Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Corporate dress code – Changing face of corporate India

It’s Monday morning at 11. You have an important meeting with your client who has come all the way from New York. Everything is set. Just 10 minutes before the meeting starts one of your key executives walks in for this very important meeting in torn jeans and round collared t-shirt. Add to that he wears his sneakers with pride and ushers himself to his seat. I don’t think you would be able to forgive the executive for his total lack of dressing sense and lack of respect for the client. Neither would your client.

Corporate dressing has taken on an important role in external communication for the organisation as much as other activities like advertising and PR, even if the definition of formal corporate dressing has undergone a sea change.

So let us examine some of the changes that are taking place rapidly in our corporate wardrobe. Advertising agencies, PR firms, media and IT organisations have traditionally always adopted and supported a flexible dress code. But they still frown upon employees going too casual. Round collared t-shirts are a no-no for most organisations, even on a Friday. So are torn jeans, shorts, capris, tank tops etc. Some organisations spell out their dress code explicitly while some leave it to the discretion of the employees, asking them to see that their dressing doesn’t offend any one else. However, the most flexible of firms will insist that the employees respect client sensibilities. What this means is that if you are going to meet a customer who is attired in a three piece suit, please do not visit them wearing your best pair of Levis. In other words be as formal as possible.

However, the definition of formal is changing too. Gone are the days when formal meant, white or cream full sleeved shirt with a tie and a well stitched suit. Now, organisations allow their employees to even make presentations at seminars wearing a simple jacket over a pair of jeans. So what was considered totally informal a few years back is acceptable formal wear today.

What does all these changes mean to the employee? Well for starters the Indian saree, which in my mind is the complete dress ever created, is no longer the epitome of formal wear. Ladies can experiment with business suits, shirts or any attire that she feels is formal enough. While dressing informally or casually, one needs to consider the sensitivities of their co-workers too. It’s great to feel comfortable wearing min skirts on a Friday to office, but if that attracts unwanted attention or makes other females squirm in discomfort, it’s best not to take such liberties. For men, the choice is less complicated. A simple full sleeved is nowadays considered formal enough for most meetings. In some cases, one can even dress up informally. If you have already built a good working relationship with your client it might even be acceptable to wear your favourite denim. However, in case of conferences or first time meetings, wearing a suit is expected.

Needless to say that amongst large organisations, the dress code enumerated above, was pioneered by the IT industry. They felt that since they are hiring so many fresh out of campus; why not create an extension of the campus environment in the office it self and hence supported flexibility in dress code. Seeing their success in attracting and retaining some of the best talent in India, other industries too are following suit, with a caveat that one should not offend any one’s sensibilities. After all, one should eat what one likes to eat and wear what others like us to wear.

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