Dress Code, The Loaded Canon

What is acceptable to wear in the workplace?   What does ‘dress for success’ look like nowadays?  Does asking employees to dress a specific way a violation of their rights?  Well…it depends.  There are many factors to consider in the current business and societal culture and these factors continue to change.

What We’re Seeing:

  • Highly successful Tech firms that have very few restrictions on dress and allow for a casual wear that ranges anywhere from ripped jeans to flannel shirts;
  • An emphasis on human rights, including the recognition that transgender individuals can choose to wear a uniform that aligns with the gender they predominantly identify themselves as;
  • New light on the practice of hiring models as servers and associated dress codes that include high heals, short dresses, specific makeup or skinny jeans;
  • Commentary on societal views regarding being able to choose to dress in ways that expose the body and the messages that society attaches to that;
  • Men who do not feel comfortable wearing jeans or running shoes to work, thinking it’s too casual and are more comfortable in kakis and dressier walking shoes.
  • Women who feel comfortable wearing exercise/leisure pants and casual boots because they provide the comfort they want.

Silhouettes of people jumping in dress clothes and holding the letters spelling success.

There are so many views of dress code that it can make company’s put their hands up in the air and say ‘forget it’.  Dress codes is one of the most tumultuous human resource topics that managers face.  This is largely because everyone’s experience is very personal and different, resulting in different values and beliefs attached to the topic.

None of the examples we’ve given you is necessarily right or wrong.   It really depends on the work people are doing and the brand or culture the organization wants to present, both internally and externally.  Some organizations look to uniforms as the solution to ensuring their company is reducing discrimination and presenting consistently to their customers.  However, when an organization goes to uniforms they can thwart freedom of expression as well as run into a number of logistical issues such as sizing, cleaning, alterations, repairs, inventory and cost.

What’s the answer?

Start by asking yourself what the dress code requirements should be to ensue that staff are safe.  Know what the potential hazards of the job might be and use dress code to help protect workers.  Then ask yourself what the requirements might be to ensure the dress code does not present any form of discrimination? Know the laws around discrimination to help guide you.   Lastly, ask how does the organization want to present their brand.  Understand your client and make the connection to the image you wan to display.  By asking these questions, organizations can start to make the first steps toward creating a dress code that works for them.