"Being appropriately dressed at the workplace is a worldwide practice - and the UAE is no different," says Sukrit Ganguly, principal consultant, MBR Headhunters, Dubai. "Most companies include a clause about dress code within the employment offer letter and contract. There's a good reason for it too. We work in a multicultural environment and need to be inclusive of cultural attitudes and sensitivities. Adhering to a dress code ensures that."
Of course, how strict your company is about dress codes depends on the sector it is in, and one's role within the organisation. A friend in hospitality recently told me her dress code covered everything from the heels she wore to her choice of nail polish (no bright colours; nudes or French manicures only). Meanwhile, working in a bank means formal clothing (suits or local attire) is a must if you're client-facing. "I have heard anecdotes of casual Friday being stopped because of people coming in wearing track pants!" a source who works in the sector said.
According to Sukrit, corporate dressing is more strictly enforced in fields such as banking, finance, management and consultancy, hospitality, luxury retail, real estate and multinational organisations. In these sectors, it's not about the brands you're wearing or your keen fashion sense - but looking presentable. "The focus for employees should be on looking fresh, confident and approachable rather than being dressed on point. It's all about complementing the environment and the situation and not creating distractions."
Speaking of distractions, party makeup, evening wear, flip flops and unpolished shoes are clear fashion faux pas if you're employed (or hope to be employed) in the corporate field. It's not just about what you wear though, but your appearance as a whole.
"Whist most of us prefer to state we don't judge appearances, we actually do, especially in the workplace," adds Sukrit. "Apart from the fashion entertainment and creative sectors, loud tattoos, unconventional piercings, dreadlocks and neon-coloured hair may not be looked at too favourably."
So, if you are trying to get into one of these sectors, a conservative makeover may be in order.
Some of the above factors may be seen as a distraction if one is choosing to work in the corporate sector - but what about the world of fashion where dressing to the nines is part of the job profile? How does one walk the fine line between looking professional and stylish? According to Kelly Lundberg, stylist and founder of personal styling agency Style Me Divine, it's all about knowing your client.
"I usually engage with clients beforehand and have an idea of what they are looking for and I plan my attire in the same way," she explains. "But, I always ensure I dress to be approachable - you will never find me looking like I have stepped off the catwalk or in an outfit that is impractical for a long day ahead in a cold mall."
As someone in the profession of telling others what to wear, Kelly has worked with numerous men and women in senior corporate fields, helping them style suits and mix and match separates, and she believes it's important for them to make the most of what they have in their wardrobe. "As an employee, one should always remember who they are representing. Make sure that you reflect the brand and company through your attire," she says. "Creative fields, on the other hand, give you the opportunity to really express your style."
Public relations is one such industry, says Kelly. "If you turn up wearing a suit or dated pants and a jacket in this field, it would say a lot about how much you knew about the industry."
Clare Geeves, communications manager at White Label Media, agrees. "The saying 'dress for the job you want' definitely applies to the PR field, where we are the first in line of communication with journalists and influencers, so we must always look great and put together. Your dress code depends on the client you are pitching. For example, if I'm pitching Manolo Blahnik, you will find me in a pair of his new collection that are drool worthy! If I'm pitching a more corporate client, I will have a nice A-line dress and heels. And whenever in doubt, always wear black!" says the British national who never leaves home without a spare pair of Manolo heels and a Nars red lipstick.
With a personal style she describes as 'eclectic and ever changing', Clare claims it's not out of bounds to find her in activewear during event days ("when we are running on just a few hours of sleep"), but when it comes to meetings, she tries to dress for the client, while keeping her sense of style and individuality. As for walking the line between being professional and fashionable - why not be both?
"In fashion, we are expected to wear the clients' newest items. If you are working for corporate PR, you have to be more conservative. As someone who has had pink, yellow and 'fire engine red' hair in the past, it is fine as long as you look polished and put-together," she says. This means no unkempt clothing, and no chipped nails!
While all this can be seen as slightly elitist (not everyone can afford pieces from FW18 collections), Kelly assures us that isn't always the case. "Being well-dressed and stylish doesn't always come down to brands. Naturally, you will find the quality better (with brands) but I've dressed clients on big and small budgets and neither stand apart when it comes to style. Moreover, we are spoilt for choice here, with high street options along with cute boutiques offering great selections."
One of the biggest trends when it comes to workplace attire, in recent years, is a shift towards more casual clothing. According to a source, many bank officials today are also 'dressing down' for meetings, especially whenever clients are from startups or ecommerce companies.
"Fashion as a whole has become more casual," says Kelly. "Not so long ago, we would most definitely have a distinct work wear and casual wardrobe. But nowadays, the lines are blurred for many employees."
Take, for example, Washmen, a UAE-based laundry and dry cleaning service. Although drivers and laundry personnel wear uniforms, there is no dress code for the office team. "We care more about the quality of someone's work as opposed to what colour or pattern their shirts, shorts or jeans have," says co-founder and COO Jad Halaoui, . "It's not because we are trying to be young or cool or hip - it is simply because our line of work doesn't require it."
Having previously worked in Oil & Gas Field Operations, where dress code requirements had to be followed when out in the field, Jad believes that the way you dress can affect the work you do - but this also differs from person to person. "I can't work if I'm wearing slippers! My co-founder, on the other hand, gets a lot of work done no matter what he wears. So, wear what you want but deliver what's required of you at the standard it's required at."
Jad advises youngsters looking for a job to 'err on the side of caution and not wear anything outlandish at the interview'. But chances are, whether an employee is in a neon t-shirt or a Brioni suit, they'll be judged just the same at this company. Just stay clear of pyjamas, he says.
By Janice Rodrigues
This article has been amended from its original source.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Al Bawaba Business.
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