every day
Again, these are the MINIMUM standards for acceptable dress and we reserve the right to refine our dress code as required.
Dress Code FAQ
There are few of the most common questions about our professional dress code.
I applaud your standards. Can I copy this page for my students?
I strongly believe in passing on the text of this dress code. However, some images are used here with permission (Thanks Mike), and I cannot consent to allow reproduction of the illustrations.
You are a sexist pig, making women wear skirts. How dare you impose these dress standards?
Actually, I don't set these standards, the clients do. You must conform to the dress codes to enter client site, and it's not just women. I worked at a bank where employees could not have long hair or beards and you could be reprimanded for wearing a non-white shirt.
At my own headquarters, there is no, absolutely no, dress code whatsoever:
Note: In addition to these guidelines, make sure to review:
Professional dress and Tattoos, Professional Perks, etiquette requirements, Cross-Cultural Guidelines, forum guidelines and obfuscation requirements, Inappropriate corporate sponsorship of charities, professional golf etiquette and Professional Corporate Tipping tips
Donald Burleson reinforces the effect of first impressions made by these factors and he does it in a very humorous and memorable way. It is well worth a look. While you may take exception to these codes Mr. Burleson is quite emphatic that the codes are set by his clients. Personally, I think there is a lot of practical wisdom in what he says.
Your dress code page had me on floor :-) Steve Axelrod
As a regular visitor to your very helpful website I stumbled across the "dress code" page. This we read with an amalgam of mirth and disbelief. In the UK there are various Acts of law which would wind a corp up running this stuff. But, yes, it is very important, agreed.
The way we manage this consultant requirement is never hire someone who we even think would need to be told to use a dress code. Maybe you should create a "dress code test" as part of your hire eval. In almost a decade of trading, and with no formal dress code requirement being stated, no client has ever returned an adverse comment to us in the appearance section of our post-contract crits.
Best wishes for a successful 2007
Dr. Mike Buck CEO Concentrika Limited
I understand the need for your employees to make a professional impression on your clients, and I wouldn't advocate that you do anything different. However, I find the cultural mindset on the part of your clients which produces such rigidity depressing. I get the impression of a class consciousness emanating from the upper echelons of those companies which smacks of elitism and snobbery, and that rubs me the wrong way. I am speaking about the executives, of course, who all too often are engaged in a can-you-top-this contest to bolster their already inflated egos, who are then emulated in dress and style by the sychophantic ladder-climbing managers underneath them. These are the companies that provide fodder for the Dilbert comic strip, with their employees slaving away in standardized cubicles, terrified of losing their jobs due to some social blunder. I think you see through all that, because you obviously have a pretty good sense of humor. I also think that the instructional pages which you put up on the web represent a true desire to be helpful and show a generosity which goes beyond merely advertising your services. I escaped from corporate ladder-climbing long ago and am a much happier person for it, working for a small company in a no-nonsense environment. The company consists almost entirely of technical specialists -- programmers, engineers, etc. -- with almost no management. For their part, the banks and insurance companies would contend that their dress codes are necessary in order to make a good impression on their clients, but I think one has to differentiate between the necessary dress code for front-line people dealing directly with customers, such as bank tellers, and the dress code of the executives, which seems to be more about making a statement about the wearer's position, wealth, and power. The only thing which I could perhaps find fault with in your dress code is not the dress code itself, but rather the sense of finality in the pronouncements of what is stylish and what is not. There is indeed a certain timelessness to a good blue or charcoal suit and a good pair of shoes, but as you yourself noted, hats went out in the 50's. Perhaps in another 50 years, your shiny black shoes will look as outdated as one of those Fedora hats does today. Also, medieval shoes look stupid to you. The polo hats and funny riding trousers of the modern day aristocracy look stupid to me. The people I admire most are scientists, and we know how well Einstein dressed :-)
Scott C. Pedigo Java Developer (and when forced, SQL writer) Zurich, Switzerland
I ran across your dress code page today as I was searching for information on Corfam shoes. It is certainly an interesting point of view, and quite "East-coast" in its formality. In the decade-plus I have been in the technology sector, none of the companies (some Fortune 200) had a dress code like the one you model. I believe, though, that many companies could absolutely use some level of redress, if you'll forgive the pun, of their dress code to get closer to yours. But I digress. I am also a senior enlisted member of the Army Reserve, and I was concerned when I read your statement: "To establish a great base-shine, you can easily locate a shoe service at any fine shoe store or military base. U.S. military bases (especially Marine bases) have open-to-the public services where you can get your shoe-mirrors started." I can say with some authority that the events of September 11, 2001 still impact public access to many military installations. It would be helpful to warn your those who are read your web page that military installations are not as open as they once were, and that they should be prepared to be turned away at the gate. Security levels change without notice to the public; further, the general public has no "automatic right" to access a military installation, especially if the purpose of the visit is to get their shoes shined. In all other respects, however, I applaud your efforts to return the American workforce to a condition in which pride of appearance was at the root of the pride of individual workmanship. One of the first lessons we learned in basic training was that your personal appearance is a direct reflection of your standard of workmanship. I learned that putting two hours of effort into getting a mirror finish on my boots, even when I knew I would wipe out that effort in the first half hour of the next day's work, showed that I cared about my appearance and it demonstrated my work ethic. That has served me well in my civilian life. Mark Racicot Sergeant First Class, United States Army Reserve
I particularly liked your section dealing with dress codes; it is spot-on. I spent nine years in the business world prior to returning to active duty after 9-11, and your comments regarding dressing properly for business are right on the mark. Prior to my return to active duty, I spent approximately five years as a Cisco consultant and trainer and to project the proper image, you had to dress for success. It is also refreshing to see a company that stresses integrity as a core business principle. Unfortunately too many businesses do not understand the importance of honest, forthright business dealings. Although it might take a lot longer to hire the employees you seek, in the end it will save you a lot of money due to the reliability of your work force.
Paul Werner Officer, U.S. Army
I really appreciated your page! I am a 23 year old woman in law school and no one has ever explained professional dress to me! I still have one question: What is appropriate footwear for women? I know open toes are not acceptable but what about the back of the shoe or heel height? And what color should stockings be? Thank you so much for the great site! Caitlin Wong Law Student Portland, OR
Janet Burleson responds:
Hosiery should be plain (no patterns or embellishments) in a color that flatters your coloring. In other words, wear a neutral color. Wear flat shoes or low pumps in conservative colors. You don't want to call undue attention to your feet! Shoes should be polished and be easy to walk in. And of course avoid dressy designs such as open toes and sling backs. The goal is to look professional, confident and competent not "sexy".
Loved your article - However there's a lot more to acceptable dress code standards from different places around the world - several of which I have personally experienced (or recommended to conform to).
In certain countries the neck tie is banned, because of its 'colonial era' associations, and must never be worn.
In a similar vein I've found several cultures where wearing light blue or white shirts is a definite no-no. Blue shirts because they're associated with the Police, and white because it's associated with government officials - and both are viewed with suspicion, especially the government officials. While on assignment in one area, I didn't wear white or blue shirts for nearly two years - whether on-site or off.
Overdressing is also a problem - being formal when your client is plainly very casual in their dress code won't likely lose you the contract, but it may well inhibit you getting the next piece of work unless you can 'dress-down' to a suitable degree. However, I have found it appropriate to never participate in client 'casual Fridays', etc. It always seems to be better to ensure that they understand you work with them (as a contractor/consultant), not for them (as an employee).
Being 'overly' formal can also be interpreted as pretentious and 'out of touch' by the client. This can be a very dangerous message to send by our dress and grooming, when we're trying to convey the impression that we are up-to-date and relevant. It is very important to be fashion conscious, never wearing anything obviously out-of-date for the same reason. Although I have learnt the lesson of never out-dressing your client - unless they are the kind that really enjoy the competition (in a friendly sense).
Your interpretation of 'Tropical Formal' is also interesting. In the South Pacific 'Tropical Formal' would often mean a plain colored shirt, with long trousers - but not always a neck tie. Sandals too would often be considered acceptable and in fact more appropriate than shoes. Clothing that doesn't fit the physical environment often marks the wearer as a little strange in the head, also not the best reflection upon the company he/she is representing - the song lyrics "Mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun" comes to mind.
Thanks, for a great article.
Resident of many Tropical places
May I suggest you make an addition to your dress code page. Some areas of the country during the summer (desert areas) run in the 100 plus degree weather. What do you suggest to maintain the professional appearance to clients without diminishing your physical well being. Sincerely, Eric Werny
(below has been completely obfuscated to ensure confidentiality)
I have an issue with an obese female employee. She wears short miniskirts, spaghetti-strapped tops, spandex leggings, and low-cut tops, revealing her huge breasts. She looks really gross, and our customers have commented on her unprofessional attire.
All of our outdoor employees have a dress code: over-the-ankle work boots, denim pants and company logo shirts. Our dress code also stipulates no sneakers, no body piercing (for safety reasons), shirts required. But we have not had the need to create a dress code for office workers. What should we say and how should we breech this matter? We fear that the employee will get upset and feel that it's because of her weight "disability" (she is as wide as she is tall). It's all-about how disgusting she looks in her clothes, not the clothes themselves. What can we do? And we replied:
This is a serious issue that is probably best handled directly. She obviously does not have a clear understanding of generally accepted dress standards within the office environment. Nor does she appear to realize the negative impression she makes on your clients.
You may want to start by reminding her of her value as a member of your team, and then go on to advise her that through her excessively casual attire she is not presenting herself in the proper light as a professional member of the team. Stress that she should not dress for the office in the same manner she might dress for recreational activities. Request that she wear clothing in a style that is compatible with the style worn by other office workers with her physical characteristics.
Keep the focus on dressing "professional versus casual", rather than focusing on the revealing nature of her attire. Remember, discussing the "levels of physical exposure" is a sensitive subject, even for the most seasoned HR professional. To prevent misunderstandings, the HR person should not be alone during this sensitive discussion. A trusted female team member should be there as a witness, just in case your reprimand is taken as an assault on her "obesity" issue, which may constitute a disability.
Dear BC: I agree with your views on all males wearing only white dress shirts, belts etc as a great attire program. However, I honestly believe that wearing a fine powder blue or light pink shirt, especially with a white collar is totally acceptable. As a 53-year old financial advisor, I have noticed that many younger men come in unshaven, messy hair, and with tees or long-sleeve, round-collar polo's.
The other day, a visiting executive client of mine noticed one of my fellow lawyers sitting in our computer room with a 3 day old beard, and a collarless, maroon shirt. The guest asked me if this was a tech engineer or one of our financial advisors!
I was disappointed and shocked at the sight of my associate's slovenly appearance. Although we work in mid-town Manhattan, Casual Fridays has infected the rest of the work week.
Question: How do you suggest we communicate a dress-code to all men and women in our office, without insulting anyone?
Answer: To be effective, any dress code needs clear guidelines and absolute enforcement. If HR can provide humorous illustrations of violations, that is a great way to communicate the dress code requirements. As to enforcement, violators should be sent home to change, discretely and immediately.
I love your online course about the real international dress code requirements. Hm, it could be a new Oracle error code?
ORA-11111: Error in dress code.
Cause: The personal performance is very bad and cannot run acceptable in the environment of a customer.
Action: Early in the morning let run a daily job to check up the mirror image and use your personal tuning tool kit.
Greetings from Germany,
I write regarding the page on your web site regarding dress codes:- you are joking arent you? Firstly, if such suggestions were made in Europe, even as light-heartedly as this, you would have the human-rights squad on your neck like a ton of muesli! Secondly, the style you suggest walking in to a UK boardroom would have people worried: we would expect you to start talking evangelism, and after you left, debate whether you were wearing locked combination underwear beneath it. Only a white shirt? Dark grey suits? I am not suggesting I would prefer to see a pale cream suit, open shirt and medallions (heaven forfend), but I do suggest you hire an Italian or French couturier and get some fashion sense in to your code. Looking like a missionary, or something out of the late fifties, would lose my trade quicker than anything else. The only dress code I have ever imposed on my staff is simple: the first one to wear blue denim in my presence will be asked which service station they would like to work for as a petrol pump attendant. Clean pressed shirt, a tie, formal trousers and proper shoes for the men (lounge suit on occasions outside the office), and neat clothing for the ladies; that is as far as you may go legally. S. R. Atkinson
And our response:
Mr Atkinson, >> you are joking arent you? If you had bothered to read the page, you would have noted that this dress code is required by or clients, not us. Its the same as professional dress codes enforced by large institutions worldwide. >> you would have the human-rights squad on your neck like a ton of muesli! Human rights squads? What, are you a communist? Thats why we treasure living in the USA, where we have freedom from such squads. Here in the free world, employers have an absolute right to make their employees dress as they see fit. >> Looking like a missionary, or something out of the late fifties, would lose my trade quicker than anything else. You think that wearing a well-tailored suit, polished shoes and a white shirt make you look like a missionary? >> that is as far as you may go legally. Thats why we went to war with England, to get away from oppression. Here is the USA, we have the freedom to hire and fire people for any reason.
I just came across your article, while researching on the proper attire to wear to work. I recently received a job in the IT department of digital photography lab and was wondering what would be appropriate to wear. A friend of mine had sent me this article, and I thought that it could be an interesting addition to your website. I thought it would be a light-hearted way to talk about dress codes. Anyway, thanks for all of the advice, and Happy New Year!
Sincerely, Kelly Kennedy
A Burleson review of the linked article yields the following notes of interest: "IT staff are twice as likely to wear a heavy metal t-shirt as their non-IT counterparts. The study of 1000 office workers, by Intermedia.NET, the leading Microsoft Exchange host, also found IT types 34% more likely to sport a ponytail. . . One interesting finding from the study was that IT staff are more likely to wear an expensive suit than a cheap one. While business staff are still far more likely to wear any suit at all, IT people shun cheap suits, with 33% more of them choosing a pricey suit over a bargain one.