New survey says Canadians don’t know how to dress for work (So, here’s what to wear)

A new survey of Canadian employees shows that many of us just don’t know what to wear to work anymore. So, here are the answers to some of the most common workplace clothing questions and pitfalls.

OfficeTeam surveyed over 400 Canadian office workers about how they dress for work, and they found a great deal of uncertainty among the ranks. Although 63 per cent of Canadian workers surveyed said they prefer to wear more relaxed work attire, more than a quarter (28 per cent) admitted they’re at least sometimes unsure about whether clothing is office-appropriate. Nearly four in ten (39 per cent) would choose to eliminate uncertainty altogether by donning a uniform.

It can be confusing

In the tech industry particularly, most workplaces have very relaxed, casual dress codes. I once interviewed a graphic designer for a position on the marketing team, who did his due diligence, he just had no common sense.

He asked – as we often recommend candidates ask – in advance of the job interview about the office culture and style. I told him that we were a casual office. That was the diligence part.

The lack of common sense part was that he showed up for the interview with me the editor-in-chief, and my boss, the VP of marketing, in cargo shorts and sandals. The thing is, in the heat of summer, a designer could probably get away with coming into work in cargo shorts. (Note: I don’t recommend men wearing shorts to work in an office – it can be a career-limiting move – just that some techies and creatives do, and they seem to be fine with it.)

But you cannot wear shorts to a job interview. Just because the office dress code is loose, doesn’t mean you can take full advantage of that fact when trying to make a professional first impression.

Dressing down can be seen as disrespectful to the potential employer. You didn’t take the job interview seriously enough to dress up for it. You’ve decided to be yourself and be comfortable, and the employer can take it or leave it. They’re going to leave it.

Employers want to hire someone who is anxious to work for them, and willing to put some effort into standing out from other candidates and getting hired. That means dressing professionally at the interview.

On the job is a different story

Different industries and workplace cultures have different standards about what is acceptable workplace-wear. The Banking, Finance, and Legal sectors tend to be much more formal that Tech, Travel, or Marketing. But even within those more casual industries you will still see standards. They may not be wearing a suit and tie, but they’ve chosen those jeans and top very carefully. That’s because for the career-savvy, your presentation matters. It’s part of your personal brand.

You tell the world how you want to be treated by what you choose to wear.

If you want to move up, dress better. Say the experts at Office Team, “Look to the next rung. What does your boss — and your boss’s boss — wear? Take inspiration from upper management’s style and formality. Set yourself up for success by dressing for the job you want.”

Don’t be a business casual casualty

Office Team also surveyed Canadian workers about the things they had considered wearing to work, but were unsure of whether it was appropriate.

Here are some of what Canadians consider wearing, but aren’t sure is is okay – (along with the expert opinion answers to those dilemmas provided by the team at Pursuit.)

What you should (and shouldn’t) wear to work

  • An off-the-shoulder (“cold shoulder”) top – Nope.
  • Cowboy boots – With jeans in a casual workplace, sure. Never with a suit.
  • Band T-shirt – Sure thing. As long as there isn’t any offensive language or imagery. Might be better paired with a jacket or cardigan.
  • Funky Socks – I don’t get these, but people like them right now. They’re a thing, and they’re fine to wear. Go for it.
  • Jogging pants – No. Never. I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.
  • Leggings – They can be worn, but only with something over them. Leggings are not pants.
  • Flip-flops – No. Wait, do you work at the beach?
  • A baseball hat – Not indoors.
  • Jeans – Anywhere that the workplace dress code permits. But choose fitting (not painted on), fashionable jeans.
  • Running shoes – Yes, with casual wear. Choose your shoes carefully.
  • Camo Pants – No. Seriously, no. Are you going postal?
  • A hoodie – In a casual office, sure. Avoid for formal meetings. (Unless you founded Facebook. Then you can wear them to even the most formal events.)
  • A low-cut top – Depends how low, but probably not. Use common sense.
  • Capri pants – Women only.
  • Mini skirt – Save it for the weekend.
  • Dressy sandals – Women only, and only at workplaces that accept open-toes shoes. Some don’t. (Men should never wear sandals of any sort to work.)
  • A sports jersey – Not offensive, but not recommended. (Except on sports themed days, such as when the local team is in the championships. Then showing support can be a bonding event.)
  • Shorts – Not recommended. As I mentioned, in some sectors you can get away with them, but wearing shorts is pushing the line on very casual. (And never to a job interview.)
  • A polo shirt – Sure thing. Just make sure it fits. Too large and loose looks slovenly. Too tight isn’t comfortable or appropriate.
  • Yoga pants – See “leggings.”
  • A tank top – Not without something over it. Fine if you’re layering.
  • A sheer top – No. Not for work.
  • Ripped Jeans – If they’re so old that they’re worn out and ripped, then save them for the weekends. If you bought new jeans, artfully pre-ripped, then you’re an fashion victim. Not the impression you want to make at the office.

“Managers should clearly articulate standards for what is appropriate; formally through corporate policies, and informally, leading by example through their own attire. With their guidance, employees will be able to make clothing choices that showcase their confidence and professionalism,” Says Koula Vasilopoulos, a district president for OfficeTeam.

But equally important to what guidelines your employer lays out for workplace attire, is how you want to present yourself professionally. Just because you’re allowed to wear something doesn’t mean you should. Think about the impression you want to make on clients, partners, and managers – and especially on potential employers – and dress accordingly.

See also:

  • The one essential piece of clothing men should keep on hand for most occasions
  • Ten things no man over 40 should ever wear
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