Navigating Your Employer’s Dress Code


Last week a client, befuddled by some of the garments and accessories purchased for her, emailed the following questions: “What is your take on workplace dress codes? Does personal branding mean sometimes or always defying my workplace dress code?”

With her permission, I’m answering in the blog because I’m confident that many other women have wondered the same.

Living your personal brand at work doesn’t mean defying your workplace dress code. It does mean interpreting it according to your personal brand attributes. Workplace dress codes are written and should be adhered to; however, this does not mean that you are limited to the simplest interpretation of the dress code. For instance, documented dress guidelines may state that a blue or black skirt suit, closed toe shoes and hosiery are are suggested for women. This implies a very conservative (and even a bit nostalgic) culture. An employee with personal brand attributes of beautiful, successful, authentic and powerful can honor both the dress guidelines and their self-expression by pairing a conservatively structured, natural fabric navy suit with a blouse in her power color. She would be wise to add an accessory or two that express beauty, success and power by way of her shoes, handbag, necklace, timepiece or earrings (one that is conservatively close to the face, and flattering to her face shape). The mistake some people make is adding so many statement pieces that the anchor message (“conservative,” in this case) gets lost.

A very detailed dress guideline, like the 43-page mammoth from UBS, is actually your friend. The expectations exist whether they are written or not – so it levels the playing field to have them in print. The intent of a dress guideline is to allow an organization to visually reflect diversity within the parameters of their brand. The intent is not for employees to interpret dress guidelines in a way that everyone dresses the same. That’s what uniforms are for.

It is a good practice to ask for feedback about how your visual, vocal and behavioral communications are being received. This creates space for employers and mentors to advise you if they think something you do might be “saying” something counterproductive. Generally employers appreciate having permission to affirm or redirect your ambassadorship of their brand.

Pictured: Anne Hathaway gets schooled on Runway magazine dress code by Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada. Photo via Twentieth Century Fox.


About Kali Patrice

Kali Patrice is the founder of The Image Studios, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in branding and image communication. She blogs through “Successful Expression” to share fresh ways to share insights about image, personal branding and self-expression.