The Dress Code in the Workplace

Employers realize that impressions made on clients determine the success of business. Employees are the ‘company face’, and employers often seek to control that image so it would work to the benefit of their business. In the past, dress code policies were used to help employees work comfortably and safely and project a professional image to clients and potential employees. Dress code policies have also been used to create employer brands. Dress code policies require developing strategies that align with the organization’s goals and culture while protecting employees’ rights and the employer from discrimination claims at the same time.   

Dress codes typically range from those that require formal clothing or business casual to those that allow more casual clothing in summer or those that include grooming and hygiene standards. Employers need to consider which type of dress code will provide the image they want to project, and will support the company culture and values. They also need to take into account industry standards and safety regulations that affect the appearance of employees. 

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An interesting case of dress code is uniforms. They are sometimes required by law, the business character or the employer’s preference. In such industries as health care, hospitality or law enforcement uniforms are typically required. Uniforms could be required for several reasons:

(1) Safety. Some professions require wearing protective gear such as a fire-resistant jacket or steel-toed shoes. 

(2) Branding. Some employers want to project a specific image to the public. Uniforms can help achieve that as well as advertise the business.

(3) Appropriateness. Uniforms reduce the chances of dressing inappropriately at work because employees are less likely to misinterpret dress code guidelines.

(4) Productivity. When all employees wear uniforms, it strengthens the perception of equality. Employees will focus less on their looks and more on being productive.

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a sharp increase in remote work. Although the idea of a dress code might seem unnecessary, the intensive use of video calling makes many employers consider introducing a remote dress code. While it is difficult to control what employees are wearing when they are off camera on a team chat or client call, it is important to stress that they should maintain a professional image. Employers should clearly communicate to their team why this is necessary and explain why it is beneficial to both them and the company.

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In workplaces with a too casual dress code, employees might look unprofessional. It is often a misleading image. “Nonconforming behaviors, as costly and visible signals, can act as a particular form of conspicuous consumption and lead to positive inferences of status and competence in the eyes of others,” explain Silvia Bellezza, Francesca Gino and Anat Keinan in their book The Red Sneakers Effect: Inferring Status and Competence from Signals of Nonconformity. Casual looks might in fact make one look more successful on condition it is obvious that such looks are intentional.

Casual dress codes have made the work environment more employee friendly and relaxing, but at the same time they have decreased the sense of authority and professionalism. This has given rise to the business casual dress code, which upholds the standards of quality. While the casual dress code can boost the morale and comfort of employees, it can have a negative impact on their performance. To find the optimal dress code, organizations need to consider their mission statement and values and the culture they would like to promote. Despite the progressing ‘casualization’ of the dress code in the workplace, it should be implemented with caution and careful consideration of one’s business interests.   

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References: | | Allison Shapira, | Angie Shinn, Ali Swigart, Ashley Gritters and Matt Schmailzl,