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Fashion Faux Pas: Gen Y Takes Sexy To Work

A colleague of mine recently shared a story with me of a Gen Y employee who showed up for work in ‘Daisy Dukes’ – extremely short shorts. Outraged, she pulled the new hire into her office and asked her why she was wearing such inappropriate work attire. Confused and somewhat alarmed, the Gen Y shrugged her shoulders and said, “I thought you said we could dress casual on Fridays.”

A colleague of mine recently shared a story with me of a Gen Y employee who showed up for work in ‘Daisy Dukes’ – extremely short shorts. Outraged, she pulled the new hire into her office and asked her why she was wearing such inappropriate work attire. Confused and somewhat alarmed, the Gen Y shrugged her shoulders and said, “I thought you said we could dress casual on Fridays.”

Does this story make you laugh or cringe?

There’s no doubt about it, fashion in the workplace is getting a blunt makeover with Generation Y.  One Generation Y blogger describes the fashion of his generation as one with “flip-flops in hand bags waiting for 5 p.m., tattoos flown at full mast, and cleavage accepted most places VISA is.”

He argues the Generation Y’s fashion is part of their culture: extremely casual, fiercely independent, and highly innovative.

But how casual is too casual?

A Fortune 500 retailer (who has asked to remain anonymous) recently adopted a new dress code which they refer to internally as the ‘No-Bs Policy’ as in no belly, boobs, or butts can be visible at work. The HR executive told me the company created the policy shortly after Generation Y entered the workforce. “Never before have we had to literally spell out and train new hires on what was appropriate work attire,” she said.

I wonder what Dan Schawbel would say about his generation’s fashion choices. Schawbel is considered the leading personal branding expert for Generation Y. He’s the author of Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success, as well as the publisher of Personal Branding Magazine.

The concept of personal branding evolved with Generation Y and there are many resources dedicated to this topic. This is partly due to our fashion evolution, which has moved from wearing the required suits to business casual work attire to anything goes. (Soon we’ll be wearing pajamas to work. Why bother with getting dressed at all?)

It’s also partly due to technology — every move you make offline may be documented and everything you do online is already documented in your permanent record. As an article in Time Magazine put it, “Living is personal branding.” In an age of social media and reality TV—we are always on and always out there. We are moving from a society of attention controllers to attention seekers and Gen Y is leading the charge.

What I fail to understand is how Generation Y can tout the importance of personal branding and still believe that clothes aren’t an integral part of that equation. As the Gen Y blogger I mentioned above put it: “I have larger flags to fly than the clothes on my back.”

I understand that Generation Y wants to be radical hipsters celebrated more for their talent than their fashion choices, but let’s keep the ‘professional’ in the term young professional. Call this Gen Xer old-fashioned, but it’s just really difficult to take anyone seriously when they’re showing up at work in Daisy Dukes or flip flops.

Save it for the beach, Gen Y. Nudity at work is a no-no.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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