When Casual Dress Is a Little Too Casual
Recent articles about how some companies are shifting to a more casual dress code reminded me of an experience many years ago when an employee took the notion of casual attire a little too far.
One day in early June my boss’s boss, Mike, came by my office and asked if I could use an intern for the summer. I said thanks, but no. It turned out the intern, Darren, was Mike’s nephew, a college student who needed a job for the summer, and “yes” was the only correct answer.
A few Mondays later, Darren showed up. Members of the team were delighted to have someone to handle their most boring tasks, and Darren was thrilled to be accepted by the team. Things went fine on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, Darren showed up wearing shorts. I don’t mean just shorts; I mean short shorts. And of course, flip-flops, because when you wear short shorts, you don’t wear cotton socks and black leather dress shoes.
This was in the days before casual Fridays—or casual any day of the week. Plus, this was a stuffy, old-school insurance company. Professional attire was the norm, even in IT. I had a brief conversation with Darren. He dressed appropriately the rest of the summer.
Now, it’s possible that Darren was testing the system to see what he could get away with. More likely, he was just young and inexperienced. You, however, are beyond college age and much more experienced. So, if you’re going to be visiting a company for an interview or a meeting, it might be wise to call ahead and inquire about the dress code. Whether the code is formal or jeans and T-shirts or anything in between, you’ll feel more comfortable if your attire is similar to those you’ll be encountering.
The next best thing, if you’ll be spending more than a day at the organization, is to simply observe. Notice how people are dressed and then emulate that style. Pay attention to whether the style is the same from day to day, or whether it’s flexible, varying with whether you’ll be confined to a desk or meeting with customers.
Observing, in general, is a good starting point for understanding an organization’s corporate culture. Corporate culture refers to the personality of the company, which includes the norms, values, behaviors, expectations, and goals of the company.
Darren probably didn’t know a thing about corporate culture. But if he’d paid attention to the members of the team, it would have been obvious what constituted appropriate attire. If in doubt, he could have just asked Uncle Mike!