I have been a long-time advocate of a casual work environment, but dress standards sometimes become too loose, especially in Summer.  As a CEO once responded when I recommended that the company should extend casual days to the entire week, not just Fridays:  “Unfortunately, some employees don’t know the difference between business casual and beach casual.”   

I first ran into business attire issues when I became a manager at Eli Lilly many long years ago.  My boss asked me to improve the dress standards of one of my staff members who appeared to wear variations of the same overly casual outfit every day, including on days of important meetings. 

I went into the conversation with the first edition copy of John Malloy’s then best seller, Dress For Success.  At first, it didn’t seem to help.  Initially, the employee was insulted, but she eventually calmed down and asked me if her wardrobe choices would hurt her career.  Rather than answer in the affirmative, I suggested that she ask herself that question after observing what others in management are wearing.   Since she was eager to succeed, she took the book to heart, improved her business attire and today continues to enjoy a very successful career. 

Bottom line:  Wardrobe does matter. 

Excellent advice on dressing for success is provided in The New York Times Career Coach Q&A by Phyllis Korkki.  This is must reading for everyone, not just new graduates entering the workforce.  It’s far shorter than Malloy’s book, but the Q&As cover all the key points about what to wear to an interview and how to dress when you get a job. 

Illustration:  Chris Reed, The New York Times