A couple of months ago, I led a project management course in the Connemara mountains in Ireland. The venue is very informal. We go outdoors in the morning to hike, cycle or kayak. Then, in the afternoon and evening, we gather for project management workshops in the cozy Killary Lodge.

So, as you can imagine, none of us trainers or course participants wear suits or tailor-made dresses.

After the course, when we evaluated and reflected on the past week, Pavel, one of the course participants said: “The course was great, but I have one remark: Why do you and Kasia always wear such boring socks?”.

I immediately looked at my feet. I was wearing a “proper” pair of navy blue socks. I looked at Pavel’s feet and saw a colourful pattern of rainbows, animals and plants.

(I must explain here that during our courses we often do relaxation and stretching exercises with tennis balls. We take off our shoes and roll balls with our feet. That’s how we all knew what kind of socks we were wearing!)

Pavel’s comment made me think about the topic of dress code. I did some research of what is acceptable and unacceptable in our modern workplaces, but especially in the project management world. Interested?

Here are a couple of business dress codes distinguished by Project Wizards

Smart casual 

A casual business outfit. Men wear denims, chinos or suit pants with shirts, closed shoes, and preferably discreet colours. A tie is rarely worn. Women can wear a suit but combine it with another top instead of a blouse. According to Vogue there are no rules, however, it requires a degree of polish, such as a smart blazer or jewellery. Flats or heels are acceptable.

Creative casual 

In creative industries, such as advertising, IT, and television, the creative casual dress code is common. Men wear a shirt or T-shirt, polo shirt and jacket, jeans and closed leather shoes or sneakers. Women wear skirts or trousers, including denims, and casual but smart shirts or blouses.

Business casual

This one is often difficult to pin down! On the US West Coast, it can even mean shorts, high-quality sandals and T-shirts; in Europe, on the other hand, it can often only mean temporary permission to do without a tie.

Business attire

This generally means suits but women can wear professional dresses instead. Men usually wear ties.

Casual Friday

Casual Friday comes from North America, where it has become increasingly popular since the 1950s. On Friday, because of the upcoming weekend, casual or sportier clothing may be worn.

How about the dress code of the European Commission and Parliament? The only information on the Commission’s website is that “There is no official dress code. However you are expected to dress adequately.” I guess the rule of “look at the crowd” is to be applied, where one wears whatever others do!

I found some more amusing advice given to Members of the European Parliament by Politico. The last two points especially grabbed my attention:

5) Find your own style. You’re one MEP among 751, from one country out of 28, and part of a delegation of maybe a dozen others. Here’s your chance to stand out. You’ve earned the right to show off your best Dirndl if you’re Austrian, your most expensive Chanel suit if you’re French, your most folkloric Krakowian costume if you’re from Poland. The EU is about celebrating our cultural differences, after all.

6) Be unpredictable. Just because you’re a member of a conservative party doesn’t mean you have to be clean shaven, wear an expensive navy-blue suit or have your hair perfectly styled. Being a scruffy, punk member of the European People’s Party is fine too — it might even encourage a few more people to learn your name.

I’m going to take this advice on board when I dress for the next course or project management meeting. And, Pavel, I promise to never again underestimate the power of socks!

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