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Is Your Business Attire Entirely Inappropriate?

A “suit” walks into your office. What’s your first impression? Business wear has certainly evolved over the years and so have the different working “styles” of Texas’s major business hubs. If you think you’ve got your niche pegged: Think again. What you’re wearing could be affecting how colleagues, job candidates, recruiting partners and others perceive you.

This past June, researchers from the Harvard Business School published a study concluding that people who wear offbeat clothes in a professional setting are often perceived as having a higher status and possessing more competence than those who dress conventionally. They call it the “Red Sneaker Effect.”

However, don’t pull your crazy bowties from the back of your closet yet. Others have questioned the completeness of the study, pointing at factors like gender, industry and job function that may not have been considered.

These factors are key when it comes to dressing for business in Texas, according to the folks we asked. Why? Texas is filled with diversity and a sprinkling of contradictions when it comes to professionalism.

“I dress much more corporate in Houston and Dallas than I do in Austin and San Antonio, particularly if I’m visiting oil and gas companies,” said one professional who travels throughout the state as an Account Director for a newswire service.

Our own executives and recruiters agree. “Walk into a Houston business wearing a suit and you’ll instill confidence and respect. Walk into an Austin business wearing a suit and you’ll likely be asked—very skeptically—what you’re selling,” says The HT Group CEO/Co-Founder Mark Turpin.

However, those lines are blurring as the spectrum on what to wear to work has widened considerably throughout the state. Major metro areas including Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas/Ft. Worth are growing in formal industries like oil/gas and healthcare but also in more traditionally causal industries like technology.

“If you’re the one visiting a business for the first time, it’s important to find out the culture or dress code first,” adds The HT Group Managing Partner Nad Elias. “If you’re welcoming visitors—whether they’re job candidates or salespeople—set expectations if your culture may not be the norm. If it’s ‘Pajama Monday,’ be sure to give the visitor a heads up.”

Pajama Monday? Sure, why not. Having special days that “break the rules” can be a great morale-builder for employees. Austin-based public relations and graphic design firm Snackbox recently started “Silly T-shirt Fridays,” even posting photos on their Facebook page and asking the public for votes on the winner. Many tech and gaming companies that are extremely casual on regular days have even started dressing business formal on special days, as a novelty. At Austin-based Astonish Design, “Formal Fridays” have been in effect for three years. On one occasion, team members showed up to work wearing everything from bow ties to marching band uniforms to formal prom dresses.

Of course, things can go overboard. And a change in corporate culture or climate may warrant the need for a change in policy. If you feel your staff has gotten off the rails with appearance, the Texas Workforce Commission outlines that dress codes and grooming standards can be completely legal and fair, within reason. This may even include different standards for men versus women, and for employees who deal with the public routinely and those who do not. Tattoos, facial hair and even hygiene can be regulated to a certain extent.

What’s your take on business wear in the workplace? Has it evolved over years? We’d love to hear your thoughts!


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