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Does This Make Me Look Professional?

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Post Does This Make Me Look Professional?   Sat Aug 13, 2011 11:44 am

Dress Code For Bankers

In the seventies, it was easy to spot a banker. Men wore suits, white or light blue shirts, and ties. Ladies wore suits, hose and heels. Today, it would be rare to see either of these exclusively in a bank in most of America. Yet what remains as inappropriate has not changed during the past forty years. Shorts, visible bra straps, halter tops, T-shirts, sundresses, sneakers, jeans with holes, and flip-flops have never been acceptable office attire for a teller or any other banker.

What has tripped us up in this issue of appropriate work-wear? Ever sense the word "casual" crept into the description of what is acceptable work-wear, we have been confused about what is appropriate for work and what is not. The term business-casual attire in a financial institution might look very different than the same term used for a car dealership, a hospital, or an oil company. Perhaps the trip-up is in the definition of the term. It is always management's job to determine what it means and to do an effective job of explaining it to employees.

Though appropriate work-wear is a year-round challenge, as the temperature rises, so do the issues in the summertime. It might be okay to wear fewer clothes in the summertime for most places, but work is not one of them if you're a banker. Summertime is not an excuse to dress less professionally.

Employees might define the dress code term of business-casual to mean weekend wear or whatever makes me feel comfortable or good. Neither of these would accurately represent what management has in mind for business-casual attire. We can never forget that the way we dress reflects on the image of the company. Employees dressing too casual can sabotage the image of professionalism that most customers expect.

Here are some tips on projecting an appropriate and professional look.

Take your cue from management. Management, especially upper-management, sets the tone for what is the expected and preferred work attire. Or look at TV newscasters for cues on professional attire. Both men and women can get good visuals for appropriate, professional attire using this method.

If you're on an upwardly mobile track, hiring an image consultant might be worth the cost. You must not only talk the talk, you have to walk the walk of the position you currently have and the ones to which you aspire. Many department stores like Nordstrom's have stylist and image consultants available to help you shape your wardrobe to compliment your body type and know how to work within your budget.

Think: Layers. You can wear some of those summer dresses, but layer them with cardigans, jackets, or crop sweaters. Add a tank top under a dress or a top that's cut too low for the office. Perhaps dress jeans can be worn if paired with a jacket. Layering can help solve the issue of too much skin showing, tops cut low and sleeveless dresses. Dressing professionally means avoiding clothes that are too tight or that might be considered revealing.

Be consistent. Being professional means being consistent in the way you interact with others and it also means being consistent in how you dress. Mixed signals are sent to others when one day you look professional and the next you look like its game day. If your bank allows "theme" days, then everyone should participate giving a consistent message to customers that this day has some special significance and our clothing reflects that.

When in doubt, don't wear it. Skirts and dresses that are too short should never be worn to work. Too short means anything four inches above the knee, or that shows too much leg when you bend over. Tops that are cut off the shoulder or dip too low in front should not be worn unless you can find a good layering option. Tops that show your midriff when you raise your arm are not a good choice for professional office attire. Try layering another top under it to make it wear-worthy for the office. A good test to use is "when in doubt, don't" meaning if you put it on and then question if it's okay, that's a good cue you should not wear it.

Clean, pressed, and polished. There's more to looking professional than wearing the right clothes. No matter how appropriate the clothes, if they are not clean and pressed you'll look unkempt and unprofessional. If you don't own an iron, buy one or take your clothes to the cleaners. Scuffed, unclean shoes take away from a professional image. Make sure shoes are clean and scuff-free. For men, socks are a must. The rule for pant length for men is when you sit down your pant leg does not show any skin above your socks. If sandals or open-toed shoes are allowed at your institution, make sure feet and toenails are manicured.

It goes without saying that your body needs to shine. Nothing says unprofessional more than hair that's not been shampooed or body odor that perfume or cologne has tried to mask. If you wear facial hair, make sure it is neat and trimmed. If you're a lady with facial hair issues seek out a good option for dealing with it by checking with spas and salons in your area or do an Internet search for home remedies.

Distractions must go. Underarm hair, unkempt hair styles, chipped nail polish, hairy legs, tattoos, logoed shirts, heavy perfume or cologne, and loud and noisy jewelry distracts from a professional image. Good grooming is a must. If you have some medical or religious reason for not shaving under your arms or legs, then wear hose or pants or shirts that cover it.

Fun t-shirts or Hawaiian shirts should be replaced with button down or polo shirts, unless you're wearing them for a theme day approved by the bank. If you have tattoos, make sure your clothing covers them at all times. While tattoos have become commonplace today, professionals realize that many of their customers might find them offensive. That might mean a long sleeve shirt or a jacket is a must every day.

Keep haircuts up-to-date. In between haircuts, shave neck hair growth as needed.

Loud, noisy jewelry can be fun, but if it distracts from the business at hand save these pieces for after work events.

What are your options? Many financial institutions have options for logo-wear that can be purchased to wear or are provided for wear on certain days. These most often involve shirts or tops with the financial institution's logo on them. The financial institution should specify when these are to be worn and what to pair them with, such as chinos, slacks, khakis or pants.

You've said it and we all know that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But as a banker it doesn't stop there. Because with every customer encounter you make an impression. So ask yourself often, "Does this make me look professional?" It's the perfect question to stay in check with your dress, your attitude and your behavior.

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