As remote work becomes more common, and the optics of being in the office are becoming less important, the value of a formal dress code is changing, too. More and more, employees and job seekers expect autonomy in their work and feel resistant when employers dictate how they should be dressing.
The results of some studies in favor of a formal dress code indicate that a positive relationship exists between employees who dress formally, and the perception they give off as trustworthy and competent. Some studies have shown a connection between dressing formally, and one’s ability to think abstractly. When it comes to career advancement, 80% of managers report that their employee’s clothing choice affects their chances of promotion.
However, other research shows that allowing people to dress how they want actually increases their productivity and ability to do meaningful work. On top of this, 56% of individuals prefer having a relaxed dress code, and 61% of job seekers report having a negative perception of companies that enforce a formal dress code.
While the jury is still out on any definitive research, modern workplaces from startups and small companies all the way up to organizations like JPMorgan continue to adopt casual dress codes. In 2018, The Society for Human Resource Management reported that 50% of companies now allow casual dress code every day.
If you’re carving out your company dress code policy and are deciding which direction to go, consider the following perspectives.
Do you really need a suit to be considered serious?
By removing a formal dress code, you allow your employees to feel comfortable in their own skin while removing the pressure to look and dress a certain way. While dressing for the part is important, “the part” might mean something different to every employee. Just because your vision of a business is a suit and tie, it could just as easily be a T-shirt and jeans for someone else. As the saying at Google goes, “You can still be serious without a suit”.
Having a relaxed dress code does not mean that people will come to work in pajamas. In fact, employees still report that they would trust a well-dressed colleague to get the job done over a colleague who didn’t make the effort. However, 91% of employees reported that “they felt the quality and condition of what they wore was more important than whether it complied with a dress code”.
What we can glean is that people still want to look good, but they prefer to do so on their own terms.
Could your dress code be acting as a barrier?
While some people still prefer to dress up, many feel that worrying about fashion and dress codes can impede their energy and creativity. Ultimately the more restrictions you impose on your employees, the more of their autonomy you take away.
As we mentioned above, job seekers tend to regard a formal dress code in a negative light. When it comes to your own company branding, consider what message your dress code sends to candidates. Some people might interpret a formal dress code as “traditional,” while others could view it as “old school.” Depending on the workforce you’re trying to attract, your dress code could help or hinder you. Knowing your audience and key demographics of new hires is important when considering the message you send to future employees.
Does a one-size-fits-all policy work?
An important aspect to consider is that a one-size-fits-all policy might not work. For example, roles that are not customer-facing may be less inclined to want to dress up while sitting in a cubicle all day. However, for employees who are customer facing, perhaps giving them a casual dress code while in office would be appropriate, while stipulating a more formal attire when meeting with business partners or clients.
Consider what makes sense to you, where your employees will be working, and what they’ll be doing. If you lean more towards the side of flexibility, people will feel the freedom and confidence in whatever they choose to wear.
Whichever way you go, it’s important to clear about what you consider to be inappropriate in the workplace.
48% of employees report feeling unsure about what is deemed appropriate or not, and this can be particularly difficult for women who are often criticized for “showing too much skin.”
As the world becomes more inclusive, we should be focusing our energy on the employee’s skill, development, and experience, and worry less about the rip in their jeans.