Dress Code in the Workplace

5 min. read

A dress code in the workplace communicates what you consider appropriate and allows you to set expectations regarding the image you want to convey.

Whether intentional or not, how we dress sends a message. People’s impressions are naturally based on visuals, so how your employees dress for work makes for a positive or negative response, which is in turn associated with your organization. Implementing a dress code in the workplace communicates to employees what you consider appropriate work attire and allows you to set expectations regarding the image you want your company to convey.

Standards for professional attire vary from industry to industry and can be formal or informal. In the past, dress codes in the workplace were typically established to keep employees safe and comfortable while maintaining a professional image. This is still the case today, but policies have evolved to project brand and to build a specific, visual aspect to company culture.

Why is a dress code important in the workplace?

A dress code policy in the workplace can help shape company culture, strengthen team unity, and increase productivity. Ensuring that all your employees follow the guidelines sends a consistent message to co-workers, clients, potential customers, and future employees. As an employer, you can utilize a dress code – formal or informal - to create a specific perception of your organization.

Different types of dress codes in the workplace

Dress codes range from those that require strict, formal business attire, to those that are more laid-back with only a few restrictions or set rules.

Consider which type of dress code will provide the image you want to portray as a brand and also support your company culture and values.

It is also important to take into account relevant industry legislation and safety regulations that affect employee dress and appearance.

The common types of dress code found in the workplace are:

Business Formal/Professional Attire

Business formal attire refers to a smart dress code with clothes that are pressed and neat. For men, this would usually include a dark suit and tie, and for women, a dark pantsuit or skirt suit with minimal accessories. No casual clothing or shoes are usually allowed. Formal attire is mostly for those who work in office environments where presenting a professional, business-like image is important.

Business casual

Business casual dress code policies are a little less formal, but still advise maintaining a polished look. Business casual usually includes most types of apparel but excludes certain items such as graphic tees, shorts, ripped jeans, revealing tops, and sandals. This type of dress code is most likely to be found in more artistic workplaces, such as creative agencies and tech companies.

Summer casual

Depending on your location and the temperature in the summer months it might be beneficial to implement a summertime dress policy. This type of dress code is more relaxed to suit the heat and could include jeans, t-shirts, and athletic footwear. It may still exclude attire that is overly revealing or items such as flip-flops or open-toe sandals. A summer casual dress code can help to keep employees happy, relaxed, and productive in warmer weather.

Casual Fridays

Casual Fridays, otherwise known as dress-down Fridays, are a popular dress code policy that permits employees to wear more casual attire every Friday. It signifies the end of the working week and can improve morale in the office. Clothing choices should still be neat and presentable, but they allow team members to show their individuality and dress in a more relaxed fashion. The policy will generally exclude clothing such as sweatpants, pajamas, sleeveless t-shirts, and slogan tees. This dress code usually applies to employees without a client-facing role.

Grooming and hygiene

It is not uncommon for organizations to address grooming and hygiene standards in workplace dress code policies. A grooming policy might require clothing to be clean and tidy, well fitted, without holes or rips, and appropriate for the office environment. Hygiene standards tend to include regular baths or showers and appropriate oral hygiene. It might seem unnecessary to set these standards in a written policy but if a situation arises involving an employee’s hygiene, it can support any action you need to take as an employer. It is important to remember that certain medical conditions can affect a person’s hygiene so issues should be addressed appropriately and confidentially.

Dress codes for remote workers

If you have team members who work from home the idea of a dress code might seem redundant, or difficult to apply. But, with the extensive use of video calling, both internally and externally, it might be necessary to implement a remote dress code. While you cannot control what your employees wear when they are at home and off camera when they appear on a team chat or client call it is important they maintain a professional image. This could include putting on a shirt before signing in and making sure any pajama pants stay out of sight. Make sure to communicate to your employees why this is a necessity and explain why it is beneficial for both them and the company.

Avoid dress code discrimination in the workplace

When you enforce a corporate or formal dress code in the workplace you need to avoid unnecessary discrimination.

Discrimination is prohibited on the grounds of protected characteristics that include:

  • Disability
  • Age
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Any dress code policy you implement should be non-discriminatory and apply to both men and women equally, although they may have different requirements. It is best to avoid gender-specific prescriptive requirements, for example, the specification to wear high heels, make-up, skirts, or certain hairstyles.

It is good practice when setting or revising a dress code in the workplace to examine the reasoning behind it. Consult with your employees and HR department to better ensure that the dress code is acceptable to both the organization and its employees. Once agreed upon, a workplace dress code should be communicated to all employees and be easy to access for new team members. Your organization’s dress code should be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect current working conditions.