Transitioning from a long career, or even just a few years, in the military to a civilian job can be a culture shock for many people. One area which may present some challenges is workplace attire. There may be questions and concerns for veterans, especially those who have spent a career of 20 years in a uniform every day.
Depending on the work environment, especially in the defense industry, guidelines are available on many contracting firm websites. Standards will vary depending on the type of work environment, access to senior staff, and job description. Generally, a helpdesk or IT employee will dress far more casually than a program manager or analyst.
It is useful to know that it isn’t necessary to be a fashion model, or spend a fortune on a wardrobe, if you follow some basic and simple rules of dressing for success.
One of the most important rules of proper office attire is this- less is more. It isn’t necessary, or practical, to dress in an exaggerated manner; especially in a more conservative work environment. In the traditionally conservative world of defense contracting, and many federal agencies, flashy, trendy, revealing clothing are almost always unsuitable; and usually strongly discouraged. Clothing that is distracting may cause co-workers to feel awkward, and is probably not the best choice. When selecting work attire, it is best to consider practicality and functionality before stylishness.
Proper clothing, a clean and neat appearance, and good hygiene, are all important toward achieving a polished, neat, and appropriate image. Additionally, tattoos which are visible are often frowned upon, especially in a formal environment. Even in informal work environments, tattoos can cause issues – take this recent case of a Marine veteran who was fired from his job for displaying a popular – yet profane – quote in the form of a tattoo.
A recent trend is to “dress down” and wear very casual clothing to work. A recent report by staffing firm Adecco surveyed Americans on everything from strapless tops to flip-flops in the workplace. Despite the casual attire trends, 59 percent of respondents said shorts were inappropriate, and 76 percent said flip-flops aren’t appropriate. Even in the increasingly casual workplace, some attire goes too far.
When it comes to military professionals entering a new workplace or job seekers on an interview, overdressed is almost always better than under dressed. After you’ve gotten the job, and proven your skills, you may find yourself with more flexibility in attire – assuming your company allows it.
Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who currently works as a professional writer, blogger, social media expert, commentator, editor and public affairs practitioner. Diana previously worked as an editor and senior communications analyst for the Department of Defense.