The New Dress for Success

BOSTON (05/08/2000) - Looking to land a plum spot on your company's new e-commerce project team? Here's some advice: Ditch the white dress shirt and Brooks Brothers tie. Show up for work in a pair of khakis and a collared polo shirt instead.

Or maybe you're bucking for your boss's job. If so, save that golf shirt with the Microsoft logo and that SAP tote bag - both freebies from user conferences - for weekend trips to the beach.

And forget the red, white and blue Tommy Hilfiger gear and Ralph Lauren shirts with the little horses on them.

"It's best not to align yourself with anything, especially if you're trying to move up the corporate ladder," explains Barbara Seymour, a Los Angeles-based lifestyle and wardrobe consultant who doubles as the fashion police on www.careerpath.com, a popular Web site for information technology professionals.

As for the khakis and polo shirt, Seymour says that dressing casually "sends a nonverbal message to co-workers that you're a team player."

A casual dress policy also plays a major role in how potential employees view a company, according to an online survey conducted by Netherlands-based accounting and consulting giant KPMG International. The survey found that 76% of students are more likely to accept a job offer from a company that has a casual dress policy.

But beware: Crossing the line from business casual to business casualty is easier than you think - especially in high-tech circles.

Aiding the Fashion-Challenged

"Casual is supposed to mean you're more comfortable. But that doesn't mean coming to work looking like you just came from your dorm room," says Katlean deMonchy, a fashion expert at New York-based CandoWoman, whose client list includes several Internet start-ups.

"I don' t think all technology people are fashion-challenged, but it seems to be the cool thing to act like you don't care at all," deMonchy says. "It's gotten to the point where it's not one earring but 12. And all-over-the-body tattoos. I'm all for self-expression, but in the workplace, it can get distracting."

So, what should you wear to work these days?

Sid Nashburn, vice president of design at Dodgeville, Wis.-based Lands' End Inc., which recently devoted an entire catalog to business-casual clothing, recommends that men and women build their work wardrobes around a handful of key, cornerstone items.

For men, they include a navy blazer, a pair of charcoal-gray or heather trousers, a pair of khaki chinos, a few oxford shirts and a few polo shirts.

And forget beige and hunter green.

"We've had way too many earth tones - khakis, browns and olives," says Nashburn. "This spring and summer, there's a lot more color."

The same advice goes for women. Specifically, look for citrus colors and various shades of blue and fuschia, which every woman should make a point to work into her wardrobe, even if it's only a dash, consultants advise.

"If you have just a little flash, it shows you're paying attention to trends," which is critical in today's fast-paced business environment, Seymour says.

Common-sense Casual

As for women's cornerstone wardrobe pieces, Seymour recommends a sweater set; a white cotton blouse; a simple black dress, which can be sleeveless; a "nice pair of slacks - nothing too tight"; and a neutral-color skirt, which should be no more than 2 inches above or below the knee.

"None of this is brain surgery. It's common sense. But still, dressing casually is totally confusing" to most IT professionals, Seymour says.

DeMonchy agrees. "With the coming-of-age of the casual work style, people are hard-pressed for the 411 on correct casual vs. seriously sloppy," she says.

Nashburn says this is especially true for men, whose most common gaffe is "dressing too casually and underestimating the power of their appearance."

So, What Shall I Wear?

Confused? Check out the experts' list of business attire do's and don'ts, whether you work at the most buttoned-down bank or an anything-goes Web start-up.

Do:

- Choose microfiber fabrics. They don't wrinkle like cottons and linens.

- Choose clothing with simple, clean lines. It's more comfortable and isn't distracting to co-workers.

- Keep your weekend wear for the weekends. Anything that even remotely resembles something you'd wear to a club or the beach should stay in your closet during the week.

Don't:

- Wear sneakers or any other athletic gear on the job - even on dress-down days.

- Go overboard with the scarves, bracelets, belts or hair barrettes. Less is more when it comes to accessories.

- Let it all hang out and expose your personal assets. Keep your navel piercings to yourself.

- Make the biggest mistake, which isbelieving that what you wear to work doesn't matter. It does matter - always -and "you don't ever have a second chance to make a first impression," says Katlean deMonchy, a fashion expert at CandoWoman.

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