Dress Codes: In Fashion, or Out of Style?

Society itself is far more informal than in past decades. Does that mean business dress codes have become irrelevant? That can be a tough question for employers and for employees as well.

On the plus side, dress codes tell employees what kind of attire is acceptable – or not – to wear to work. Many employers believe that some amount of uniformity in dress gives their company a professional look. It communicates corporate values and culture – your company’s brand – internally and to the outside world.

And like it or not, what we wear says certain things about us, at least in the eyes of some people. Informal attire is often equated with poor work ethic, and those who dress casually or sloppily may be deemed:

  • Less intelligent
  • Lower in rank
  • Disrespectful

Left to their own devices, some employees show little common sense regarding what constitutes appropriate business attire. You have to draw the line somewhere, right?

Not necessarily. Dress-as-you-like increases productivity.

It’s true. Studies show that employees who work for companies without dress codes are more productive than those who have to adhere to some type of guidelines. Employees can feel stymied by a dress code, whereas personal choice allows individuals to be who they are. It fosters creativity and allows employees to focus on something with more bottom-line importance than their attire.

Some “dress” codes extend to facial hair for men, hairstyles or color, jewelry, tattoos, piercings and so on. The pickier the rules, the more likely they are to backfire, fomenting job dissatisfaction that can cause valued employees to leave.

Job-hunters also consider a prospective employer’s dress code when looking for their next position. To many, an overly-strict set of rules indicates the company cares more about an employee’s clothing than their creativity or productivity.

And then there’s Casual Friday.

Even this tradition has fans and detractors. While some believe it boosts employee morale to kick back in terms of attire one day a week, others question why the company’s desire to appear uniformly professional applies only Monday through Thursday. What if there’s a client meeting or a need to interact with customers on Friday?

Should you have a dress code?

Especially when employees aren’t seen by the public, who really cares what they wear to work? The answer to this is that workers are prone to judging one another based on dress. Too much skin, torn jeans and multiple piercings can be distracting or off-putting to some individuals, and that can get in the way of working relationships.

How employees dress does reflect company culture. So who are you? Who is your clientele? What kind of work do your people do during the day? Dress can set a visual “tone,” but it must be functional, too. Some companies have different dress codes for different departments. Those who work with customers or clients are required to dress more “professionally” than techs and other personnel who never see anyone outside their work area. While this may seem sensible in some respects, it can also cause feelings of discrimination or unfairness among employees.

 

Ultimately it’s a “personal” decision for each company, and it’s best to involve employees in making decisions about a dress code. Whatever you choose to do, communication is the key to success when it comes to implementation. Uncertainty creates confusion and frustration, and if the rules aren’t enforced consistently, they can create more problems than then resolve.