Hemlines rising as dress standards fall

By Nicholas Jones

Poor dress habits such as short skirts and untucked shirts are now common in even the most professional of offices, with new graduates most at fault.

Employees at some of the country's biggest law and accountancy firms say this year's intake wear particularly inappropriate clothes and need schooling in what not to wear.

A lawyer at a top-tier Auckland city firm said young female lawyers wore outfits that seniors "would never have dreamed of wearing".

"On a Monday morning at the office you see the same things you were seeing at a club on Saturday night," said the lawyer in her mid-30s who asked not to be named.

Angela Stone, who is hired by companies as a fashion consultant, said graduates failed to realise how important image was to their employer.

"There are a lot of issues ... they come fresh out of university, and they just don't get it," she said.

Older employees complained to her about the way their younger colleagues were dressed, and short skirts caused particular offence.

"I hear it all the time. And I think young New Zealanders need to realise that just because we're at the bottom of the world, it doesn't mean we have to dress like we don't care ...

they've kind of lost this idea of grooming and style and grace."

Not that the older generations set a great example - shoes worn until they fell apart, cheap suits and poor personal grooming were the most common flaws seen by Ms Stone.

"Often I find they really don't realise that hair does grow in some bizarre places ... this is pretty much from the neck up. And as we do get older it's just one of these things - hair grows in places that it never did before."

Kristen Cooper, the national president of Human Resources Institute of New Zealand, said complaints about slipping standards were nothing new.

"Workplace dress codes are a reflection of society's dress codes, so there's a perception over time that they're different now than they were 20 years ago. Just as they would have been for the 20 years prior to that."

Employers had to be careful about how they broached the "mine field" of dress standards, she said.

"It can be hard with their particular body shape to keep a shirt tucked in. Or if we put on a bit of weight we don't realise it's actually made it a bit more uncomfortable for people around us if the skirt's got a bit shorter as a result."

The issue of work dress was a global headline last year, when New Yorker Debrahlee Lorenzana threatened to sue after claiming she was forced out of Citibank after male co-workers found her figure and clothing choices "too distracting".

PricewaterhouseCoopers does have a "surprisingly short and vague" dress code, said partner Bruce Baillie, but when new staff walk in, "it becomes blindingly obvious that proper business attire is what is required".

The code has relaxed recently, however - men have been allowed to discard their ties in certain circumstances, while women are now allowed to wear shorter-sleeved tops.

There had been only one incident in the past year, which was resolved with a "quiet word", he said.

Office tips

Men

* Invest in the best-quality footwear you can afford.
* Discard baggy suit pants - trends have changed.
* Tidy nostril and ear hair.

Women

* Invest in a good-quality handbag.
* Do not wear short skirts.
* Cleavage in the office does not work.

- NZ Herald

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