It’s not about dressing up or downSneakers and suits go together like hot chocolate and warm days. It can work, but mostly it does not.
An August fashion spread in GQ magazine shows a model in red Converse sneakers and a suit. Get it: a model. Most of us cannot carry off the sneaker and suit look. For many of us, our company would frown on such a combination. Wrong image.
On one hand, image is superficial. But as one saying goes, “Image is everything.” And there is another adage: “Clothes maketh the man” (or woman).
The reasons firms prefer certain types of attire not only has to do with image. “Dress codes” also relate to the company’s image, safety and professionalism. How often do you walk into a bank and find a teller wearing a baseball cap, baggy jeans and chains of jewelry? Would you trust your life to an airline attendant wearing a black leather jacket and boots with five-inch stilleto heels? Would you want to trust your cutting-edge advertising campaign to someone wearing clothes from the 1970s?
Editors of the workplace-wear Web site www.howtodressforsuccess.com say the reality is, “Potential employers, clients and colleagues make judgments about your personality, skills and attitude based on the way you dress.” Most companies hire people who fit the company image. If your position includes many out-of-the-office meetings with clients, image is especially important.
This is particularly true at multinational corporations. “You need to be aware of cultural differences that affect the way in which you are perceived,” the Web site says. “Knowing what the cultural taboos are and avoiding incorporating them into your wardrobe can greatly improve your effectiveness and in certain cases even make the deal.”
But because each company is different, what is appropriate in one place may not be appropriate in another. Take the time to get to know your company’s dress code, your clients and your firm’s competitors. If you are interviewing for a position, a suit is usually a must.
While some dress codes are just about the acceptable style, some are very job-specific and functional. Some can also be humorous. Take the dress code for Vacaville Psychiatric Program in California: “No sweat suits, including designer,” (There goes my Juicy Couture outfit), “No thongs, shower shoes or slippers. Shoes are to have a minimum strap around the heel; unless medically exempted, you may have to run in an emergency.”
Humor aside, according to J. Daniel Marr, a lawyer and business law professor at Daniel Webster College in Nashua, New Hampshire, “Workers should expect to be required by their employer to wear work attire appropriate for their occupation.” In the United States at least, “an employer has the right to require a certain level of dress so long as it does not discriminate between workers based on a protected class. For example, it would be inappropriate for an employer to say that female workers may not wear pants and must wear skirts or dresses when male workers are obviously allowed to wear pants.”
But we are talking about Korea. For years, women working in a corporate environment here wore skirts, and the men wore suits and ties. Sam Butler, of the headhunting firm DDM Korea, says now there are basically three categories of dress codes: formal, business casual and very casual.
Mr. Butler says that start-ups and tech companies tend to be less formal because most of their employees are not meeting with clients but working, often by themselves, at a computer terminal. Because of this difficult, solitary work, companies want to let them relax and have a little fun.
In other industries, like energy or banking, conservative suits are still the norm, Mr. Butler says. He suggests that before going on an interview, applicants research the dress code of the firm they are applying to and dress right at or, when possible, one step above the dress code.
Some traditionally conservative companies are loosening up. At Citibank, for example, you will find plenty of suits ― and sneakers.
In May, the bank launched “sneakers and suits” attire as part of its Citi Runs campaign. Research showed that the bank’s stiff urban image was actually intimidating to potential customers, especially those interested in opening a simple savings account. In order to reach out to them, the bank tweaked its image.
“Most banks have a reputation for being dignified places. So at first, I felt that wearing sneakers to work was odd,” says Bae Sang-ok, a manager at Citibank. Everyone from the tellers all the way up to the country business manager, Richard Jackson, wore sneakers to work. And now, Citibank clients, like Hong Young-sik, say, “I’m flattered that the bank would change in order to get my business.”
That is the power of image.
by Joe Yong-hee/Kang Byung-chul