Fun in the Sun at Work

July 23, 2010

It’s a familiar nightmare.   You arrive at a party and the host greets you.  It’s then that you realize you are wearing your pajamas or, worse, only a bath towel.   There’s no place to hide, and everyone is looking at you.  Thankfully, at that moment, you awaken to realize it was all a bad dream.  Phew!

These dreams often coincide with an invitation to a company picnic, baseball game or even a pool party with colleagues.  While declining the invitation is an option, it might not be the most prudent choice.  Short of praying for rain so it will be canceled, you are now left with the dilemma of what constitutes appropriate attire for such an event.

How do you choose a look that says relaxed and fun and yet still elicits a sense of proper business etiquette? You don’t want to dress down to the point of looking inappropriate and yet you also do not want to look like the office fuddy-duddy.  This is a concern that plagues many women prompting some to call in sick rather than risk looking foolish or feeling uncomfortable.

The stakes are higher for women than for men in these situations, especially in male-dominated professions. As John T. Malloy, author of “The New Women’s Dress for Success Book” says, “When men dress casually they lose some of their authority.  When women do the same, they lose most of theirs.

While employees hail business casual as a desirable benefit, many women are either stymied by the lack of direction or overwhelmed by the options available.  Throw in a pool, barbeque pit, or baseball diamond and the challenge feels even greater.   Do you wear shorts, pants, or a skirt?  How about sneakers, sandals or flip-flops?

With summer in full swing it’s only a matter of time before the invitation arrives, so let’s address a few important considerations:

  • When in doubt, ask.  It’s that simple.  If you are not sure what the expectations are or what others (especially those more senior than you) are wearing, simply ask.  You will often get more direction than you had or at least discover what someone else is wearing and perhaps even have a partner to talk to.
  • Plan ahead.  Shopping at the last minute in desperation is rarely productive, efficient, or satisfying and will only add more angst to the situation.  If you don’t have what you need to feel comfortable, do a little research, take a trusted friend with you, or ask a personal shopper for help.
  • Compromise. Cropped pants (although please forgo the cropped cargo pants in favor of something a little more upscale) can solve the dilemma of shorts, pants or a skirt.  Three-quarter length sleeves (unless it’s 100 degrees) can look comfortable and casual without concern about exposing your arms (some women worry about this).  Avoid T-shirts with advertisements on them, but do add color and fun embellishments.

As much as you might love your flip flops, I recommend highly against wearing them unless you are at the beach (and even then sandals can always do the job better).  They are ultra-casual and noisy (they aren’t called flip flops for nothing!)

  • Keep Monday morning in mind.  Refrain from wearing anything too provocative, messy, or cutesy.  Leave your belly shirts, tube tops (in fact, abstain from anything that requires you to go braless), daisy dukes, and anything too sheer in the closet.  Remember that you have to see these people at work the next day.
  • Keep it upscale. No, the outfit does not have to be expensive, by any stretch of the imagination, but it should not look like you are going to pick blueberries or clean your garage.  (If you have lost perspective on the viability of your casual wardrobe (it’s hard to be objective about ourselves sometimes), ask for feedback from a trusted friend or professional.  Better safe than uncomfortable.)

Remember, the idea of these company events is not to torture you but to have fun. Depending on the type of event, be sure to bring your sunscreen, bathing suit cover up, hat, nice sneakers (maybe there’s a company baseball game?) or a cool pair of sunglasses, and enjoy!

So, what’s your favorite work/summer outing outfit?  Please do share and inspire others, or, of course, ask questions!

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