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Call it “dress-down Friday” or “business casual.”
Either way, there seem to be almost as many ways to describe the trend
toward allowing employees to abandon traditional business dress on one
or more days during the week as there are interpretations of what it
means. Are blue jeans OK? No? What about black jeans? Can women wear
pants? Do shirts have to have collars? Can I wear sneakers?
According to Timothy F. Finley, chairman and chief executive officer
of Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Hampstead, Maryland, “People do seem to
be confused about what `casual’ is.” Jos. A. Bank manufactures
and sells men’s and women’s tailored clothing in 83 retail
stores and through a mail-order catalog.
Himself a CPA, Finley says for the last 10 years his company as
conducted “dressing for objectives” seminars for professional
associations, CPA firms, law firms and other businesses. The one-hour
presentation is designed to help employees develop a professional image
and teach them how to build a wardrobe that supports it. About 5 to 10
minutes are devoted to casual dress, and Finley says, “Lately
we’ve gotten a lot of questions.”
“The problem we hear most,” Finley says, “is that the
CEO suddenly looks like the janitor.” When asked his company’s
definition of business casual, Finley says the important distinction is
having a jacket, even if it’s worn with slacks and a casual shirt.
While that’s the Jos. A. Bank view, Finley says what you see in
reality are sweaters and khaki pants. “We’ve recently seen a
lot of resistance to blue jeans.” For some people, Finley says, it
becomes such a hassle figuring out what to wear they say they’d
rather dress up.
To capitalize on the relaxed trend, Finley says his company is coming
out with what he calls a fairly significant casual dress line for men in
the fall of 1995. It will be, he says, “more comfortable.” The
line will include sports coats with a “softer look,” tailored
khakis, sweaters and more outerwear. To market the line, the Jos. A.
Bank catalog will refer specifically to the trend-toward business casual
How are CPA firms approaching casual dress? The Journal spoke to six
CPAs to see what they and their firms are doing …
Melissa Fortune, CPA Staff accountant, Brennan, Jacobs Company
Our firm’s “dress-down Friday” policy went into effect
We all voted on the policy, and all of us – two partners, five staff
CPAs and support staff – believe it’s working fine.
We can wear jeans, but they mustn’t have holes in them and they
can’t have a “grunged-out” look. We can wear shirts
without collars – even t-shirts – but they can’t have slogans
written on them. Also, we can’t wear tennis shoes or open sandals.
The dress options are about the same for men and women and we don’t
have any guidelines regarding hair length for men.
We work hard and wanted something that would make us feel comfortable
and casual once in a while. This is a working office and we generally
don’t see clients here, so being able to dress casually on Fridays,
if we aren’t going out to a client’s office, made sense.
In fact, we have a number of agricultural clients and others in oil
refinery maintenance, so when we go out to see them, we don’t dress
up either. For example, if I’m walking around the client’s
farm, going through the fields, doing an inspection of the property or
an inventory of their fixed assets, I’ll wear khaki pants and
low-heeled shoes. The same holds true if I’m at the refinery,
verifying their fixed assets. Even if I go to visit the corporate
offices, I’ll generally dress casually, because the company staff
dresses that way.
Paul Gallegra Staff accountant, Paneth, Haber Zimmerman New
When I started at Paneth, Haber Zimmerman, they were putting
the finishing touches on a total office makeover. During that time, the
office dress code was more casual than usual: jeans,, sneakers and
button-down shirts. In fact, for a while I regretted spending all my
money on the traditional wool suits when what I really needed were some
new outfits from The Gap.
Our usual dress-down days – summer Fridays – are more formal than
that. We can’t wear jeans or t-shirts – I’ll probably wear
khakis and polo-type shirts, as long as I’m not meeting with a
client. I admit I’m looking forward to it, because the formal dress
code is still a little new for me. I passed my CPA exams just last
spring and still have my experience requirement ahead of me.
I’m still very conscious of the need to dress correctly. The
written dress code at Paneth, Haber Zimmerman states only that
personal appearance is important, but the equally important unwritten code is that men must wear a suit and tie – not a sports jacket – every
day. Women may wear pants suits. I think those outside the profession,
our clients, have an idea of how CPAs dress. They imagine us relaxing at
home, still wearing our suits. I don’t want to disappoint them.
Before I came here I worked on the bookkeeping staff at a much more
casual firm. Now I have to take great care every day to make sure I look
professional. Basically, there’s not a day when you won’t
catch me looking my best. I own gray, blue and brown suits, which I wear
with white shirts, sometimes blue. I “dress to impress” -
it’s part of gaining respect.
Rebecca J. Miller, CPA Partner in charge of employee benefits
consulting, McGladrey Pullen Rochester, Minnesota.
When I left Arthur Andersen to go to McGladrey Pullen in 1979,
I told friends I had to leave because they didn’t make black
wingtips in my size.
Of course, it’s a joke, but there’s also an element of
truth to it. In those days, especially in large, conservative CPA firms,
the term “business dress” meant “wingtips” – a
symbol for the dark suit, white shirt and a conservative tie. Today,
while most CPA firms still have a dress code, the definition of business
dress is not so rigid. For example, in our office in Pierre, South
Dakota (population 12,000), a sports coat constitutes business dress.
But if one of our professionals in our New York office came to work in a
sports coat there would be a collective raising of eyebrows.
Here at McGladrey Pullen, where we have 74 offices across the
country, we leave it up to each office to define business dress. For the
most part, we are client-driven: If a client dresses casually, we follow
suit – no pun intended. After all, I think it would be very awkward for
a casually dressed client to work with a conservatively suited CPA.
During our light season and during the summer many of our offices
have casual Fridays. Most men wear khaki trousers, nice shirts – even
short sleeves – no tie. On a casual Friday during the winter it’s
corduroy and a nice sweater. Women wear slacks and sweaters or blouses.
But no blue jeans, no sweat shirts, no shorts.
Before I meet with a client I’ve never visited before I
regularly call the client-service partner beforehand and say,
“Okay, who are these people? What role do you want me to play – a
dark suit or a red knit dress or khaki trousers?” You’ve got
to ask: There are always some who will be put off by one dress mode -
and it’s not predictable.
While the new rules are less rigid, they also give you plenty of
opportunity to mess up-which is why I always call ahead when I’m
An example of how complex this issue is: One casual-dress Friday I
bumped into one of my clients, who was visiting someone else in our
office. He chewed me out for my casual attire. He said, “If
we’re going to pay you professional rates, I expect you to dress
like a professional.”
Well, that’s not a usual reaction, nor is it a generational
For women, the dress code issue is a bit more complicated. Dress
codes have changed dramatically since 1975, when I started in this
profession. In those days there were few women in public accounting and
it wasn’t clear what our uniform was supposed to be – although
there was lots of talk about what’s appropriate and what’s
not. By the 1980s – as more women entered the profession – things began
settling down: We kind of knew what was appropriate. But now, with the
introduction of business casual and casual Fridays the disequilibrium has returned. No one is really sure what appropriate attire is in each
setting. Ask 30 professional women what’s appropriate and
you’ll get 30 different answers.
Since I’m a boss-I’m in charge of a department – I have a
fair amount of liberty. It’s easier for women in authority because
the standard is not as rigid for them as it is for men. Personally, I
wear tailored slacks a lot, and it’s okay. But in our southern
region, some offices have policies discouraging slacks for women
What about jewelry? It should be understated. The minute you start
clunking you’re in trouble. And fragrances are all right but they
have to be very light – whether on a casual Friday or otherwise.
How about men who wear earrings? I have no problem with that.
It’s very generational. If one of my staffers were to wear an
earring, I would advise him, “If you’re going to meet with
some clients, ask yourself how would they react. You don’t want to
create controversy at a meeting that distracts from the reason
What do I wear when I’m not seeing clients? Typically, it’s
flat shoes, tailored trousers, matching jacket or a blazer and a
turtleneck sweater. In general, I believe you should dress as
comfortably as possible.
Gregory J. Stemler, CPA Partner, Holsinger, Stemler, Hook
There had always been an informal nature to our practice in terms of
required business attire for our employees. We did not have an official
dress-down policy on Fridays or any other day, but casual dress was
permitted if we did not have a client meeting scheduled. Since October
of last year, the firm has eliminated the dress-down option and it has
been strictly business attire every day except Saturday.
Why did we make the change? Recently the partners observed that this
casual dressing was creating much too informal an office atmosphere and
sensed that our professionalism was not being presented appropriately.
It was awkward when a client came to the office with less than a
day’s notice and we were dressed casually. In such a case, you can
only hope the client can look beyond the way you are dressed.
Our informal, relaxed atmosphere also resulted in reduced employee
productivity. During a typical 40-hour week, we billed fewer hours than
before we allowed casual dress. In some weeks, we lost as much as 20% to
25% in productivity.
We decided to announce the change at the beginning of our busy
season. This seemed a logical time, as it is very hectic here and,
accordingly, client contact increases. There were no problems because of
the change; the staff made the transition smoothly and understood that
we work in a very professional environment. Our chargeable hours and
realization have increased significantly.
The firm has seen tremendous growth in the last few years. Five years
ago, the firm consisted of 1 partner, 1 manager, 4 staff accountants and
3 administrative support staff. We currently have 3 partners, 1 manager,
11 staff accountants and,5 support staff.
Kelcy M. Whitman, CPA Partner, Crowe Chizek Company
Our firm’s dress code requires women to wear a coordinated suit
or business dress. Only recently has “suit” been understood to
include pants suit.
We have eight offices in four Midwestern states: Indiana, Illinois,
Ohio and Michigan. The managing partner of each of our local offices has
say over any variation to our general policy. Women in most of our
offices have welcomed the subtle change in policy and now are regularly
wearing pants suits. However, in Indianapolis we haven’t seen much
change. No one here really encourages it. I am the most senior woman in
the office and I am not setting any trends towards pants suits. I
can’t tell you why – a pants suit doesn’t have to look casual,
and slacks generally are more comfortable than a skirt.
I guess it’s because I haven’t seen many other professional
women in the city wearing slacks. There may be a significant shift to
pants suits occurring across the country, but parts of the Midwest have
not experienced this shift. However, I have started to see more pants
suits in the stores and catalogs.
Some of our offices, as well as other Indianapolis CPA firms, have
instituted a monthly or weekly “casual” day. Usually this
means our employees can wear nice pants or slacks and a shirt, blouse or
sweater. No jeans. The Indianapolis office has yet to adopt a casual
day. Some people want to maintain our current image and do not favor a
casual day during the traditional workweek. “After all,” they
say, “we have a casual day every Saturday.” Others think a
casual day would be good for employee morale.
One reason CPAs dress so conservatively is because they come into
regular contact with clients and other businesspeople who expect them to
maintain a certain image. For many, this image simply doesn’t
include pants suits … yet. Pants suits or not, I don’t think CPA
firms are the place to look to lead the trend to more casual business
attire. CPA fashions for both men and women are fairly conservative, and
I think they are likely to change very slowly.
Barton C. Francis, CPA Partner, Shellenhamer Co. Palmyra,
Our firm has a casual dress policy year round. We have six
professionals and, during tax season, about a dozen part-time and
seasonal employees. The building that houses our office consists of the
original building and an addition in back that is one big open work
area. Because the employees who work in the back area deal only
infrequently with the public, they can dress however they feel
comfortable, including blue jeans and stirrup pants. Even if they have
to come out to answer a client question, that’s fine. We are a
comfortable and casual office.
In the front office where the professionals work, it’s up to us
how we are dressed. Men wear ties probably two to three days a week, but
the founder, John Shellenhamer, doesn’t wear one at all. He’s
the one who set the firm’s original casual policy. Our clients have
come to expect us not to be dressed in three-piece, $1,000 suits.
I often wear a suit when I am out at a client – following the dress I
might find in their office – although I have some clients who object to
my wearing one. Then I wear what’s called for based on the
location; if it’s a pig farm and I’ll be mucking through mud,
I’ll be in jeans and boots. Otherwise, I wear khaki pants and a
casual dress shirt – which is what I wear in the office if I’m not
wearing a tie. In the summer, I might wear a short-sleeve polo-type
shirt. It’s based on whom I’m meeting, where I’m going
and sometimes the mood I wake up in that morning.
If I have a last-minute appointment, few clients would be offended by
my casual dress. I let them know over the phone to expect it so it
won’t be a surprise when I walk in the door. There are some clients
I’d prefer not to meet unless I’m wearing my
“accountant’s suit.” But even they have called
unexpectedly and it’s never been a problem.
Our firm isn’t really joining the movement toward.
Look out for novelist payton kirkland’s site.casual dress -
the movement is coming toward us. We aren’t leaders, we just have a
policy that’s different from most accounting firms. One of the
reasons I feel this is important is because our employees all work very
hard – they never complain if they have to work late. We’re a team
and we try to create as happy, comfortable and cooperative an atmosphere
COPYRIGHT 1995 American Institute of CPA’s
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.
Dress for Success® Greater Orlando to
Present “Hats off to Success” on May 30
Tickets On Sale Now For Annual Brunch Fundraiser
Featuring Motivational Speaker Dawn Raquel Jensen
Dress for Success Greater Orlando:
Dress for Success Greater Orlando
Radio personality Erica Lee, Emcee
Dawn Raquel Jensen, Speaker
Second annual brunch fundraiser that celebrates the successes of its
clients and volunteers in a fun and inspiring atmosphere. Stylish
hats are encouraged!
Program includes: fantastic raffles, full buffet brunch,
motivational speaker and awards presentation. This event is held in
tandem with the organization’s 2015 campaign,
#BeyondTheSuitGreaterOrlando meant to empower women for success.
Attendees will hear from acclaimed speaker Dawn Raquel Jensen.
Jensen is a social media speaker, marketing coach and training
expert. She will share a motivational talk that is sure to energize
and entertain the guests. She is an expert in digital media and
“loves to nerd out on new media and technology.” She brings a
multifaceted experience from working with the US Navy Reserve to
Fortune 500 companies like Disney. This talk will inspire attendees
to succeed when faced with any challenge.
Saturday, May 30, from 10:00am – 1:00pm
Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater Orlando
411 Mercy Drive, Orlando, Florida 32805 / 407.295.1066
$35 advance online ticket sales or $40 at the door. Buy tickets at http://hatsofftosuccess.brownpapertickets.com/
All proceeds go to Dress for Success Greater Orlando.
About Dress for Success® Greater Orlando
Since May 2001, Dress for Success Greater Orlando has been an affiliate
of the international Dress for Success non-profit organization that
provides interview attire and career development services to
economically disadvantaged women. The organization also promotes
economic independence, provides programs to raise self-esteem, connects
women with professional resources, prepares women for employment and
assists in establishing a network of support to help women thrive in
work and in life. For more information visit.
Try doctor chris thomas’s internet site.https://greaterorlando.dressforsuccess.org
or follow the organization on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Dress for Success Greater Orlando
Jessica Otero, 407-628-0506