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Susan M. Heathfield

Challenges With Dress Codes?

By September 10, 2013

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Work dress codes, particularly business casual, are popular on the site as are the picture galleries we've made that illustrate the requirements of each of the dress codes.

A couple of years ago, I read in the HR Daily Advisor that 41% of the workplaces they surveyed still expect traditional business attire for exempt employees and 31% for nonexempt employees. And, I found myself uncertain about what respondents thought of as traditional business attire.

In my company, casual dress has been the standard for a long time. This occurred because an enterprising employee inquired about why our dress code was business casual. We thought about it and, especially since customers rarely visit our offices, we had no reason to offer.

So, we changed the dress code to casual. And, we asked our employees to dress casually but inoffensively and appropriately for work. Since our organization trusts employees, the dress code is about a paragraph long. Have you taken a look at your dress code recently and asked why? Furthermore, if you've adopted an extremely detailed policy (which I write because my readers want them and depending on your environment, you may need one), ask yourself why about that, too. I'll bet your answers will surprise you.

Once you've figured out that your dress code has two purposes: to provide guidance to employees who legitimately want clear expectations and to take care of the rabble who just "don't get it," the most frequent question I receive is this: How can I enforce the dress code, without being the HR dress code police, when several of our senior managers dress any way they want?

To a reader this week, I suggested: "I am afraid that without the support of your senior managers, enforcing a dress code is difficult. Sit them down and ask them to decide what they will support. Your employees will not be impressed with the code if their managers are not following it. And, no, you don't want to be the fashion police.

"Here's the reality: managers need to walk their talk or you face an impossible, uphill battle about enforcing a dress code, or any other policies, for that matter.

"You might also consider gathering a cross-sectional team of employees and managers together to hash out a dress code with which they can all live. You could hold a fashion show for employees.

"Getting managers on board is crucial. You need to work on helping them understand what's in it for them, the customers, and the company. You might want to read some of my recommendations about change management, since change is what a dress code is all about."

What's your experience of dress codes?

Image Copyright Christopher Robbins / Getty Images

February 14, 2012 at 7:04 pm
(1) Amanda says:

My experience with dress codes is that we don’t have one. We have multiple offices across the country and each office has their own take on what is appropriate. In my current location, Lululemon hoodies and flip-flops are all too common. We are a professional organzation and I hate nothing more than a sloppy image when a client comes to the office for a meeting. I think that golf shirts and dress pants are perfectly acceptable for men. For women, dress pants or a skirt and blouse. My biggest rule of all (though I have no authority to implement it) is I should never have to look at my colleagues’ underarms or their toes in the office setting.

February 16, 2012 at 8:21 am
(2) Mary says:

We have a dress code in our handbook – very vague “Business Casual” description. I noticed many of our younger female employees (under 30) have no idea what Business Casual means – they pretty much think anything is OK as long as it’s not jeans. Yesterday, one employee was wearing an “off-the-shoulder” top that I’d expect to see at a club. Others wear yoga pants and try to say they’re dress pants – really?! Come on! – even with providing pictures to everyone, it’s like they don’t get it. I feel badly because most of them are GOOD employees – getting their work done, etc – but they just look unprofessional…

February 18, 2012 at 10:38 am
(3) Susan Heathfield says:

Young employees dress more professionally when they are aware of and buy into the reasons for the code – even better when they are part of the team that developed the dress code. I would suggest that you ask a few local stores to put on a fashion show at a brown bag lunch. These young women can then see up-to-the-minute business casual looks for work. See if you can arrange a discount on clothing purchased following the show. Be sure to include looks for men, too.

November 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm
(4) jasmine says:

Dress code is so important. I realised that as much as we don’t want to admit it creates an impression about oneself and the company you work for.
I work for a factory and dress code is smart casual. No written policy but it’s known for all what is expected in terms dressing. I had an intern at the front best wearing jeans on weekdays, yes, weekdays, and she didn’t feel the need to adopt to our style, the first person who meets you as a visitor is in jeans on a Tuesday…

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