Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, 28, recently drew criticism for wearing a T-shirt and hoodie to an important business meeting, a move that sparked debate about appropriate work attire.

Chattanooga businesses have varying regulations regarding dress at work that range from suits and ties most days to casual wear. Some local residents said what is appropriate often depends on the situation and the type of business.

“Undoubtedly, many companies are transitioning into a more casual dress code,” Maggie Hodges, spokeswoman for Young Professionals Association of Chattanooga, said. “As young professionals, we have to discern when this more casual attire is appropriate and when we should dress more traditionally.”


Professional dress, positive impression
The traditional thinking is that more professional, less casual dress leaves a positive impression with clients, potential customers and other employees.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s dress code consists of guidelines to help employees “establish what is considered appropriate business casual and casual attire and to help employees make a positive impression,” Cynthia Fagan, BCBST communications specialist, said.

The code reminds employees that the way they present themselves reflects on the company’s culture and reputation, she also said.

“The guidelines are common sense; khakis and a golf shirt are acceptable, but shorts, tank tops and revealing skirts or blouses are not,” Fagan said. “Traditional business attire is always appropriate.”

The company has casual Fridays, when employees can wear jeans, and a few other special occasion days when casual dress is allowed.

And employees can also earn a casual day.

“Casual day stickers are also used as informal employee rewards; the wearer can dress in jeans on a day that isn’t a designated casual day,” Fagan said. “Casual day stickers are also sold in fundraising campaigns, such as the United Way campaign.”

At Erlanger Health System, a dress code is in place to convey a positive, professional image, but also for practical safety purposes, Martha Weeks, registered nurse, administrative director of adult operations and associate chief nursing officer, said.

“The policy gives our customers, patients, families, physicians and departments a more clear distinction as to which department the individual works in while delivery of patient care,” she said. “Additionally, our goal is to present a professional image, which is consistent with community standards as a health care provider. In an environment such as a hospital, it is also a safety factor as to knowing who is caring for the patient.”

Erlanger leaders also expect vendors and other business associates to meet the hospital’s expectations of professionalism in their appearance.

Although some staff members may feel the code doesn’t allow for individuality, work isn’t a place to be a “fashion icon,” Weeks said.

“A defined dress code does assists managers in delineating what is or is not acceptable,” she said. “Without a defined policy, this could be subjective and inconsistent from manager to manager, thus giving the organization the image of being disorganized, which can result in lack of confidence by the customer.”

Going casual-sometimes
Ronelle Sellers with Henderson Hutcherson & McCullough said the accounting firm has a written dress code, but employees also dress to fit in with clients. If a client says they wear jeans or casual clothing, then they would dress similarly when going to that office, she said.

Employees also dress accordingly to go to a construction site or manufacturer.

Otherwise, the code requires suits and ties Monday through Thursday and business casual on Friday.

Sellers said that it is easy to feel overdressed because so many companies have “gone casual.”

At TVA, there is no company-wide dress code, employee Jesse Johnston said. But some organizations have their own written policy.

“Most organizations in our offices have unwritten guidelines that have some dependence on what will be going on that day and who you’ll be associating with during that day,” he said. “Our operating facilities have a dress code to address safety and personal protection. For example, steel-toed shoes are required where construction or maintenance activities are going on; long-sleeved shirts are required if you’re welding or cutting.”

He said he thinks casual dress is more appropriate when associating with people within the same organization. 

But when representing the company and associating with executives, customers or other business leaders, more professional attire is appropriate.

And he said that he thinks there are some situations in which overdressing can have a negative impact on business.

“For instance, if someone wears business formal clothing to an industrial site where the workers are all wearing jeans and Carhartts, those workers can understandably think that this person can’t accurately relate to what they do in their work,” he said.

But Nick Macco, co-founder of Southtree.com, a company that helps preserve aging home movies and photos digitally, said that casual dress is nearly always accepted at his company.

He wants his employees to love where they work because if they do, their work will be better, he said.

“We think if we hire great people, they are smart enough to determine how to dress themselves,” he said. “It’s human nature to make judgments based on appearance. Building relationships, however, will reveal the real character of someone and the value they provide for any organization.”