Work wear gets back to business

 

Detroit Free Press

Soon after becoming a manager of Point A Luggage at Detroit's Twelve Oaks Mall, Joshua Lay instituted a formal dress code for his employees.

Khaki pants and polo shirts were replaced with button-down shirts, ties and jackets.

"It's helped with how we are portrayed," said Lay, 27, adding that some employees grumbled about having to buy new clothing. "It's much easier to sell a high-end item if we are dressed like the clientele we appeal to."

More companies are going that route, reversing the relaxed dress codes of the 1990s, when khakis overtook suits in the workplace.

In 2005, 41 percent of U.S. companies allowed casual dress, down from 51 percent in 2001, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

This is good news for those who felt dress codes had gotten too lax -- and bad news for the people who dislike dealing with ties and nylons. "Not only did people become more casual in their clothing, but they also became casual in their work," said Sherry Day, immediate past president of National Association of Women Business Owners.

"The first impact you have is that message you send when you are first seen. Then you have to either live up to it or overcome it," Day said.

Rod Brown has noticed the shift toward more formal attire among his customers at the Shirt Box, a Farmington Hills, Mich., store that caters to businessmen.

"I'm glad it's swinging back," said Brown, the store's owner. "It's nice to see people with button-up shirts. It's so much more clean and professional looking.

"Even those who are still doing business casual are wearing things like wool slacks and sports coats," he said. Companies not requiring suits and ties are putting limits on how casual employees can be.

Andy Gutman, CFO of the Farmington Hills commercial real estate firm Farbman Group, said the company has a relaxed dressed code. However, Farbman also has rules about what is too casual.

That means no tennis shoes, halter tops, tank tops, shorts or flip flops.

"We switched from four days of formal dress and one day of business casual to a more casual setting about a year ago," Gutman said. "It has helped with employee retention. ... They're more productive and comfortable."

Despite the more relaxed rules, he hasn't embraced it himself.

"I wear a suit and tie and sport coat," he said. "I got tired of keeping an extra shirt behind the door if I suddenly needed one."

Brian Schubot, president of Jules R. Schubot Jewelers in Troy, Mich., said the store stuck with formal attire, bucking the industry trend to relax workers' threads.

"We consider ourselves a luxury shopping experience and we feel that traditional dress adds to the atmosphere we provide at our salon," he said.

Judith Bowman, author of "Don't Take the Last Donut: New Rules of Business Etiquette," (Career Press, $19.99), speaks to companies about how workers should dress.

Cowboy boots and jeans that were acceptable during the dot-com era have no place in today's business world, she said.

"Business casual is definitely a thing of the past in this most highly competitive business arena," Bowman said. "Lackadaisical attire looks like lackadaisical work performance."

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