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CONTEMPORARY COURTESIES

Etiquette column: Keep work wardrobe professional

Women should avoid plunging necklines and too-tight clothing.

Friday, May 24, 2013 - 12:01 am

Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at www.news-sentinel.com.

Q. Karen, I see women wearing very short skirts and showing a fair amount of cleavage in many places of business. I have always considered that inappropriate in the workplace. What do you think?

A. Despite the fact that dress codes have relaxed in many places of business, there are certain things that are still not appropriate in the workplace. Very short skirts and low-cut tops for women top the list. Just because people are doing it doesn't make it a good idea.

Women are judged more severely regarding what they wear in the workplace than men. Part of the reason is that women have many more choices in clothing than men. And sexuality plays a bigger part in women's clothes. Women have to watch their skirt lengths, their neckline and the fit of their clothes, just to name a few points. Men, on the other hand, have pants, shirts, ties, no tie, jacket, or no jacket, and that's pretty much it.

Women wearing sexy clothes at work, especially in very serious and traditional environments, such as law and banking, diminish how they are perceived as professionals. If they have on a plunging neckline or a skirt four inches above their knees, it is hard for men, and women, to take them seriously. Save the sexy clothes for your social life, not your work life.

There also is a tendency to get more relaxed with clothing when the weather turns warm, but just because it's summer outside, you still want to look and maintain a professional image inside, at your place of work.

So here are some things women should consider when dressing for work:

•Keep skirts at the knee or 1-2 inches below the knee. Very long skirts are not professional either.

•Avoid plunging necklines. No cleavage!

•Be careful how tight your pants and tops fit. Check yourself in the mirror. When you bend over, you don't want to show cleavage on the back end either.

•Raise your arms and check to see if you expose a bare midriff. If you do, wear a jacket or choose another top.

•Keep a jacket handy. It can add instant authority to what you have on.

•Avoid heels that are too high. A 1- to 2-inch heel works best. Those stilettos are for date night.

•Showing too much skin is less professional. Even a sleeveless top may not be appropriate for your workplace.

•Watch out for your shoes in the summer. Bare sandals and flip-flops are for the beach and casual occasions.

As you choose your clothing for your work day, make sure it can take you to the most professional situation that may pop up during your day. And if what you choose is what you'd wear for a cookout or on the golf course, it is probably too casual for work.

Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email clarson@news-sentinel.com, and we’ll forward it to her.