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People often comment on my articles and when office attire is discussed, some say: “Just dress decently”. But what exactly is decent? In this article, I explain this term and why it is sometimes so hard to dress yourself decently.
Decent, what is that?
First off, it is interesting to take a closer look at the term. Because what exactly is “decent”? It seems that this term can be described in different ways:
Appropriate; suitable for the circumstances (Wiktionary)
Marked by moral integrity, kindness, and goodwill (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
Acceptable, satisfactory, or reasonable (Cambridge Dictionary)
Respectable; worthy (Dictionary.com)
It is obvious that you can interpret this term in different ways. The tricky part is that this term is not only described differently everywhere, but also that the definitions are all very broad. Because everyone knows that norms, values, decency and good manners differ among cultures or even among families.
When are you decent?
Okay, so there are different definitions. When you look at the similarities between them, you see that most are about manners, culture and personal interpretation. Which makes it complicated!
Whether you wear decent clothing at work (or during a job interview) depends on various factors, like:
Etiquette: what clothing is common in the industry the company is in.
Culture: what clothing is common in the company itself.
Norms and values: this can make the difference between what is accepted in the workplace and what not.
Ethics: can also play a part. If you work at an animal welfare organization, chances are that wearing fur or even leather is not appreciated.
Above factors mostly relate to the company and the industry in which the company is operating. This is something you can investigate beforehand. But that’s not all. You are also dealing with individuals.
Personal taste: is different for every employee.
Background of employees: a certain fashion style is not developed overnight. Most people take years to develop a certain style and also previous employers leave their mark.
Knowledge and experience of employees: everyone creates a first impression with their appearance. You can do your best to make a great first impression, but you can’t look into other people’s heads. Some people judge one’s appearance based on their knowledge or experience. A shame, but that is how it works. Nothing to do.
Apart from a company’s culture and the employees’ personalities, another factor that is relevant is expectations. Everyone has expectations and these also depend on different factors:
Your job: people form a certain image when thinking of a profession. You expect a gardener to look different than someone who works for a bank.
Your age: Whether something looks decent is often linked to age. A tight dress is accepted more easily when a young woman wears it, than when she would be older.
I have no doubt that there are many more factors involved in what is considered decent or not. It is just not that clear. All points above are related to each other. The people are the company and the experience/knowledge of these people is formed by previous employers and experience/knowledge acquired there. And you also develop your own opinion, taste, norms and values over time.
In short: it gets easier when you work somewhere and know the people around you. The more knowledge about a company and its people, the easier it is to dress yourself properly. But even then, you can make mistakes. Because in the end, you can’t know everything.