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Page last updated at 02:37 GMT, Thursday, 25 June 2009 03:37 UK

Could this woman get a job in your office?

Jewellery Tattoo Piercing Clothes Jewellery Hair Make-up Piercings

Office dress codes are loosening, but where do the boundaries lie? Rebecca Knowles-Dixon, 24, is at the edge of what constitutes acceptable work wear. Could she work in your office?

Suit and tie, heels and nice skirt. Dressing for work was much simpler when the rules of office attire were so much stricter.

Today in many offices, ties - if worn at all - are knotted loosely over an unbuttoned collar, jackets - if worn at all - may be denim, and women can wear flip-flops. Posh flip-flops, but footwear once reserved for holidays none the less.


But how far along the spectrum between smart and casual can you go, without being dismissed out of hand by a prospective employer?

Here, Emma BedfordPatel, of recruitment agency Tate, assesses how Rebecca Knowles-Dixon might fare if she pitched up to a job interview.

You can see what the public make of Rebecca, and whether she's prepared to smarten up, in this video .


Becky's look is natural - achieved not with myriad cosmetics in subtle shades of brown, but by wearing no make-up. At all.

"She's really pretty, and you can carry it off when you've got a lovely, pretty face," says Emma BedfordPatel. While not strictly necessary, she says putting on a bit of lippy can help with first impressions, "it looks like you've made more effort".


Part buzzcut, part dreadlocks, such a look can be challenging for an interviewer to see past, says Emma BedfordPatel. So what can Becky do with her 'do, without sacrificing a hairstyle she loves?

"Tidy it up. Take it back into a ponytail, smooth it out. There's not much you could really do with it, because it's shaved on one side.

"Again it's about showing the effort that you've made to create the right impression, and that you're aware of the corporate environment."


For a job interview, Becky should wear a suit, even if she never wears one once in the job, says Emma BedfordPatel.

"Leggings and a baggy cardigan I just don't feel is a very corporate image. It's all about looking smart. We always advise interviewees to wear more corporate colours, such as black, grey, navy.

"If you wear a skirt, wear hosiery. And the skirt shouldn't be short - you don't want to give the wrong impression. It should be knee-length ideally, if not below."

For men, the dress code is similar - a suit in a smart, dark colour.

"A crisp, white shirt looks better than a black shirt. And definitely wear a tie - plain, paisley or stripes, not one with cartoon characters. It makes it look like you almost think it's all a joke."


With so few jobs and so many candidates, Emma BedfordPatel suggests multiple piercings might count against a candidate in a job interview.

"It can cause an impression that you aren't taking the interview seriously, that you haven't researched the company to see how they like to portray themselves, and that you're not matching yourself to them.

"You need to look more business. While I think it's fine to leave one or two in her ears, take out the nose ring and the earrings that go all the way up, simply for the interview."


Keep tattoos covered, unless it cannot practicably be concealed, being on your face or hand.

"I always suggest you wear a suit jacket to a job interview so that would conceal it anyway," says Emma BedfordPatel.

"Covering the tattoo creates the right impression, shows that you've made the effort."


"I would advise against wearing ornate jewellery. Simple is best," says Emma BedfordPatel.

The same goes for scent or after-shave - keep it subtle. "It's not good to go in with an overpowering perfume - you don't want the other person feeling that they can't breathe, or they're feeling slightly sick. They're not going to take in any of your answers."

Dressing to impress

Below is a selection of your comments.

I have dreadlocks, a septum piercing, several piercings in each ear (including stretched lobes) and a tattoo on each wrist. Over the last few years whilst at University I have held several jobs over summer and Xmas periods where I have worked for Stirling Council three times in different positions, I held a position at the University doing admin work, and I'm now training to be a manager for a high street store. I have never received any negative complaints about my appearance and have never been turned away from a job because of how I look. At the end of the day if you're smartly dressed, polite and can do the job asked, your personal choices for bodily decoration should not be a factor.
Jo Clifford, Stirling, Scotland

I've been lucky in the job I've recently gained. While I did indeed dress smart to the interview; a pair of smart black trousers, comfortable but smart black leather shoes and a smart looking black sweater, I still had my hair in braids. However, now I have the job, there is practically no dress-code in the office. Jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, trainers, flipflops, shorts in the summer, it's pretty much anything goes. The day of the office workers being suited and booted is gradually fading, especially in offices where little to no visual public contact happens. True, some professions such as teaching, working within law firms and suchlike, where it is expected that you appear smart, won't change, but I believe what is considered "smart" will have some flexibility to it eventually.
Dot, Cork, Co Cork, Ireland

In all kinds of customer services, the way a potential supplier looks is important because it is often the first information that the customer gets of what to expect. Once the customer knows the worker, this can change but the first contact may deter business. Even the first words, the accent and the degree of politeness, could add or detract from the first impression within seconds. However, a person with a deliberately different look from the norm for their sector, e.g. a heart surgeon with piercings, an accountant with a Mohican, gives the impression that they are different and, perhaps have radically different views on their professional work as well as their dress. There is no reason why this should be true of course, it is just an almost inevitable reaction by the customer. In an arts or media organisation, particularly one closer to street art rather than, say, grand opera, Becky could easily make potential customers feel that they had found a kindred spirit and an organisation that might understand them.

But just as grey suits work for accountants, piercings probably work better in other sectors of the economy. While it might appear harsh, a line will be drawn in every business. Would any business let its male staff wear skin-tight cycling shorts in the office? Or female staff wear that famous Liz Hurley sideless dress to an important client meeting? Clearly, where physical disabilities are concerned, there is a very important need to avoid discrimination. But where people choose to present themselves in a way that is different from the norm in their line of work, they must expect some reservations from employers.
Peter West, London

As the head of the creative design department of a firm that does web development, web marketing and the likes, I'd feel a bit uncomfortable hiring someone in a neat white shirt (like Emma Bedford). What might be considered a disadvantage in most firms, might be an advantage in others. This of course does not mean anyone would get a free pass. As a creative you'd still need a strong portfolio and show the right attitude, no matter how you dress.
Johan Wuyckens, Brussels, Belgium

Even though office dress codes are loosening, it is still important to dress responsibly. A guy to my job recently for interview with ear rings on. Soon after he checked in at the visitors centre, he removed the earrings. My former manager braid his hair on weekends only. We should not abuse the loosening office dress codes because it could back fire during down sizing. Let us apply common sense in all that we do.
Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA

I fail to understand why my looks are important to the job I do. For a non-customer facing job it is utterly irrelevant; for a customer facing job the justification given that "people don't respect people who dress like that" is circular. Respect is learnt, and if people never see a mohawk'd person in business, how are they going to get used to it?BedfordPatel's idea that 'it shows you've made an effort' is, in my experience, a total fallacy. For me, starting as punk, I can alter my appearance until I feel like I'm living a lie, and people still think I look funny. Compare that to my pretty-pretty girly friends, who can go to interviews as they are, pausing only momentarily to reapply lipgloss. This level of discrimination would be unthinkable if mine or Becky's style derived from religious conviction or cultural tradition. But somehow, in the eyes of the law, we are seen as having "chosen" this and therefore deserving all we get - namely, unemployment, abuse and casual violence.
Scary Boots, Grenoble, France

This woman would have NO trouble finding a job or fitting in here in Austin, Texas. She is fairly tame compared to many folks living here. We are known for our laid-back nature and have a history of great tolerance. I am served coffee and given medical attention by people who look much more "unprofessional" than this young lady. I can go to the nicest cafe' in Austin in cut off shorts and a tee with flip flops and be totally comfortable.
Amy Delk, Austin, TX, USA

Boy I don't know about how it is 'across the pond' but with the exception of a very few jobs here (like tattoo shop, CD shop), there is no way I'd hire this woman if the job was one where she interfaced with the public. Again, it would depend on the job, but I've avoided places where the customer service rep that I dealt with looked like this young woman. It's too bad because she does look like she could be very pretty, but not the way that she is presenting herself here. And yes, I know, this is just my opinion and others have different opinions.
Mike, Houston, Texas

Funny how none of the comments are about how good she'd be at her job. Perhaps we should stop choosing our employees, bankers, politicians and idols based on their looks.
Ilina, Winchester, UK

I work for a very well-known fashion company and I am heavily tattooed. My tattoos are visible at all times and it is not a problem. If anything, my colleagues always interested in seeing my new pieces. Times have changed and just because you have a tattoo it doesn't mean you are a sailor, criminal or junkie.
Ben, London

I am covered in tattoos and piercings and always dress smartly for interviews, not once have I taken out my piercings as I feel that not having them in an interview but having them at the job would almost be like false advertising, but I appreciate that business attire shows I have a professional attitude. Rebecca knows what reasonable interview attire is for applying for an office job, everyone does. Its whether she chooses to adhere to it.
Diane Morris-Baker, Manchester, UK

Many companies are quite conservative and would never allow this type of dress. Our company has a dress code; fair but firm. This woman needs to make a good, first impression and not look like a member of a street gang.
Gene Ellis, Belleville IL USA

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