Dress Codes in the Workplace: Do You Have One and Are they Necessary?

Shopping GirlsDress Codes in Business

I know from a large number of people I have worked with that a lack of clear guidance and understanding about what to wear for work has caused them frustration and anxiety; while in the business I have worked with staff who don’t dress to ‘represent’ the company image and brand have had a direct impact on customer perception and, in some cases, the financial bottom line.

Finding a way through the maze of organisational dress codes or personal presentation policy statements that use incredibly general phrases such as ‘business smart’ or ‘smart / casual’ is almost impossible without a clear definition.

What is a Dress Code?

A dress code is defined as “a set of rules specifying the correct manner of dress” or “a formal specification of acceptable attire for a specific event or location” – in other words a dress code determines what you wear and when, or where, you wear it.

Dress codes in business are really powerful if they mirror the company brand. If designed properly a dress code can effectively communicate company values to customers and allow expressions of individuality by employees. In other words a dress code helps you understand not only how your company wants you to dress, but also why.

The key to an effective dress code is to always be as permissive as possible: “choose from the following…” rather than prescriptive “you shall not wear…”. The whole point is to make it easier for people in an organisation to wear things in which they feel comfortable but at the same time reflect the company brand.

Should employers choose uniforms?

One alternative that companies have used is introducing a uniform. In some industries a uniform is totally sensible – a fire-fighter wouldn’t stand much chance in shorts and flip-flops – but in others, such as high-street banks, why are they necessary? Wouldn’t a clear statement on what is permissible be OK? The reason I prefer dress codes to uniforms (apart from the fact that uniforms never seem to fit anyone because they are designed for a mythical male or female figure) is that they supress individuality – and the person’s individuality is one of the reasons why an organisation employed them in the first place.

I believe that dress codes in the workplace are extremely useful. What I do not believe in is using them as a means of suppressing individuality or as a means of discrimination.

What do you think about dress codes?

  • Do you think dress codes in the workplace are necessary or useful?
  • Does your organisation have a dress code – if they do, does it make choosing what to wear to work easier or more difficult?
  • Do you have to wear a uniform to work? Do you like it?

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