Are Dress Codes Still Important in the Workplace?

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As workplace culture continues to evolve, are dress codes in the workplace still important or have they become an unnecessary regulation? We take a closer look.

For some, wearing smart formal wear at their place of work has become part of their daily routine and is something we covered in one of our previous articles. However, a recent study featured in an article by The Independent has revealed that only one in 10 of employees are wearing a suit or other smart attire in the workplace.

With the number of those who must adhere to smart dress codes now looking to be dwindling, could it be time to phase out dress codes altogether?

Or do dress codes still serve the purpose of putting us into a working mindset?

The opinion is certainly a split one – here’s what we found.

The Case for Dress Codes in the Workplace

Starting with a closer look at those who support dress codes being used in the workplace, a recent article by Adam Parsons, a Business Correspondent at Sky, doesn’t feel as though relaxed dress codes and a lack of dress codes should be ‘celebrated’.

In fact, throughout his article, Parsons explains his take on why suits and smart attire should still be worn whilst at work, citing:

“Suits aren’t old fashioned, they’re not problematic, they carry all sorts of advantages and no problems. It is smart, surely, to look smart.”

Parsons, in his article, is referencing the news that Goldman Sachs recently made a decision that it was to relax its dress code in order to create a more ‘welcoming environment for all’, and later expresses:

“So no Goldman Sachs, I don’t agree. Silicon Valley and Old Street roundabout may be awash with baby-faced geniuses in jeans and hoodies, but the world of business still needs the suit.

The most adaptable uniform there is – safe and reliable at one, but also blessed with permutations of flamboyance.”

Whilst Parsons’ comments may revolve more around his opinion on a lack of dress codes and the need for suits and smart work wear, there are some figures and statistics that could point to smart dress codes still being of benefit in the modern workplace.

The benefits come down to a sense of professionalism associated with smart dress codes, something demonstrated from the results of a poll conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania.

It revealed that overall employee appearance ranked second to only communication skills when survey respondents named qualities they would most often associate with workplace professionalism.

Much like Adam Parsons, Matthew Randall, Executive Director of the CPE, agrees in the importance of dress codes, commenting:

“How an individual dresses for work can be a powerful extension of their personal brand.

Clothes, accessories and even the footwear an employee chooses to wear help to reinforce or diminish their skills and qualities in the eyes of their employer, co-workers and clients.”

The Case Against Dress Codes in the Workplace

Whilst Parsons’ and Randall’s argument as to why dress codes are required in the workplace is compelling, there are still others who believe a relaxed approach to work attire is still acceptable and should be put into consideration by employers.

Sharon Florentine, Senior Writer at CIO, gives her own thoughts on the topic, recalling on her early experiences of work and believes that dress codes for both genders can be sometimes too divisive.

Florentine also goes on to explain that vague references, such as ‘smart casual’, only confuse those who are attempting to adhere to comply to company dress codes and as a result, makes it difficult for both men and women to understand what they must wear to conform, before adding:

“Thankfully, old-fashioned dress codes are increasingly rare, especially in tech, where you’re more likely to encounter teams dressed in t-shirts and hoodies than a pages-long list of What Not To Wear.

And while this is fantastic, it’s still a struggle for women, people of colour and gender non-conforming people in the workplace.”

Andrew Halliday, owner of Digital Marketing firm, Indago Media, puts one of the main benefits of a relaxed dress code at work down to better productivity, explaining in an article composed by The Guardian:

“I used to hate having to go to work in smart or business wear. Casual clothes makes me feel less stressed and more productive.

Occasionally when I have client meetings I have to dress formally, and my productivity definitely goes down.”

Halliday also mentions that his belief of a boost in productivity from a casual dress code is something that has inspired him to let his staff also work in more relaxed attire.

“I don’t make any of my staff wear uniforms, they all dress casually. I think dressing informally boosts productivity – there is no need to make them dress all the same.”

Research on Dress Codes in the Workplace

As contrasting as the views for those who believe in dress codes for the workplace against those who don’t, the actual research behind whether dress codes improve productivity is a little hazy at best.

Research conducted by Joy V. Peluchette and Katherine Karl suggests that dressing casually could imply a more relaxed attitude toward the workplace and could in fact, lower productivity levels.

But equally, a study from Bodil Jones alludes to the possibility that being the choice to wear casual attire can increase productivity by up to 40%.

Psychologist Carolyn Mair doesn’t believe that the research provided so far is enough to truly give a definitive answer on whether casual wear is or isn’t better for the workplace, summarising in the same Guardian article that features Halliday’s thoughts:

“Some people like that uniforms removes the burden of deciding what to wear in the morning.

On the other hand, others dislike having to dress like everyone else as they believe their clothing shows their personalities and identities.

There are many factors involved and they are all complex.”

What are your thoughts on dress codes in the workplace? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sam Rose

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