IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

How to crack the corporate dress code

There are a growing number of firms today throwing dress codes out the window and welcoming workplace fashion faux pas with open arms. Your Career, by Eve Tahmincioglu.
Duane Hoffmann /

Every summer we see a flood of news stories telling employees they shouldn’t dress too casual or too crazy if they want to be successful at work.

The typical refrain: Forget the flip-flops and cutoffs and maintain your professional look, or watch your career die.

I’m here to tell you that you can work at a job today and not have to show up in a corporate straight jacket. In fact, you can actually allow your own creativity to shine through at some employers, and even tattoos and piercings are welcome. You just have to find the right company.

It might be getting a bit easier to do that. There are a growing number of firms today throwing dress codes out the window and welcoming workplace fashion faux pas with open arms.

“You’re just as smart in flip-flops as you are in stockings and heels,” says Patty Briguglio, president of MMI Associates, a Raleigh, N.C., public relations firm. For her 18 employees, all bets are off when it comes to what they can wear to work.

Well, there was one employee who pushed the envelope when she showed up at work in her pajamas. “That crossed the line because she just rolled out of bed and came into work,”  Briguglio explains. But as for T shirts, jeans, flips-flops, she says, no problemo.

A study by Yahoo! HotJobs and Banana Republic found that more companies were getting more comfortable with more comfortable clothes, and moving away from the buttoned-down mentality. “Companies are embracing the theory that comfort increases productivity,” said Susan Vobejda, Yahoo! HotJobs vice president of marketing and career expert.

A few factors appear to be driving the trend.

“Offices are much more relaxed in terms of what employees can wear, there are many more remote offices, remote workers, etc.,” says Patricia Handschiegel, editor of “I think business casual has replaced professional in a large number of workplaces. There are still those industries that require professional attire on a daily basis, but I can say from first-hand experience in the corporate world, most offices are pretty casual these days. Friday dress down days, too. You can get away with much more at work from a fashion standpoint now than ever.”

Many managers, trying to lure younger Gen Y and Gen X workers, are also holding out a lax dress-code policy as a benefit for job candidates, up there with pay and vacation time.

But don’t be duped into taking a low-paying job just because you can show up looking like Marilyn Manson every day.

“Employers now consider it a ‘perk’ for people to dress casually, maybe even crazy. Employees seem to consider it a plus to dress like a slob for work," says Steve Viscusi, author of "On the Job: How to Make It in the Real World of Work."

"However, it’s really just a trick — because it’s a perk that has no dollar value," Viscusi adds. "So allowing employees to ‘dress mess’ instead of ‘for success’ is a perk that saves companies money."

The bottom line is finding a job you love, that pays well, and lets you be you, whether you’re a fashionista or feel most comfortable in a fluffy robe.

I’m not kidding here. YogaFit, a company that certifies fitness instructors and has “absolutely no dress code,” had one employee come in wearing a bathrobe, says Kamille Kirk, assistant to the president of the company.

And it gets stranger. “Some girl wore angel wings to work, because she felt that she needed to express herself,” she explains. “Everyone has their own independent personality here, and therefore their style of dress exhibits their personality and individualism.  We've got the surfer chick who wears all her beach threads here, and then there's the overdressed office tramp who has to wear high boots and lots of makeup.”

Since much of the communications with the world outside are done via phone or e-mail at YogaFit, it doesn’t matter how employees dress, Kirk adds.

Indeed, when it comes to interacting with clients, sometimes the liberal dress policies go right out the door.

At the PR firm MMI, workers are expected to have one nice, professional outfit at work just in case an employee has to go out and meet with a client. And Briguglio, the company president, says she expects job candidates to come to interviews wearing suits.

“Frankly, in an interview you are on your best behavior and I’m on my best behavior, so everyone has to look good,” she explains. “If you can’t get it together in an interview then I’m not sure you’re going to have appropriate judgment with a client.”

So, as a job candidate, play it safe and try to dress professionally when you meet with a hiring manager, but make sure to ask about the dress policy if dressing any way you want is a critical factor for the job you accept. (A survey conducted by staffing company Spherion found that 42 percent of the workers thought a relaxed summer dress code was important.)

You can just take your chances and show up dressed like a slob. It all comes down to what you want and how long you are willing to wait to find just the right fit.

And some industries will definitely be more open than others.

“The music industry is the most liberal in accepting creative personal expression work attire, and high tech follows, where just just about anything goes except for executives,” says Robin Ryan, career coach and author of "Soaring on Your Strengths."

I guess the execs will have to settle for the big bucks.