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Does this make me look ... rude? Casual wear not always appropriate

| Friday, May 17, 2013, 6:29 p.m.
Mark Brewer | Tribune-Review

The mirror is a good place to start.

From funerals to job interviews, people will form an impression of you based on sight before you say a word, experts say.

David Slater, funeral director for Slater Funeral Home, says he could write a book on the outfits he has seen individuals wear to pay their respects. He's spotted miniskirts, flip-flops, shorts and tank tops, and seen more tattoos than anyone should ever see at a funeral, he says.

“I can't believe what some people wear,” Slater says. “Some people look like they are going to the beach. People wear what they want. Have you seen what people wear to church these days? I know some will say ‘Be glad they are here,' but I think people need to show a little respect for the deceased and the family of the deceased.”

Society's trend to gravitate toward less-dressy garb in general and wearing what's most comfortable has filtered into places where people should be aware of what they put on, says Lizzie Post, author and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt., and co-author of “Emily Post Etiquette, 18th edition.”

“Dress is important, and it sets an example, because if people are focused on your clothing, and not on you, that is a problem,” Post says. “People need to think about their clothing, because it can be distracting for those trying to worship.

“When you are in public you are representing yourself and your family and your company, even if it's not on a work day, you never know who you might run into, so you might not want to be wearing a cropped top and short-shorts. I like to dress in old jeans and riding boots, but that's when I am going down to the barn to ride a horse.”

Even those who are going to an interview at a super-young-and-trendy denim company should not wear ripped jeans, even if they are the company's brand of ripped jeans.

“If you aren't sure, always dress one notch above,” Post says. “For funerals, anything too short or too low-cut isn't appropriate. Anytime you are in a place of worship, be respectful of it.”

It is OK to call ahead to check on what to wear to an interview, says Lisa Orndorff, manager of employer relations for the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va.

“Don't just assume you can wear jeans or board shorts and a tank top to an interview at an IT company,” she says. “And, if you can, it is good to observe what the people who already have jobs there are wearing. We used to tell people to wear to an interview what you would wear to church or synagogue, but we can't say that anymore.”

Some people at her company will say they can dress casually because they will be sitting behind a desk all day and, “Who is going to see them?”

“But, sometimes, we meet with outside clients or presenters or have some other business,” Orndorff says.

“There needs to be some guidelines and parameters,” she says. “The idea for a job interview is to put your best foot forward, to bring your ‘A game.' I know they are all clichés, but the reality is, there are other people competing for that job and what you wear could be the first thing that hits a person's eyes and sticks in their head. Also, wear clothes that fit.”

Twenty years ago, the LeMont Restaurant on Mt. Washington required men to wear jackets. The establishment used to keep a few coats on hand, just in case, says Kathy Slencak, manager of special projects for the LeMont. Suggested dress today is business attire. She occasionally has to ask a man to remove a baseball cap. T-shirts are frowned upon. Customers are sometimes seated at an out-of-the-way table if they aren't dressed appropriately, she says.

“It's a fine line, because we still want to keep customers,” Slencak says. “We would prefer business attire, but business casual is probably more in line with what people do.”

At Savoy Restaurant & Lounge in the Strip District, the dress code is business casual, says manager Gary White. They ask that patrons don't come in wearing urban street clothes, especially in the dining area. If they do, they could be turned away, he says.

Yuniya Kawamura, associate professor of sociology at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, says the practice of dress codes is part of our cultural tradition, which is passed down from generation to generation.

“When we do not think about what we are wearing to a specific event, such as a funeral or wedding, it is an indication that our traditions are breaking down or deteriorating,” she says.

Helping clients know what to wear is the job of Lakisha Pattin, owner of Focused Fashion Consulting, based in Pittsburgh.

“I have been asked, ‘Is it OK to wear white to a wedding?' and I say, no because you don't want to take away from the bride,” Pattin says.

As for what to wear to work or a job interview, Pattin says to sit down in a skirt and see if it rises up too high, or bend over to see if your cleavage is showing.

“You should plan what you are going to wear to an event, such as an interview,” Pattin says. “A lot of times, people form a first impression by what you are wearing and you don't get a chance to say, ‘Here are my accomplishments or degrees.' You prepare mentally for an interview in terms of finding out about the company, so why not prepare for what you are going to wear as well?”

The change of the culture to more casual dress might be one reason for less-formal dress attire at church says the Rev. James R. Gretz, director of the department for worship for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“I would think there is some carryover from the casualness of the workplace, which now has casual Fridays,” he says. “I have even noticed it when I go the Civic Light Opera and see guys in khakis and golf shirts instead of suits and ties.”

Dressing up for church is about giving the Lord your best, Gretz says.

“For our older generation, it was a big deal to go to church or to the city, so they would dress to the nines,” he says. “You don't see that as much anymore. Times have changed.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at jharrop@tribweb.com or 412-320-7889.

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