Michael Crom had traveled to Microsofts Silicon Valley, Calif., facility to discuss a business deal and he followed his usual routine of donning a jacket and tie for an appointment with professionals.
The software companys representatives were decidedly more casual.
They put on their nicest and cleanest T-shirts for me, said Crom, chief learning officer for Dale Carnegie & Associates, a Hauppauge, N.Y., training and coaching firm.
He wasnt offended, he said, because casual attire is widely accepted as the standard for the tech sector. Think Apple co-founder Steve Jobs black turtleneck and jeans.
But clothes that dont garner a second look in the California tech belt wouldnt necessarily be as well received in Croms office on the opposite coast.
It depends on the organization, and there are clearly different expectations in different parts of the country at different times of the year, he said.
During the summer months, many workplaces relax their dress standards. Still, theres a risk that employees will show up at the office better suited for a picnic if managers dont spell out a policy of whats acceptable and whats not.
Youre always better off expressing what you would like to see happen, Crom said. If you dont announce the policy or expectations, then anything goes.
The Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., suggests that a summer-dress-code policy be in effect all through the traditional summer time frame (Memorial Day in late May through the week in which Labor Day falls in September). The societys model for such a policy, found on its website, www.shrm.org, stipulates that employees dress more casually only on days when they have no in-person client contact.
While solid-color T-shirts, walking shorts (with hems that fall about 1 inch above the knee), tennis shoes and denim jeans and skirts are deemed appropriate in the human-resource societys hypothetical summer dress code, other things are not.
That includes standard shorts, clothing with logos, halter tops and thong-type sandals.
For companies trying to draft a dress code, the society advises including a sentence stating that employees who dont follow the rules will be asked to leave work to change, and will be required to use personal time or vacation time to do so.
For bosses who need to address issues about skimpy or inappropriate dress, Crom said it is easiest when a written policy is in place.
Whether the rules are documented, I would start in a friendly way and not make it a criticism of the person but of their clothing.