Do Companies Really Need a Dress Code Policy?

Dress codes at work: enforcement vs. freedom of employee expression

Is it possible to enforce a dress code while still allowing your employees the freedom to express themselves? #AskAnHRExpert

Posted by Stratus.hr on Friday, July 19, 2019

How specific should you make your company dress code? Stacey gives details in this video.

You’ve heard the terms “dress for success” and “dress the part.” But then you visualize modern tech giants’ CEOs in hoodies and sneakers and success suddenly feels casual. This begs the question: Do companies even need a dress code policy?

Quick answer: yes.

Why do we need an employer dress code?

Your company dress code establishes your employer brand and creates a sense of belonging, unity, and safety. It also helps control first impressions others have of your company.

But there’s more to it.

Did you know there’s a psychological benefit of having a workplace dress code? When employees dress differently for work and then change their clothes after coming home, they feel “off duty” and are more able to relax. Without this, employees are either too lax at work or may always feel on duty.

How specific should we make our company dress code policy?

Establishing your workplace dress code policy depends on your industry, culture, and the image you want to portray. Dress codes can go as far as requiring employees to wear uniforms to simply stating the appropriate work attire is “business casual.”

When setting up your dress code policy, consider the following:

  • How much interaction do your employees have with the public? You may want to have different standards for those that are the face of the company versus those who work behind the scenes.
  • Do customers/clients visit your workplace?
  • Are you secluded? Your policy may have more flexibility, depending on how far removed you are from the public.

Once determined, decide what’s acceptable for your business. If you’re an established company that hasn’t yet set up a workplace dress code, be sure to get employee input and explain the “whys” of needing a dress code. Where possible, allow your employees to create their own sense of style within a given framework.

Things to consider in an employer dress code

People naturally act the way they dress, which is why there are different standards for different settings. For example, how would you feel if you went to see a skilled surgeon about a delicate procedure and you walked into their office to see them wearing shorts and a T-shirt?

“Your clothes make a statement about you whether you want them to or not,” says Aliza Licht, author of “Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill It in Your Career. Rock Social Media.” This has a direct effect on how we think about ourselves and what we do at work.

While some employees may feel like a formal dress code feels stuffy, studies show that formal clothing enhances cognitive processing, demonstrating that people rise to the level of their appearance. Where the gig economy has made most professional dress standards much less formal, nice clothing can still boost any efforts of climbing the corporate ladder.

What to avoid in an employer dress code policy

While there is no standard dress code policy for every company, there are some areas that shouldn’t be pushed:

  1. “No Exceptions.” Leave room in your dress code policy that allow employees leeway in case they need an accommodation for religion, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Be open to compromises.
  2. Too many details. While you may have a personal fetish with beards, tattoos, and piercings, diving too deep into the weeds of what not to wear may seem overbearing. Focus on the “why” and address concerns when something appears to be distracting or offensive.
  3. Having more guidelines for one gender over another. Federal courts have historically allowed different standards for men and women as long as they are reasonable and there’s not a higher burden of cost or time for one gender. But if your policy is overly focused on what is or isn’t appropriate for a woman and addresses very little for a man, be prepared for a discrimination battle.
Bottom line about workplace dress code policies

Employees stay more focused while wearing work clothes, no matter how defined that dress code is.

Need help with setting up your workplace dress code policy? Contact our HR experts today at HR@stratus.hr.

company dress code policy

A company dress code policy does more good for your company than you may know.

Stacey Gibson

Author Stacey Gibson

Stacey is a certified Professional in HR (PHR) and the reason her clients would never consider leaving Stratus.hr. When not at work, you can hear her at one of her children’s sporting events -- she’s the one whistling louder than the refs.

More posts by Stacey Gibson