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As a small business owner I came to recognize that a dress code sets professional boundaries. Not too sexy, not too casual are simple enough rules to follow. But experience has taught me that there are more subtle dress code mistakes we tend to make. Beyond the obvious, here's what I've seen through the years both as an employer and employee.
Don't Outsmart Your Boss
Working in a small law office in my early twenties, I made a point of dressing in business casual attire to give the right impression to clients. My boss's wife, who sat directly behind me, dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers. She was always very appreciative of my self-imposed dress code, which she admitted to having no patience for herself. Even so, when I shopped for work clothes I toned my selections down, not to look too good beside her.
Don't Be a Prima Donna
Working in a corporate environment years later, I failed to embrace the undeclared office dress code of jeans and T-shirts, which was runoff from the high tech industry that was surrounding us. Reverting to my old ways, I stuck with business casual, coming to work in high-heels when others wore sneakers. Only later did I realize that I was perceived as a prima donna by my co-workers, who half resented my beautiful clothes and half snickered at me behind my back for showing off.
Don't Have a Bad Hair Day
Just starting out in business years ago, I was in the habit of getting up at four in the morning to meet with a farmer who grew flowers an hour outside the city. Then I would settle down to making flower arrangements for hours, before rushing to make afternoon deliveries. As the business grew, with more routes and more walk-in clients, my farm-girl appearance made a lackluster impression that cost me a wedding party one day, after which I learned to dress professionally, no matter how early my day started. I demanded the same of my employees, when I began to hire help the following year.
Don't Wear What the Buyer Can't Have
Working on commission as a sales girl one summer, I learned that dress code alone isn't enough when it comes to business success. Though I dressed appropriately, my slightly exotic clothes looked far better than anything sold where I worked. To avoid losing sales when customers wanted to know where to find what I was wearing, I switched to dressing in clothes sold at the store, though I left a button open here and there or added a knot in the fabric. I passed these fashion tips on to customers and tripled my sales. In the years since, I've remembered not to wear my most expensive jewelry or clothes if a customer or client would be made to feel inadequate by comparison.
Don't Break the Stereotype
Working with clients as a relocation specialist, my communication revolved mostly around email and telephone. Always highly professional, I created a stereotype that went beyond the casual dress code prevalent where I worked. This disparity took shape when I met a client face-to-face for the first time. It was only an instant of surprise before we shook hands, but the formal business attire of the client made me feel shabby by comparison. From then on, I made a point of matching my client's expectations of my dress code when we met face-to-face.
Don't Horrify Your Observers
A few years ago, I encountered the new fad of body piercing head-on. Embracing political correctness, the coffee shop nearest my workplace, where I used to meet up with co-workers for a bite to eat, started hiring servers with repulsive body piercing. From large nuts inserted into earlobes to pegs driven through the nose, the spectacle put me off my food, and I stopped frequenting that business.
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