Professional dress guidelines: too strict?

By Hannah Burlingame

Emily Banwart throws another skirt onto the already mountainous pile on the floor. Some of the clothes are too casual while others are too tight. One skirt is a baby’s finger length too short.

She keeps adding more clothes to the pile because they do not fit professional dress guidelines set forth by a professor and the expectations of her chosen major of elementary education. Professional dress for her means black or khaki pants, skirts below her knees and shirts that show no cleavage.

While having a set of guidelines to follow can be useful, the heavy enforcement of them may not be the best idea because the chance of these guidelines changing when a student enters the workforce is high.

Each profession has its own set of guidelines. Each company has its own version of professional dress.

Derek Solheim, associate director of Pathways Center for Career Services, said students won’t really know what their professional dress will be until they start working at a company or organization.

“Is the organization you are working in more Google like where you could wear blue jeans, a t-shirt and tennis shoes or is it an organization that tends to be more business casual or professional?” Solheim said.

Penni Pier, professor of Communication Arts, gave students in Communication Arts Capstone a list of professional dress guidelines. The guidelines for women include skirts that hit below the knee when standing, fitted blazers and closed-toed shoes with a heel no higher than three inches. For men, the guidelines include tailored suits, ties and closed-toed leather shoes.

When trying to find a skirt that hit below my knees I tried on every black dress skirt in my size in four different stores. By the tenth skirt I was feeling defeated. Skirts that hit below the knee are kind of like Big Foot. They may exist but that doesn’t mean they can be found.

I recently found out about the dress code for my summer internship through Wartburg West. The dress code at Colorado Community Media is business casual. They define this as better than jeans and nice enough to look professional to interview a mayor. No mention of skirt length, suits, blazers or even heel height.

There are still guidelines to follow but the guidelines are more business casual which are guidelines that have not been brought up in most of my classes.

For guys, there aren’t as many guidelines to follow but they have fewer options of what to wear for something to be counted as business professional by Capstone standards. Not every company is going to require suits. Many companies may lean more towards business casual, allowing for more outfit options.

Banwart and Solheim think having these guidelines stressed now may not be a bad thing.

“Once you get into the work environment you can always adjust. I would rather have you air on the side of caution and look to see what others are wearing,” Solheim said.

Guidelines are helpful, but professors should tell students that there is a good chance those guidelines will change when they entire the work force.

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