Short-shorts, cropped tops, ripped jeans and flip-flops may be totally acceptable summer attire at some companies, but for others, they’re definite no-nos.
While it appears to be open season when it comes to office wardrobes at certain tech companies, for more traditional firms, employees are expected to make good sartorial choices.
“We expect our employees to use their best judgment and to represent their respective brands when possible, which has generally worked well for us,” said a spokeswoman for Tapestry Inc., whose brands include Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman.
Goldman Sachs maintains a “business casual” dress code, but last year its engineering organization switched from “business casual” to “casual” every day.
The company said the move to year-round casual was intended to enhance the work environment. An internal memo said, “Please exercise judgment in determining when to adapt to business attire as circumstances dictate, particularly if you have a client meeting. For those of you who are closely aligned with client-facing divisions, please be mindful of their guidelines as applicable.” The company declined to elaborate on what exactly constitutes “casual.”
Surprisingly, many companies such as HBC, Google, Tory Burch, HBO, Diane von Furstenberg, Lafayette 148, Tory Burch, the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., Tiffany & Co., Warby Parker, NBC, ABC, Theory, Michael Kors and Refinery29 declined to participate in this story. Several were happy to share with WWD how their employees dress for the summer.
Netflix has a culture document which outlines the latitude its employees are given. (For example, it says, “Our vacation policy is ‘take vacation.’ We don’t have any rules or forms around how many weeks per year.”) Dress codes are nonexistent. “You might think that such freedom would lead to chaos. But we also don’t have a clothing policy, yet no one has come to work naked. The lesson is you don’t need policies for everything. Most people understand the benefit of wearing clothes to work,” according to the Netflix document.
A source close to Facebook said as far as dressing for the office, “They just want you to be your most authentic self.”
Of course, some companies’ definitions of “casual” are much different from others, and a few companies have felt compelled to remind their employees about appropriate summer wardrobes and not to go overboard.
Rebecca Waits, executive vice president, People Services at PMK•BNC, the entertainment marketing and communications agency, said, “It’s so funny that you asked this. We just sent out the summer attire reminder.” She said once she sees people wearing crop tops, tube tops and short-shorts, she knows it’s time to send out the reminder. The company employs 300 people in offices in Los Angeles, New York and London. (The memo was sent to employees in L.A. and New York.)
It reads, “With the weather warming up, we want to remind everyone of the office dress code. As a reminder, short-shorts, sheer/low-cut/midriff/backless shirts, tube tops, spaghetti strap tank tops/dresses, and workout clothes are not acceptable in the workplace. Please take the time to think about what is appropriate attire for the office. Please let us know if you have any questions.”
Waits finds that some young women feel like they’re dressing for a music festival like Coachella. More than 65 percent of the company is Millennials and 70 percent female. “It’s a big distraction, especially when you have a lot of clients coming in. Even though we do have hip clients, for some of our junior staffers to be coming in in denim short-shorts, which we’ve had, and tank tops, we’ve had to say, ‘Hey, next time you should just wear jeans,’” she said. Jeans and T-shirts are fine, sandals are fine, especially in summer, she said. “When the weather warms up, it’s still freezing inside, with the air-conditioning. As I’m talking to you I have a little shawl on my legs because I’m wearing a dress and it’s freezing in here,” she said.
Asked what kind of reaction she gets to the e-mail, she said, “They laugh, and send back, ‘Was that about me?’”
Male wardrobes don’t present as much of a problem. “They seem more appropriate. We did have one guy who came in in shorts and a T-shirt and sandals. He only did it once, and enough people joked around with him enough, that he didn’t do it again,” Waits said.
Alex Williamson, chief brand officer of Bumble, the networking and dating app, based in Austin, said their employees dress pretty casually, particularly because it gets really hot in Austin.
“Most people wear jeans and dresses, but we’re totally cool with people wearing workout clothes. A lot of people wear summer dresses and appropriate length shorts. We haven’t put much emphasis on having a dress code for our team. It’s more being comfortable and getting their work done,” she said.
“Our team is really good at policing themselves. If they have an external meeting, they’re going to be dressed appropriately for that,” she said. “As of now with our company handbook, a cropped top would be OK. I see spaghetti straps because it’s hot. Nobody ever really crosses the line.” She noted the company is about empowering women and whatever makes them feel the most confident version of themselves.
“It gets to 100 degrees and humid every single day for months in the summer. It would be hard to enforce a really strict dress code policy. The main thing I see in the office is jeans and simple easy dresses,” she said.
Employees can wear open-toed shoes, flip-flops and people come in in baseball hats and workout clothes “You can go into a meeting and pitch one of the biggest ideas in workout clothes. Everybody is more concerned with the content taking place in the room than what people are wearing,” she said. “It’s casual, professional jeans are totally OK, ripped jeans are OK, nobody wears tube tops. I do see some cropped tops, it depends on the person and what makes them comfortable,” said Williamson.
Stacey Bendet, chief executive officer and creative director of Alice + Olivia, wants her staff to express themselves through their office attire. “We don’t have a dress code, most employees wear Alice + Olivia and I think there is an overall code as to what appropriate workwear is. There have been a few times over the years where assistants came to the office dressed really inappropriately and had to be reminded of what appropriate workwear was…but overall our employees are encouraged to express themselves with clothing.”
Sharfi Farhana, director of talent at IAC Corp., a media company whose businesses include Daily Beast, Daily Burn, Ask.com, College Humor and Vimeo and Match Group, believes that employees should take their cues from others on staff.
“We don’t have a dress code. Come to work as you feel comfortable. We really want individuals here to be their authentic selves. That’s a top priority for us. We don’t want to mold individuals to look a certain way or be a certain way. For us, diversity and voice and ideas is really the competitive advantage that IAC’s had in the past 20 years that we’ve catapulted publicly traded companies,” she said.
Overall, the message is, “Dress as you please, and take social cues from the department that you’re in or the company that you’re in. Our corporate office is pretty unique. We’ve got corporate employees, but we also house Vimeo, College Humor, Daily Beast, Daily Burn (a fitness company). There’s a wide range of how each business dresses according to their vibe or culture. Some people say business casual, but I want to say casual chic,” she said.
She said interns probably dress up a little more formally on the first day until they get the lay of the land. “But pretty soon, you see those tennis sneakers coming out, and if you’re not wearing tennis sneakers, you’re wearing Converses,” she said.
How do new employees figure it out?
“Through the interview process, you really get a lot of touch points. No matter what feel, you get a pretty good idea of the vibe. You get those social cues. I do have candidates that ask me how to dress for the interview, and I tell them, ‘Whatever you’re most comfortable with,’” she said.
When employees have meetings with advertisers, she said it’s important for the staff to know the culture there. “You don’t want to look off brand walking into their building. When people come here, it really doesn’t matter so much. Because over here our overall inclusive culture, you get this wide range of different business and different cultures that are dressed in different ways that kind of showcase who they are,” said Farhana.
Jessica Portenoy, director of human resources at IMG, said the company doesn’t have a dress code, but expects its employees will “consider professional image when dressing for work.” She said as long as it’s not interfering with projecting a professional image, “we encourage people to dress the way they’re most comfortable.”
“We want employees to feel empowered, to bring their individuality and personal style to the workplace. IMG is a creative environment and we want employees to feel inspired and comfortable while still maintaining that professional image,” she said.
IMG said it expects employees to use good judgment regarding how much they’re showing [of their bodies] in the summer months. “Our employees have done an excellent job navigating that, especially our fashion team. They’re certainly equipped to navigate those sartorial challenges,” she said.
She said it really comes down to what their day entails, whether it’s going to a shoot, or an external meeting with a client. “It’s important to consider those things when assessing what’s appropriate. We have individuals who work on a more corporate and formal division, where they are constantly client-facing in those corporate settings,” she said.
And what about the wardrobes of the IMG models? Can they wear whatever they like? “They’re fantastic. I’m definitely inspired by them when it comes to navigating trends, but still remaining polished and professional. They do an excellent job with that. It just adds to the creativity of the environment,” said Portenoy.
Meredith Vass, director of people at Laird + Partners, the New York-based ad agency, said the company technically has a dress code, and it’s casual year-round. There isn’t a big difference between their winter and summer dress. “In general we encourage people to express themselves and wear what they like. We have a pretty fashionable group here, especially on the creative side. People who are client facing, they know when they have client meetings to look a little bit more professional. Or depending on who the client is, perhaps a little more trendy,” said Vass.
People wear ripped jeans, “as long as it’s not completely disheveled looking.” People don’t wear tracksuits, but definitely wear sneakers. “Everybody who wears casual stuff, it’s pretty stylish. Some people wear shorts, nobody wears anything too provocative. People wear jeans. Trey [Laird, founder, ceo and chief creative officer] wears sneakers almost every day. I see a lot of girls wearing sneakers,” said Vass. “In general, our employee population is pretty smart about wearing things that are on-trend, but also would work in a professional environment, especially if they’re client-facing. Even our interns look pretty polished.”
Viacom, whose divisions include MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, cites the company’s dress policy on its corporate intranet. The message starts with a quote from Freddie Mercury that says, “I dress to kill, but tastefully,” and adds. “While there is no formal dress code, employees typically follow a ‘business casual’ practice. We rely on our employees’ good judgment to dress appropriately and in a way that allows them to bring their best selves to work.”
At Goop, which is headquartered in Los Angeles and employs between 120 and 130 people (in L.A. and New York), the look is casual yet polished.
“I think with Goop, when most people work for the brand, they kind of live the brand. Everybody shops from Goop, we have G. Label, which is a perfect work wardrobe. It’s elevated basics, and it’s the perfect dress in an amazing cotton, and a lot of variation of blouses, and great wide-legged pant and a more sophisticated take on denim. People aren’t required to wear Goop, but many do. People come to work at Goop because they love the brand and they believe in the brand,” said Ali Pew, the firm’s fashion director.
She said she hasn’t seen anything too far-fetched in terms of wardrobe choices. “Everybody’s more casual, it’s L.A. People wear more simple classic things. A lot of people wear denim with a pretty puff sleeve blouse. There’s lots of mix of masculine and feminine. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody in heels. Everybody wears flats. You’re in L.A., it’s more of a lifestyle.”
What about crop tops, midriffs, backless dresses? “I haven’t seen it as of yet. I think everybody’s pretty professional. Even though it’s more casual, everybody has a more polished take. I haven’t seen anything that’s a bad work decision.”
So what’s the best way to figure out the most appropriate office attire, when interviewing or having a meeting?
According to Sharon Schweitzer, international etiquette expert, employment lawyer and founder of Access to Culture, said, “When deciding what to wear, remember to research organizational culture and match the formality and style of those with whom you are meeting. If you’re uncertain, it’s better to dress more formally than less.” Based on a 2015 study titled, “The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing,” researchers found that those who dress formally are more likely to be seen as intelligent, feel more powerful, create better relationships within the workplace, and make better decisions.
It’s also important to check out what others are wearing.
“I would look at the culture what the women are wearing and the clients are wearing,” she said. People should take their cues from the leaders in the office, she advised.
As for what’s acceptable and what’s not, Schweitzer advised, “No matter the industry, some clothing items and trends are off-limits due to their lack of professionalism. How sloppy is too sloppy? Overly casual clothing such as ath-leisure, flip-flops, worn tennis shoes, skorts, jumpers, shorts and capris are unprofessional. Also avoid showing cleavage, midriff, legs more than two inches above the knee and too much skin. Backless and strapless tops, cropped tops, short-shorts, miniskirts, sheer fabric and spaghetti straps are reserved for social events on the weekend.”
Discussing the professionalism of sleeveless dresses and tops, she suggested a lightweight linen jacket or summer sweater to cover your shoulders in the office. She said even if a woman has rock-solid arms, when they’re in a meeting with men they’re not wearing sleeveless suits. She feels it looks unprofessional and their credibility is impacted when they wear sleeveless.
“First impressions are formed so quickly. You make a decision based on the appearance. These first impressions make a difference and daily impressions make a difference,” she said.