Cracking the Dress Code.

Once upon a time, business attire was the norm in the workplace. Men were expected to wear ties and well-fitting suits, while women wore dresses and nylons. Professional attire was the norm and anything less unacceptable.

But times have changed. Over the past few decades suits gave way to business casual, which is slowly but surely giving way to jeans and tennis shoes. A few businesses are holding out against the trend, but they’re now the anomaly.

This presents an interesting set of challenges for business owners and HR managers. One the one hand, your staff’s appearance is the outward manifestation of your expertise and professionalism. On the other, people are happier and work better when they’re comfortable. How set the line between your associates dressing comfortable, but still looking respectable? Are dress codes even necessary in the modern world? Let’s take a look.

The case for dress codes

Dress codes are a physical embodiment of your business. They show employees and clients alike how you view yourself. If you’re trying to inspire confidence in clients, as a lawyer or accountant, for example, professional attire is an absolute must.

Additionally, there is some evidence that dressing up helps people perform better. A study by Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management found that when people dress for the job, they tend to become for focused and careful. Dressing professionally helps employees view themselves as professionals and act as such.

There’s also an argument to be made that letting employees dress however they wish can lead to a slovenly approach, as limits are constantly pushed. No matter how relaxed your office, if people start showing up in dirty sweats, looking like they just rolled out of bed, productivity is going to suffer.

The case against dress codes

The approach many companies are taking in regards to how their employees dress is a simple one: let people figure it out for themselves. Most of the time people will dress in a manner that is appropriate. They’ll find a comfortable, attractive style, and this in turn will make them happier, and in turn better workers.

Then there’s the individuality approach. For years, people in creative positions like marketing and advertising have found it easier to let the creative juices flow when they’re not forced into khaki and polo shirt conformity.  Employees like to showcase their personality in the way they dress, and this should be encouraged.

Also, as more and more companies are switching to a more relaxed approach to employee clothing, if you insist on a more rigorous dress code, it may make your business less attractive to potential hires.

The takeaway

It’s really up to you and your unique situation. A dress code can be something that benefits your company and associates, but it can also eliminate personality and individuality. Whatever you choose, don’t force your staff to go back and forth on what is appropriate.  It’s better to set a few general guidelines and then trust that people will figure it out on their own.