Generational Viewpoints: Dress for Success
Why 'Dress for your day" is the policy of the future
This month’s edition of Generational Viewpoints features two accounting professionals from Bader Martin PS, a 90-person accounting and business advisory firm located in Seattle (www.badermartin.com). We asked Baby Boomer managing principal David Stiefel, who was born in 1955, and Millennial senior manager Bryan Avery, who was born in 1986, to share their perspectives on loosening or redefining professional dress requirements in the workplace by answering the following question:
“How do you feel about the new movement toward ‘dress for your day’ in the profession?”
STIEFEL’S BABY BOOMER VIEWPOINT
When I started in this profession 40 years ago, the dress policy was simple. Men had to wear suits and ties (sport coats were frowned upon) and women had to wear dresses or pantsuits. Unless you were observing an inventory or working at a messy client location, there were no exceptions.
In the mid-1990s, Bader Martin adopted business casual dress on Fridays. This was radical at the time, but we wanted to take a small step to make life easier for our employees. By 2000, we expanded our dress policy to allow business casual attire every day. We developed guidelines so that the look was still professional, but suits and ties or dresses were no longer required. However, jeans were still not allowed to be worn.
This past June, we further relaxed our dress policy to allow jeans every day in response to employees’ requests and a changing environment. The concept is that each person that works in our firm should dress appropriately for their day — if they have client meetings where the clients will be dressed in coat and tie or sport coat, our team members would dress accordingly. If they have client meetings where those clients dress in jeans, our people would wear jeans, too. As long as the attire is clean and presentable, there are very few restrictions.
The business world has changed, at least in Seattle, and generational perspectives have changed as well. It’s rare to find a banker, attorney or client in a tie and jacket. I no longer have a closet full of suits and I only pull out a tie every few months. We all work hard and we should be able to dress comfortably. It doesn’t make us any less professional.
I’ve fully embraced the “dress for your day” concept. Unless I think it would offend a client or someone I am meeting with, you’ll now find me happily wearing jeans to the office.
AVERY’S MILLENNIAL VIEWPOINT
The movement toward “dress for your day” is a great direction that makes a lot of sense. It’s a natural next step, particularly for firms on the West Coast, where business casual tends to be a bit more casual. It had been trending in that direction at my firm since I started working there.
When we worked on Saturdays during busy season, we could show up guilt-free in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, which provided some level of comfort. Eventually, that led to allowing jeans (or Seahawks jerseys and gear) on Fridays. Now, Monday through Friday are all potentially “jeans” days. I’m not able to take advantage of it as much as I could have five years ago, but it’s definitely a great option for our firm. Flexibility is possibly the most important aspect in deciding whether to stay in a job or career long-term, and the dress code is an easy place to implement flexibility that also provides some comfort to our younger employees.
I still feel more comfortable in dress clothes when meeting with referral sources or clients, even if the clients tend to be laid-back. I dress in business casual about 75 percent of the time. The comfort level will likely increase in time, when it becomes commonplace to meet with people who don’t mind that their CPA wears jeans.
It takes time for individuals to adapt and I suspect it may take years for some more experienced professionals to embrace the change. Our principal group will dress more casually on the weekend, but still dresses closer to the business casual side on weekdays. That part may never change. On the other end of the spectrum, we will probably never see some of our employees in a dress shirt again, aside from the annual firm open house. Even if some principals don’t show up in jeans every day, it’s nice to see the commitment to allowing the flexibility for staff. It’s a seemingly simple change on the surface, but one that makes a great difference to some people.