Will CPAs one day wear shorts in the office?

At least one CPA professional organization has given workers the option of doing so--but hasn’t seen much interest yet from employees.
By Teri Saylor

Editor's note: Relaxed dress codes are a hot topic at CPA firms and other organizations these days, as some employers are trying to cater to Millennial workers who prefer a more casual environment. That made us wonder: With jeans, golf shirts, and sneakers already acceptable at some professional workplaces, how long will it be before the ultimate workplace sartorial barrier—the ban on shorts—is finally broken? Or is that part of the dress code so culturally entrenched that we'll always be wearing long pants into the office? We asked a couple of organizations with relaxed dress codes for their perspective.

When the Virginia Society of CPAs (VSCPA) relaxed its dress code last May to allow employees to wear shorts on Fridays, employees welcomed the change, but many haven't taken advantage of the new rule yet, according to chief operating officer Maureen Dingus.

"I think the staff was excited to be able to wear jeans, and they are happy to have the option of wearing shorts, though they haven't embraced it so far," she said. That may be because the policy is so new. The association recently switched from a business-casual dress code to a "dress-for-your-day" policy that lets employees choose attire that's appropriate to what they're doing during the workday. 

While the shorts option is not officially written into the association's dress code, shorts are acceptable attire on Fridays, as long as they are knee-length, clean, presentable, and pressed.

"We would not approve shorts you might wear while doing yard work or exercising in the gym," Dingus said. Employees still need to create a professional impression, she said: "We emphasize that each person has his or her own personal professional brand and what they wear reflects that brand."

In Santa Monica, Calif., public accounting firm Gumbiner Savett Inc. recently relaxed its dress code and has changed from casual-Friday attire to casual every day, according to Irene Valverde, human resources and marketing director.

"We allow our staff to wear jeans, khakis and capri-length pants as long as they are neat and clean," she said. "We haven't had any requests to wear shorts yet, but maybe shorts on Friday would be the next logical step."

Many of Gumbiner Savett's clients dress casually. "We want to mirror our clients, and our staff seems to appreciate that," Valverde said.

Josh Kelfer, CPA, has worked in Gumbiner Savett's tax department since 2014. At 24, he likes wearing jeans to work every day, but hasn't given much thought to the possibility of wearing shorts.

"If I didn't have any client interaction scheduled, I'd wear shorts. I do wear them when I come into the office to work on weekends," he said. "Overall, though, jeans are just as comfortable as shorts."

At the VSCPA, Dingus said her staff are skilled at policing themselves and would not dress in inappropriate ways.

"The staff we trust to perform the highest level of work certainly can be trusted to know how to dress," she said.

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in Raleigh, N.C. To comment on this story, email associate editor Courtney Vien.

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