NEW YORK — This week is forecast to bring warmer temperatures at last to Manhattan, so the big question women face is: how to dress for the office?
Open-toed sandals, flip-flops, city shorts and camisole tops may be a great way to beat the heat, but they are often frowned upon at certain companies and industries, not to mention a poor wardrobe choice for air-conditioned offices.
Following the success of “casual Fridays” several years ago, many companies adopted a “business casual” dress code all year long, eliminating the need for women to be suited up every day and giving them more options.
“I’ve been at Pfizer for 15 years, and I remember the days I had to wear suits and stockings every day,” said Elvia Crismali, an administrative assistant in corporate human resources. She said since Pfizer went to “business appropriate” attire in 2002, she’s enjoyed having more options and finds a more casual atmosphere to be “more productive.”
Many companies have issued guidelines on what’s appropriate for their offices, while others have an unwritten policy. Jeans are frowned upon in many financial services, law and investment firms — except for clean-up days and outings — but remain an option in some of the more creative fields. Companies seem willing to give the go-ahead to the new city shorts when worn with a nice blouse or blazer. In fact, the publisher of a major fashion magazine was spotted earlier this week sporting city shorts with flip-flops en route to the office, and several women were seen in Midtown this week wearing the long city shorts. As a rule, open-toed shoes pass muster, but flip-flops and beach sandals aren’t allowed, said spokeswomen for companies in the financial services, cosmetic, accessories and pharmaceutical industries.
Most firms — no matter what the industry — still require a more dressed-up appearance, i.e., pantsuits, skirt suits or dresses — when meeting with clients or at industry events.
WWD interviewed executives at numerous companies around the city, ranging from American Express to Saks Fifth Avenue, to see what their dress code is for summer, and whether the new city shorts, as well as miniskirts, camisoles, open-toed sandals, jeans and nose piercings are acceptable; how these rules are communicated, and whether summer interns — sometimes the biggest violators of strict corporate dress codes — have to abide by them.
Here’s what they had to say:
At American Express, It’s Business Casual Everyday
American Express was the first financial services company to extend its summer “business casual” dress policy to an all-year one in 1997. But there are still certain rules that Amex employees must abide by, such as no jeans, miniskirts, halter tops or flip-flops.
“No jeans or beach sandals are allowed, but there’s enough flexibility in the policy that allows people to express themselves,” said an Amex spokeswoman.
She pointed out that if an employee has a client meeting, they’re expected to dress in business attire, not business casual. A note is generally sent around from the human resources department before the summer reviewing some of the general guidelines.
Interns are briefed about company dress policy during their orientations. The spokeswoman noted that interns are given plenty of opportunity to network with executives and become assimilated into the company, so it’s important they dress appropriately.
As for legwear and footwear, there are no requirements on pantyhose, and open-toed sandals are OK. As for piercing, there are no rules against it. “There are no explicit rules. Nose piercing is perfectly acceptable,” said the spokeswoman. “I haven’t seen tongue piercing, but people looking for employment want to fit in. People use their discretion.”
If someone breaks the rules and wears jeans, for example, and there’s no outing planned, it’s the leader’s responsibility to communicate with that employee. “If they observe some dress that’s inappropriate, it’s necessary to coach that employee. I suspect the leader would point our that jeans aren’t appropriate,” said Maggie Gagliardi, senior vice president, global compensation and benefits.
One employee recalled when one of her male colleagues at the company was in the elevator wearing jeans, he ran into Ken Chenault, chairman and chief executive officer of American Express. “That was the last time he wore jeans to work,” she said.
At Time Inc., Each Magazine Sets Its Own Style
The publisher of titles such as In Style, Time, Teen People and Sports Illustrated allows each magazine to set its own dress code, depending on what’s appropriate for the particular magazine and the employee’s position. For example, what one might wear to cover a press conference in Washington for Time might not be what a fashion editor at In Style would wear to a fashion show.
A spokeswoman also said it depends on the day of the week. “Mondays at Time magazine are a quiet day,” she said, and tend to be more casual since the magazine has just hit the newsstand. And the staff works on Saturdays, which is a casual day.
“There are no blanket rules,” she said. For example, the company would frown upon a midriff-baring top, but city shorts are appropriate, as long as they’re not HotPants.
Business Casual Takes Root at Revlon
At Revlon, the human resources department periodically reviews the company’s standards, as well as competitive business practices, and communicates them internally.
“Our overall practice is ‘business casual,’ with a more relaxed look on Friday. The key is to dress in a way that is appropriate to our business, is comfortable and is respectful of colleagues and customers,” said a Revlon spokeswoman. She noted that open-toed shoes are acceptable, but not flip-flops. “Work-appropriate sandals are permissible. Beach shoes, like flip-flops, are not acceptable in the workplace,” she said.
As for city shorts, the spokeswoman said, “Long tailored shorts are acceptable, but not weekend attire.” She added that work-appropriate jeans are allowed on Friday. But “no ripped, torn or inappropriate styles are allowed.” She said work-appropriate sleeveless tops are allowed, but not skimpy or revealing ones. And skirts can’t be too skimpy or revealing.
On the touchy subject of piercing, she noted, “Piercings are a personal choice but, if distracting, are discouraged in the workplace.” She noted that interns must abide by the same rules as full-time employees. And what happens when an employee breaks the rules?
“Employees who dress inappropriately create discomfort for others. We address these behaviors as we would any other behavior that interferes with business,” said the spokeswoman.
‘Business-Appropriate’ Attire at Pfizer
Sylvia Montero, senior vice president, corporate human resources at Pfizer Co., the pharmaceutical firm, said the company morphed from casual Fridays to a pilot program of business-appropriate attire in 2001. Based on its success, “we relaxed the dress code all week in 2002,” she said.
Although there’s been no measurement as to whether a more casual atmosphere has led to increased productivity, she said employees like it better. “Colleagues feel the program does contribute to a more relaxed and collegial culture,” she said. “Business-appropriate attire” can translate to slacks and sweaters for women, or a skirt and blouse, without the need for a suit unless there’s an outside meeting or conference.
The company’s internal Web site posts guidelines on what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate for specific corporate meetings. In fact, the site contains pictures of what’s considered business-appropriate attire, from the more casual to more formal corporate events. “There are times when business-appropriate requires more formality,” she said.
She noted that tank tops, halters, strapless tops, shirts with logos, jeans, capri shorts, beach shoes and athletic shoes aren’t allowed. However, a camisole top would be acceptable if it’s worn under a jacket or sweater. “There’s a level of judgment we expect,” she said.
Each of the Pfizer work sites decides on its own dress code, taking their cues from New York. However, “manufacturing sites have other dress requirements because of personal safety and product safety rules, and we modify it for business functions.”
Should someone not adhere to the guidelines, Montero said, “We expect our supervisors to coach. Mild coaching works.”
She said women are allowed to wear open-toed shoes, but not flip-flops or beach shoes, and there are no rules on pantyhose. Jeans aren’t allowed, and skirt lengths depend on the individual. “Once again, it depends on your body. One length may look fine on one person, but not on another,” she said.
She noted that sometimes Pfizer’s outside vendors will call and ask what the company’s “business-appropriate attire” means before they come over for a meeting, so they’re not dressed totally out of sync with those they’re meeting.
As for the men, she said, “Ties are not required. That was the most popular decision we made,” said Montero.
Separate Dress Codes at Coach
The fashion industry probably has some of the most loosely defined summer dress codes. Naturally, staffers are encouraged to look au courant with the trends, which means that city shorts and camisoles would not look out of place, and flip-flops, particularly designer versions, can pass in boardrooms.
“Our objective is to create a positive, productive performance-oriented work environment, and the dress code is one element of that environmental construct,” said Felice Schulaner, senior vice president of human resources at Coach Inc. “When people feel they can express their creativity but still work in a professional environment, it helps us advance the business agenda.”
The company has separate dress codes for its stores and for corporate offices. For store staffers, “We have very reasonably defined guidelines for what is appropriate and what isn’t appropriate, and that’s because it’s a customer-facing role,” Schulaner explained. “We don’t want the employees to distract from the product and the service experience. In our stores, the women are wearing white button-down shirts, black pants, or black skirts, or grey skirts or pants. They have a black sweater on and black shoes, and usually wear a Coach scarf. The hair is very simple and very unobtrusive.”
The corporate headquarters, however, have more of a “business casual” dress code.
“People can wear classic trousers, woven shirts, polo shirts, sweaters, sandals, skirts, dresses, tops or boots,” Schulaner said. “We suggest that soiled or torn garments are not a good idea. We don’t like sheer garments, and we discourage shorts, although I think city shorts would be appropriate this season. We are a fashion company. We ask people not to wear flip-flops, because I don’t think it’s terribly professional. Mostly, what we ask people to do is to wear clothing that would not be distracting. You could wear something that’s absolutely in the letter of the law [of the] dress code, but if it were five sizes too tight, it would be distracting and that would be inappropriate.
“We want our people to wear clothing that reflects who we are. We are a fashion brand, a modern, American, accessible luxury brand. We encourage them to wear Coach product, but we don’t have hall monitors … We think of our employees as adults and think they are going to be appropriately attired for work.”
Allowed are open-toed shoes, jeans and sleeveless tops. There are no restrictions on skirt lengths or piercings, and camisoles and flip-flops are discouraged. “If you would be wearing it to the beach, it’s probably not appropriate to wear to work,” Schulaner said.
Keeping On-trend at Saks Fifth Avenue
At Saks Fifth Avenue, open-toed shoes, but not flip-flops, are permitted; jeans are not, unless it is for a denim or contemporary-related event. Sneakers, slippers, sweatshirts, sweatpants and logoed T-shirts are also discouraged. Camisoles may be used as an undergarment.
“Saks Fifth Avenue has style standards that we issue to our employees,” said Andrée Corroon, the retailer’s vice president of communications.
“Basically, the appearance and demeanor of anyone who works at Saks has to reflect who we are — a fashion authority with a fashion point of view. This includes both sales associates and corporate employees.”
If something is on-trend and keeps within the style standards of the retail chain, it can be worn at Saks.
“We want people to have their own personal style, while keeping within a professional atmosphere,” Corroon said. “If it’s on-trend to wear chic long shorts, it can be suitable, so long as they are appropriate. But it’s more appropriate for women. In terms of men, Bermuda shorts may be in style, but the dress code specifies suit or dress trousers for men.”