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Business Casual or Jeans All Week: How to Navigate the Dress Code in the Modern Accounting Office

recent article in CGMA Magazine revealed that many accounting firms in the U.S. are trading in formal dress codes for jeans-all-week policies. While many workplaces have been heading in that direction for some time now, confusion persists over what constitutes “business casual” let alone adding jeans to the mix.

Many modern accounting offices already have business casual dress codes Monday through Thursday with jeans allowed on Fridays so most professionals have been navigating casual dress codes for a while. Anyone moving from a more formal workplace to a casual dress code – and new accounting and finance grads entering the workforce – may need some guidance.

Good Policy

Your employee handbook should be your first stop for determining what is considered appropriate in your office. Many employers who have adopted casual dress codes spell out what is and isn’t appropriate in a written dress code policy. Of course, guidelines vary across companies but generally, business casual includes slacks or khakis, open-collar shirts, polo shirts, blouses and sweaters, open-toed shoes for women and loafers or other casual leather shoes for men. When jeans are allowed, swap out slacks or khakis for clean, well-fitting jeans.

Often the handbook will list specific types of clothing that are unacceptable. That list may include leggings, shorts, mini-skirts, spaghetti-straps, t-shirts, tops that display midriffs, visible undergarments or too much cleavage, sweatshirts or athleisure wear, flip-flops, athletic shoes, and hats.

If your company has a detailed dress code, follow it. Check in with your supervisor or Human Resources staff for clarification if you are uncertain.

Good Grooming

Whether the company dress code calls for suits, jeans, or anything in between, your clothing should be clean and never wrinkled. Torn or frayed clothing is inappropriate, even designer garments that were meant to look that way.

It’s a good idea to be cognizant of scent in the workplace. It goes without saying that body odor is never appropriate, but heavy scents can be just as offensive. Coworkers or clients may have sensitivities or allergies to fragrance products, so those should be used in moderation.

Good Dress Code Judgement

Another important component of navigating a casual dress code is to consider the office culture. Accounting and finance offices in warmer cities like Phoenix or Los Angeles tend to have more relaxed dress codes than cities like Chicago or New York. A look at the company’s Facebook page can reveal a lot about culture and give clues on how employees dress on a regular basis.

The type of client you work with matters as well. Meeting with clients in the construction industry or a creative office may call for a more casual look. If you’re meeting with the CFO of a law firm, you’ll probably eschew business casual for a suit. Likewise if you’re attending a networking event where you’ll be meeting professionals from a variety of industries. In those cases, err on the side of formality.

Even if you don’t have any client meetings scheduled, keep in mind that clients may drop by the office at any time. If a client walked into your office unexpectedly, would you be embarrassed or feel the need to make an apology for your clothing? They would likely not be appalled to find you working in a pair of clean, well-fitting jeans and a blazer or sweater but sweatpants and flip flops are another story.

Remember that clients are not the only people you need to impress at work. The old adage, “Dress for the job you want” still applies, even in a casual workplace. Take cues from supervisors and managers. You may be able to rise through the ranks in a t-shirt or a hoodie at Facebook, but you’d likely be seen as unprofessional in many other workplaces. Casual dress codes are a popular perk at many accounting offices, but no matter how casual your company culture is, you always want to look like a pulled-together professional.

For help dressing for an interview, check out our infographic.


Accounting Principals

We're Accounting Principals--a leader in finance and accounting staffing. In fact, since 2010, we've been part of Adecco Group, a Global 500 company and leader in staffing services around the world. But this isn't staffing as usual. We take quite a different approach than most staffing agencies. A people-focused approach. We believe in forming real relationships with both our clients and our candidates. We want to understand the needs on both sides.