Remember the catchy, albeit raunchy, song about "Ti_s and As_" from the musical Chorus Line.  It seems to have helped set a new standard in unprofessional attire for some workers.

Recently I was interviewing a college student for a possible internship with my consulting firm.  She arrived in a revealing low-cut tank top with bra straps and much more hanging out, tight shorts, and flip flops.  This was shocking and distracting.  Needless to say, she did not get the position. 

Unfortunately this situation is not uncommon. Last night I picked up will-call tickets for a concert.  The young woman working in the ticket box office wore a strapless top without a bra which she repeatedly had to pull up so it did not fall down.   On stage, the male orchestra performers wore a relaxed summer attire without ties or jackets.  They looked professional with long-sleeve white shirts that were buttoned up and tucked in their slacks.  A few of the female performers however did not uphold this standard -- for example, every time one female violinist leaned forward to turn the music, her entire back end hung out.  Here was the 'plumber's butt' syndrome on stage -- ugh! It was clearly distracting her and the audience. Other parts of that same organization had set a reasonable standard -- ushers regardless of gender, for example, were dressed quite appropriately with non-revealing white blouses/shirts and black pants. These ushers appeared to be more mature and perhaps had learned from experience. Why is there such inconsistency?

Men are not immune to this syndrome of unprofessional attire and should be equally aware of the importance of portraying a professional image.

Organizations had not set, communicated, or upheld a consistent and professional standard for work attire. Such businesses are doing a disservice to their customers, employees, and their own image.  Employees are not as productive in such >settings.  Customers get a poor impression of your business.

It begs the question -- What are parents, schools, businesses, and the fashion industry teaching people about professional appearance.  What kind of judgment (or lack thereof) do employees and employers have?  It appears that the offenders don't even realize they are doing something inappropriate.

Practical Pointers for Employees.

  • Choose modesty over revealing clothes, not only for an interview but also for work.

  • Become aware.  Look at what people in positions you aspire to attain are wearing -- what is appropriate and what is not? Identify a role model after which you can model your attire.

  • When in doubt on the appropriate nature of some outfit, get an opinion from a teacher, parent, or another respected person in the community.

  • Take a course.  Alice Swanson offers a workshop called "Learn to Earn" which is designed to help students make the transition from college to career (www.learntoearnworkshops.com). Alice states, "I DRILL professional attire into my students. I dress professionally every day that I teach so they can see what is appropriate."

Practical Pointers for Employers.

  • Set a written standard for professional attire in your work environment.  Be specific so that it is very clear.  Ensure there is no double standard -- insist that both women and men dress professionally.

  • Communicate your standard on an ongoing basis.  Share it during orientation sessions.  Have your managers be role models. 

  • Uphold your standard.  Send people home and dock their pay, if they do not meet the standard.  Include professional image in performance reviews. Do not accept less.

Together we can move beyond T&A as accepted work attire. Take on the pursuit of professional image as part of your passionate purpose.   The result will be better business and career performance.

Theresa M. Szczurek (www.TMSworld.com and www.PursuitofPassionatePurpose.com)


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