Just as the spring thaw uncovers many unwelcome sights, such as drab lawns, potholes the size of pool tables and odd bits of holiday debris, the absence of winter coats, sweaters and jackets will no doubt leave many of us wishing that warmer temps were not synonymous with bare midriffs, capri pants, and nightclub-cleavage in the office. There have already been a few flip-flop sightings as of this writing, particularly in the DC-metro area—can New York and Boston be far behind?
With the challenging economy, it’s more critical than ever for professional services firms to distinguish themselves in the marketplace. In order to exude trustworthiness, expertise and professionalism, rookies and pros alike need to get off the comfort-at-all-cost bandwagon and get back to looking worthy of their hourly rate, status and profession. Managers and senior leaders in law firms, financial services firms, banking, consulting and insurance are all trying innovative ways to spruce up the troops. Here are some interesting tactics from the field:
More detailed dress codes: This is my favorite method of getting everyone on board with respect to dress. Spell it out. Let’s stop playing the “But you never said we couldn’t wear pajama bottoms on Fridays” game.
The easiest way to craft your message is to say what is expected in larger terms, such as, “Crane, Poole & Schmidt requires that all staff and professionals dress appropriately in the office.” Then, provide a list of off-limits items. This could (should) include T-shirts, flannel shirts, denim, spandex, lingerie, club-wear, sports jerseys, shorts, sneakers, flip-flops and slippers. Feel free to be as specific as possible. If Monica in accounting wore tube tops all summer to the distraction of the entire finance department, it’s time to put a stop to those, too.
Reference points: Perhaps your firm has its own Denny Crane in residence (I reference only Denny’s fashion sense – not his multitude of other character traits). Someone who dresses to the nines and sets a strong, albeit exaggerated, example? He or she can have a positive effect, especially if there are a few other good examples at many levels within your organization. Maybe it’s time to have a heart-to-heart with your managers and senior leaders and impress upon them how important it is to be a good model. Many may be clueless as to their contribution to the problem, and don’t realize they can be part of the solution.
Fashion shows: A number of organizations have enlisted the help of retailers and fashion event planners, such as Mary Garthe Associates, to illustrate the dress-for-success message. These events are fun and energizing, and leave lasting impressions. Using upper management as models, especially the managing partner or CEO, can be extremely effective.
Wardrobe allowances: Back in the old days, many workers in high customer contact positions, such as sales people and receptionists, received stipends to help defray the cost of building a professional wardrobe. At least one New York firm has decided to give its associates an additional “wardrobe allocation.” Granted, the starting salaries of many new associates should allow them the means to travel first-class to London’s Savile Row and buy several custom-made suits, but that’s beside the point. The firm in question is signaling to its new professionals that dress is important and they are backing it up with cash.
Spring is a great time to get your house in order. As winter recedes, take the opportunity to get everyone in step with your firm’s brand and image, preferably while wearing closed-toe shoes with a nice shine.