guiding the career in public relations

culpwrit header image 1

Dress for Success: Cracking Office Dress Codes

January 24th, 2017 · 3 Comments

Business Casual photo

I’ll never forget the summer afternoon when Sears CEO Arthur Martinez agreed to a “trial” casual days program for corporate headquarters. The always impeccably attired CEO’s two requests: trial period would run until Labor Day and we would make sure employees understood the difference between business casual and beach casual.

Our ensuing Do’s and Don’ts Fashion Show, posters and employee newsletters engaged employees in visualizing proper and improper business casual attire. Only a few employees occasionally showed up in flip flops and bare midriff tops, while most discovered the ease and comfort of Dockers, sneakers, casual shirts and Capris.

The Sears trial was deemed a success and the company readily adopted full-time casual, something that is standard policy at most agencies and corporations today. However, dress standards still vary widely depending on the organization. This makes it important–especially for job seekers–to inquire about dress standards of prospective employers. My recommendation has always been to dress one level above the organization’s standard. In other words, if the standard is business casual, then wear business professional.

The style pros at apparel retailer T.M.Lewin created the following helpful graphic for Culpwrit readers wondering about what to wear once you learn the dress code of a particular organization.

Dress for Success graphic











Tags: Day in the Life · Job Search

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kathryn Wilken // Jun 5, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    Hello! I am a student at Southeast Missouri State University majoring in Advertising and Public Relations. I was wondering which category piercings and tattoos would be permitted in? I would assume casual, but with tattoos and piercing become a not-so-much taboo I am wondering if it makes any sort of difference.

  • 2 Culpwrit // Jun 7, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    Definitely casual or “beach casual.” During a final exam presentation a few years ago, students made presentations to several recruiters. Afterwards they advised one student who wore a casual dress that showed her shoulder and leg tattoos that she should have worn slacks and a top with sleeves–at least for the initial first-impression interview. She replied that she didn’t want to hide her body art because she wants people to know her true self. She had a longer than usual job search.

  • 3 Courtney McWilson // Jun 6, 2017 at 9:59 am


    My name is Courtney McWilson, I’m a Public Relations major at Southeast Missouri State University. Fashion has always been something I enjoy so I would say that I typically “dress up” for work above what is expected. My question today is, after getting a new position do you think you should always dress one level above what is expected or begin dressing to fit the culture of the agency?

    Thank you for all your help!

Leave a Comment