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Ragged Shirts, Short Skirts Can Shorten Career Ladder

If your wardrobe makes you an ideal contestant for a TV makeover show, you're probably wearing those clothes to work too. Dressing down may cut down your chances for promotion.


A recent survey of some 2,700 employers shows that 41 percent said people who dress better or more professionally tend to be promoted more often than others in their organization.

Financial services is one of the industries that place the most emphasis on professional dress, as 55 percent of them said people who dress more professionally tend to be promoted more often. On the other hand, IT and manufacturing employers are two of the industries that place the least amount of emphasis on professional dress, as only 37 percent and 34 percent, respectively, said that employees who dress more professionally tend to be promoted more often than others. Creative fields tend to let employees have a looser interpretation of office dress. Even in these settings, there's a way to look put together and professional while keeping a personal sense of style.

"Even though we are seeing a trend of more relaxed dress codes in the office, especially in summer, it doesn't mean that professionalism should go out the window," said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of Human Resources for "How you dress can play an important role in how others perceive you at work, and dressing professionally can help you project a motivated and dedicated image."

Some workplaces have taken action into their own hands and are getting employees to dress more professionally by banning certain items of clothing and footwear. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of employers surveyed have banned flip-flops, 49 percent have banned mini-skirts and 28 percent have banned jeans. In addition to banning certain items of clothing, some employers have gone as far as to send employees home for unsuitable work attire. More than one-third (35 percent) of employers have sent someone home to change clothes because they were dressed inappropriately.

Not only does your appearance count once you get the job, but dressing professionally on an interview with potential employers is also important. Fifty-four percent of employers surveyed give greater weight to candidates who show up to interviews wearing a business suit than those who do not.

Rules apply to both men and women, though the variety in most female wardrobes compared to those of their male counterparts brings freedom with dressing and a greater responsibility to make smart choices.

Haefner, and other experts, recommend these tips for dressing professionally on the job:

-- Stock your closet -- Start with the versatile basics, perhaps dedicating a greater portion of your budget to high-quality goods, such as a pair of black pants, a dark pant suit, some button-down collared shirts and classic pair of dark shoes. Once you have the staples, you can continue to build your wardrobe with color, texture and trendier pieces, to give you plenty of mix-and-match professional options.

-- Keep it neat and clean -- Make sure your pants, shirts and other clothes are ironed, stain free and in good condition. When your clothes look sloppy, so do you.

--Steer clear of bar attire -- Don't mistake the office for your local watering hole. Leave the slinky shirts, tight pants and cut-off t-shirts at home. Short skirts, too. Make sure any wording on t-shirts is appropriate.

--Look the part - Your office may have casual Fridays or lower expectations for summer attire. But know your schedule. Have a client presentation or a meeting with the CEO? Make sure you choose appropriate articles of clothing for your role.

Rachel Koning Beals has written about credit, real estate, personal finance and investing for 14 years.

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