Monday, June 14, 2010

Encore post: Every boss is crazy 'bout a sharp dressed intern

(Note: I'm still off in Miami at the AIA Convention (or rather, recovering from it), so I'm reposting some articles for your enjoyment. Back at the end of the week! -- Lulu)

Summer is upon us, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the office. Sleeves are shorter, pants go from wool to cotton, skirt hemlines are higher, boots have been traded in for sandals, and hair goes up into ponytails. But it's summertime that highlights the importance of dressing well in the office because it's the time most interns (and office employees in general) show too much skin and make regular attire faux pas. With a few exceptions, the workplace in general has become less formal with regards to dress code. It's something of a carryover from making our office discourse less formal; when "Mr. Swenson" becomes "Dave", it seems odd for him to still be wearing a tie, cotton/wool slacks, and super-shined shoes. However, less formal does not mean casual or even schleppy. First, here is a list of things that should never be worn in an office. Like, ever.
  • Camisoles and tank tops: ladies, if there isn't at least a cap sleeve on it, save it for after work. And fellas, if I hear of any of you wearing a tank top outside of the gym, you will answer to my wrath.
  • Flip-flops and hiking sandals: if it's a shoe you wear while doing summer water sports, save it for those water sports.
  • Shorts: a couple of years ago, women's fashion magazines were flogging "formal" shorts to go along with those lacy camisoles-as-shirts I mentioned above. Shorts are shorts, ladies. No one needs to see that much of your leg. If you wouldn't wear a skirt that short, then don't wear a pair of shorts of the same length. And fellas, there's no reason to ever wear shorts to work unless you're only going to be there for a couple of hours, and then you're going hiking/camping/golfing, in which case just go have fun and quit rubbing it in our faces.
  • Bare tummies and cleavage: regardless of gender and physical condition, no one wants to see your bare midsection, not even a one-inch sliver of it as you walk to the copier. And with the low-cut shirts and low-cut pants (for both genders), it's really important to think about your frontside and backside cleavage. When you sit down, can anyone see that much of your behind? It's not just women with the low-cut shirts, though; fellas, button every button on that shirt except for the top one or two.
The list above doesn't put that much off limits, so what should you wear? First, let's review what business casual means. It generally indicates that you wear at least khakis or nondenim pants or skirts, shirts that usually have some kind of collar like a polo or tailored-looking shirt (mostly this rule is for men), skirts that at least touch the top of the knee when standing (that goes for women). and polished or clean shoes. Obviously there are exceptions to these admittedly broad rules. Here in Colorado, the combination of cold and snowy weather with an outdoorsy culture makes fleece tops and closed-toe hiking shoes acceptable workplace attire. And granted, as architects and design professionals, we have some creative leeway with our clothing. It's almost expected that we'll dress a little more daring or interestingly, but there's still plenty of room for creativity to coexist with some professional modesty. It's also possible to wear jeans in a way that they look professional, or at least grown-up. Get some that fit well and don't look like you've been working in the yard in them. In general, whatever you wear should be clean, ironed if it looks like it even remotely needs it, and with no holes or rips or major stains.

Some interns might say, "who cares? I never see clients, and I should be comfortable while I'm working." Fair enough, but you can be comfortable without looking like you just rolled out of bed. Allow me to sound a bit like your parents for a moment: you're not in college anymore. You're a grown-up and a professional, so dress like it. Remember, you're working with a lot of people (some of whom you're working for) who came up in a time in which you dressed nicely to go to the store, much less to go to work. There are plenty of affordable clothing options that aren't a scruffy-looking t-shirt and jeans. It's called Old Navy. And regarding the I-never-go-to-meetings excuse, never say never. One day when I was an intern about two years out of school, a mechanical consultant came to our office for a meeting that my boss had canceled and had forgotten to tell this fellow. My boss was gone, and so I was called to the reception desk to deal with this fellow, with whom I'd spoken on the phone several times but had never met. I was wearing a nice silk skirt and dressy shirt and heels that day, and after I informed him that the meeting had been canceled, he asked, "Well, can we meet? You might be the person I needed to talk to about these duct layouts anyway." Another time, I was working along when I heard a familiar voice near my desk. Turns out that a client I had met with a couple of times was in the office to meet regarding another project, and he had stopped by my desk to say hi. These are just two of many small and large run-ins I've had with consultants and clients for which I was fortunately prepared appearance-wise. You never know.

But even more than this, remember what it is you do for a living. You're an architect in an office with a bunch of other architects. You spend eight or more hours a day in a roomful of people who have an extremely refined sense of sight. We are a very particular bunch about how things look, about color and texture and proportion. Add this observation to the fact that sight is thesense that takes up more of the human brain than any other sense, and you begin to understand how much your appearance matters. Your bosses are looking. Your colleagues are looking. They notice if you look like you're always hung over or that you put thought into where you're going in the morning.

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