Do you like a man in uniform?

Should you have a dress code in the workplace?

Investment bank Goldman Sachs recently relaxed its dress code to reflect a changing workforce and they’re not alone. Over recent years, many businesses have relaxed their strict dress codes.

Is this good for business though? Is there still something to be said for dressing in a certain way for work? And if a dress code policy is changed, how does it affect your team, clients and your business?

Why do we have dress codes?

There are a number of reasons dress codes might exist.

  • Identifiable for customers or clients
  • Safety
  • Professionalism
  • Environment


Identity

If you work in a retail environment, it can be helpful to have a uniform so customers know who to ask for help. Nothing more embarrassing than asking a fellow customer how much something is!

The Police uniform for example means we can identify them easily if we need help. It also enables other Police officers to pick out their colleagues.

Safety

If you work on a factory floor, there may well be a strict dress code. Hats, hair nets, aprons and special footwear could all be used. Some items are used to protect the individual and some items, i.e. a hair net, is used to protect the end-user of the product being made.

Professionalism

If you go to see a lawyer or a bank manager, the perception is often that they should be dressed in a smart suit or dress. If you flip it on its head, you wouldn’t expect your landscape gardener to turn up in a smart suit. You might question just how much work they’re planning on doing in your garden.

Environment

If your business is in a very hot country, it might not be reasonable to ask people to wear ties or jackets. Staff working in a kitchen need to wear practical clothes for their environment. They need to be safe and cool.

It wouldn’t be a good idea to dress a lifeguard in lots of layers. Not great when you dive into the water!

Why is a dress code a good idea?

If the job requires a uniform, then there is a business case to have a written dress code.

Even if you opt for a relaxed dress code, it’s a good idea to have something in writing so everyone understands the boundaries.

A dress code can help create a more level playing field for staff, whether they’re in a leadership role or are a junior member of the team. We all remember having non-uniform days at school and how long we spent deciding what to wear. Oh the pressure!

A formal dress code can also provide your team with a clearer understanding of what an appropriate outfit is. With a more relaxed option, what’s smart to one person may be too casual to another.

For many people, dressing smartly helps them to work better. You’re in a different mindset and can feel more motivated and achieve more.

Clients may feel more confident working with you if you look the part. If your business is in the professional services industry it may pay to have a stricter dress code. Perhaps your dress code could outline expectations when staff are visible to clients and allow for a more relaxed dress code for other times.

The negatives of a dress code

If your staff don’t feel like they can be themselves, they might just go and work somewhere they can. With an increasingly competitive jobs market, consider how your dress code could affect attracting and retaining top talent.

If a dress code is too strict or formal, it could stifle staff creativity. If people can make more decisions about what they wear to work, they may just find new ways of working too.

It’s still a fact of life that, unfortunately, some dress codes can discriminate. If men are asked to wear a suit and tie, women may be asked to wear smart business attire. Men may feel this is unfair but on the flip side women could feel there’s too much room for error.

What to consider before drafting your dress code

Legal considerations

If you decide to have a written dress code, you need to bear in mind that, by law, you can’t discriminate against people by religion, ethnicity, gender, age or disability. You might also need to consider having a dress code policy for those who are pregnant.

If you have a dress code, write it down

So, what have we learnt? If you’re going to have a dress code, whatever it is, it’s a good idea to write it down. People will be more comfortable knowing what’s expected of them. Plus, if there is a written code in place, any discrepancies can be sorted out more easily.

Clothing needs to be practical and reflect the environment, the level of customer exposure and any safety concerns.

How about us?

We want our people to feel comfortable so they can get on with their day jobs. That might mean wearing a suit and tie, a dress and jacket or on some days a more relaxed wardrobe.

We hope that when you meet us, you’ll see that whatever we wear, we love finding out about new businesses and how we can help them to grow. Come and visit us at one of our THP offices located in Cheam, Chelmsford, Wanstead, Saffron Walden and London City.

Join The Conversation
ICAEW
Member of the Legal Services Guild
Sign up for our Newsletter