What’s ‘Professional’? Work, Fashion and Appropriate Dress

Kyle Bernstein

Judging by the crowds on the L train, it appears to be casual Friday every day.  Extremely casual. 

We’ll give the benefit of the doubt here and assume that some of these folks are on vacation and every one of those decided to go to the beach – on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, at 8am on a Tuesday.  That explains the flip-flops and bikini tops beneath blouses.  Some are likely to be tourists, evident by their shorts and tank-top combos.  NYC loves tourists.  They are essential to our economy and add to the melting pot.  But what of the rest?  One can only hope that these folks have productive careers in which they are required to wear a uniform that they change into in a dressing room where they can also brush their hair.  Unfortunately, though, many people seem to think that whatever they slept in is appropriate work wear.  It’s not.  Whether you’re working a minimum-wage summer job or head up a Fortune 500 company, showing you care (or don’t care) about how you look can be a reflection on how you do your job and could affect those around you.  The whole world seems to have gotten extremely laid-back and the lines between what is presentable and what should be reserved for more familiar surroundings have gotten as fuzzy as a ratty old sweater.


Of course, there is much more to being polished than taking a lint roller to your linens or brushing your teeth, which we should all do regularly even if we’ve got the day off.  

A modern professional is perceptible not just by the dress she chooses but by the words she utters, the manner in which she carries herself and the way she conducts business.  Acting professionally is usually synonymous with being corporate and working for “big business”, but it’s mostly about being considerate and using common sense.

So what the f@*k is “professional”?  Well, at the bare minimum, it’s following the guidelines our parents and teachers drilled into us when we were young and applying them to our jobs.  You know; be polite, don’t interrupt, be honest, and treat others as you would have them treat you.  Other idioms such as “no spitting, swearing, or loud radios” apply to the office as much as they do on the subway.  In any situation, common standards of etiquette like saying “please” and “thank you” will always apply.  In most cases, if you wouldn’t want you mother to see, hear, or know about something you’re doing or if something feels our sounds unnatural, you might want to question its suitability.  It never hurts to err on the side of caution if you’re not sure about an action, an outfit, or a joke you’re about to repeat.

At work, your company handbook should provide a general set of guidelines for conduct, attire, and what your responsibilities at the organization are.  Following the leader (within reason) is typically a safe bet as well.  Management is responsible for setting the tone and should be a good example of how employees are expected to behave.  When starting school, a career, or a new job, it could be in your best interest to find a suitable role model from whom you can takes cues and perhaps even consult with when in doubt.

When coworkers get overly familiar or your busy season is proving to be especially harried, there are a few other “workplace do’s” that can get your through tough times such as; don’t use the “f” word, do your job, don’t whine, speak in complete sentences, and don’t freak out.  In this casual climate, there are also some surprising behaviors there should certainly be rules against such as showing up drunk or not at all, yelling, and disrobing.  Regardless of whether you’re a sanitation worker for the city or a counter clerk at The Bay, showing your professional side can garner respect from others and maybe even allow them to see you as an inspiration, so feel free to pass it along.


Frequently, people who have worked a job for an extended period of time and/or work long hours and late nights may turn reckless.  As with any long-term relationship, when the honeymoon is over, one may become slipshod and feel they no longer need to be on their best behavior. 

But, in a job as much as in a marriage, it’s never a good idea to take your position for granted.  Regardless of how you perform, when layoffs begin, one phoning it in is often on the short list and anyone who appears unsuitable to entertain clients may be seen as expendable.  Additionally, you never know when a social acquaintance will become a business contact, so acting appropriately after hours may behoove you as well.

A true professional is genuinely nothing more than a person with manners who is on their “A” game.  She shows up on time dressed properly and is mentally and physically prepared for the task at hand. 

Miss Thing knows her job, does it to the best of her abilities and asks questions when in doubt instead of making assumptions.  She knows her limits and doesn’t make promises beyond her ability, job, or budget.  Doing things like being respectful of others’ time by showing up promptly for meetings and returning phone calls and emails as soon as possible shows people you mean business and makes others more willing to cooperate with you.  In addition to making you look good and hopefully moving you up the professional and financial ladder, your efforts will make you more efficient and get you out the door on time more regularly, leaving you more hours to pursue other interests so you stay fun and fresh.


  1. Sophie Brandimarte says:

    Amen, Ms. Bernstein. Perhaps this economic downturn will inspire a return to professional dress and business manners.

  2. Anna Kourelis says:

    You’re the “Miss Manners” of the corporate world. God knows we need one!