Eli of Troy Menswear’s Randy Norman shows off new spring shirts.

Eli of Troy Menswear’s Randy Norman shows off new spring shirts.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Reviewing the rules of office attire for grads

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published May 1, 2019

METRO DETROIT — Guys in ties and girls in pearls. That’s the rule of thumb for office attire, right?


Just like faxes have evolved into emails and legal pads into iPads, the way we dress for a day of work has changed with the times.

But how much dress codes have changed depends on the culture of each individual business. Paying attention to employee clothing is now just another part of interview prep.

That’s what Robert Penkala tells his graduating students as the director of career services at Macomb Community College. While plenty of workplaces allow jeans and sneakers on the job, he said that new employees should dress formally to start, until they’re given the go-ahead from management to take it down a notch.

“What does that mean? A suit and tie for men, and for women, that might mean a suit or a dress with a blazer or a sweater. Whatever they consider to be professional,” he said. “The same goes for shoes. The basic message we give our students when they go out to job search is to look their best. Especially during the interview process, that should be a given.”

Penkala said candidates can never go wrong going with full business attire for an interview, then if their office allows, moving to more casual clothes that are still appropriate and well-kept.

“Clothes that look clean and pressed and fit well are what we would advise,” he said. “And sometimes we need to have the talk with students about how much jewelry and perfume is (appropriate).”

Jack Van Tiem, the vice president and market leader for Kelly Services Midwest, might disagree on the hard and fast rule of wearing a suit and tie to any interview. The workforce placement and staffing services company has had its finger on the pulse of hiring trends for more than 70 years, and Van Tiem said they’ve noticed that managers sometimes steer clear of stuffy-looking candidates.

“These days, and increasingly in the last several years, companies have been loosening up on that old suit and tie or blouses and skirts. We tell people that you want to be mindful to dress not only for the type of position you’re interviewing for, but the culture. You have to know where you’re going. You might not be considered for the job if you overdress for some of these up-and-coming tech companies. You may be communicating something that’s not intended, and you might not be considered if they don’t think you’d fit in with the culture.”

A good way to get an idea of the dress code at a company is to head over before an interview and see what people look like walking in and out of the building.

“You always want to do a dry run anyway before an interview to make sure you know where you’re going and what traffic might be like at the time of day you’re going in, so just sit outside and watch people and what they’re wearing,” Van Tiem said.

One thing’s for sure, though: No matter if you’re going to work in full business attire or more casual dress — make sure you’re fully dressed.

“You don’t want your clothes to be distracting. You want to be remembered for your qualifications and not what you’re wearing. It’s amazing what some people are comfortable with portraying and displaying, so we try to rein them in a little bit,” Van Tiem said of revealing outfits.

In some cases, that might mean covering up body art and modifications, too. But that’s fast becoming an old standard as well, Penkala said.

“I always say if you have tattoos or piercings, don’t worry about that. Don’t remove anything that’s you. You want to be yourself so they can see who you are, and if the interview process goes well and you come to your first day of work, they’re not seeing someone different than the person they hired,” he said.