DEAR CARRIE: I am 28 years old and work in an office with a business-casual dress code. I am the only woman in a team of four people. Every quarter, as part of our "360" process review of one another we have to write three positive things for each team member and point out three "opportunities," or suggested areas of improvement.
The reviews are anonymous. For the past three, I have received as an opportunity "doesn't dress appropriately. Should dress more maturely." I find the criticism confusing because of our dress code. I usually wear black slacks, cardigans and pumps. I do not wear short skirts or show any cleavage. I have asked the team to inform me as to what I should wear or at least provide me with a dress code. I have also asked them if they want me to wear suits to work. But I did not receive any answers.
My question is, if I get another 360 review that criticizes my attire, what should I do? Can I ask for an allowance to provide me with the money to purchase suits if my attire is so offensive in the workplace? -- Suitably Annoyed
DEAR SUITABLY: I thought your questions to your colleagues deserved an answer, but maybe they felt uncomfortable outside of anonymity.
I enlisted the help of an image consultant, who believes your colleagues aren't being as negative as you think.
They're saying that "she should dress more professionally, based on the fact that they bucketed their feedback in the 'opportunities' section of her 360, " said Jacqueline M. Peros, a certified image and style expert and president of the New York Tri-State Chapter of the Association of Image Consultants International. "This could be that they perceive her as having the skill set to move into a higher position but her wardrobe is not commanding the same intensity."
She said that business casual is open to many interpretations, depending on the industry, company culture, position, etc.
"So it's important to understand the company dress code, which can be provided by the HR department," Peros said.
It isn't appropriate to ask for a clothing allowance unless you work for a retailer that wants its clothes modeled by employees, she said, and unless such a perk was covered in a job-offer letter.
When choosing a business wardrobe, she said, the overall goal should be "to project a professional, credible and trustworthy image," not just for colleagues but for clients, prospects and vendors.
For women, business casual should include what Peros dubs "separates dressing," or mixing and matching tops and bottoms in a "more relaxed, yet professional way."
A fitted blazer paired with a cotton or printed jersey top and trousers is an example of separates dressing, she said.
"I'm a huge proponent of blazers because they add a level of sophistication and polish to any outfit and always project a more commanding image," she said.
Additional looks can include a skirt paired with a cardigan and silk blouse. Knit or jersey wrap dresses "are figure flattering for most female silhouettes and a great way to amp up a business- casual look," she said.
Conservative footwear such as 1-inch to 2-inch pumps or ballet flats are great examples of business casual, she said. Lastly, minimal makeup, jewelry and perfume should also be part of professional dressing in the workplace she said.
Her list of don'ts for business casual include leggings of any kind; Uggs, Crocs, sneakers or flip-flops; track suits or any other type of workout attire; hoodie sweaters or sweatshirts.For more on professional workplace attire, click here go to: www.aicinytristate.org.