Dress codes are popular policies throughout the business world and can be found within companies of all sizes. They codify precisely what is expected of employees with regard to attire and personal appearance. There are pros and cons – consider these before you decide to go ahead.
Defining a dress code
Dress codes should set out what is and what isn't acceptable, and should cover not only outfits but individual garments, accessories and footwear. Policies should be as all-encompassing as possible to avoid any potentially embarrassing situations. Dress codes should be easily interpretable and written in plain English. Stock phrases and unclear phrases can cause confusion; for example, the phrase 'casual dress' could mean different things to different people. Specifying particular outfits, such as suits or dresses, can help avoid any confusion. Dress codes should be seen as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules; you don't want a workplace filled with clones but individuals sharing a sense of unity. Variations in dress are desirable but all should fit around the same framework.
When creating a dress code, your choices should reflect the sector in which you operate. Suits and ties are obviously not suitable for factory floors. Consider your employees in the equation; they do not want to go to significant effort just to dress themselves for work. Finding a solution that is both appropriate for your sector and your employees can be difficult, but it’s important that all parties find the dress code easy to follow and beneficial - rather than detrimental - to productivity.
Gender equality and religion
Dress codes must not promote gender inequality or impinge on religious freedom. You should be as accepting as possible when it comes to employees’ beliefs and ensure your dress code allows room for religious expression. Dress codes must also not favour one sex over the other. There will of course be some variation in the types of outfits you wish men and women to wear but these differences should be stylistic only.
Dress codes should cover not only clothes but also standards of presentations expected of employees. This should set out the quality standards for clothing i.e. ‘clothing should be clean and ironed and should not be overly frayed.’ You may also wish to promote positive standards of personal hygiene; this will depend on the environment in which you work and your sector.
Advantages of dress codes
- Dress codes promote a sense of unity amongst staff and contribute to your brand
- Clients often see uniform attire as a sign of professionalism
- Dress codes help ensure staff spend more time thinking about work and less on appearance
- Dress codes can help reduce or mitigate power conflicts
Disadvantages of dress codes
- Employees may become resentful at being told what to wear
- Staff may be unhappy if there is a substantial cost implication e.g. buying a suit
- Dress codes may also be seen to limit freedom of expression.
- Enforcing a dress code can also be time-consuming and can cause tension if staff have to be reprimanded for non-compliance.
- Dress codes must always be fully compliant with employment law, adding to the administrative burden
Communicating the dress code
Dress codes must be communicated effectively so that all staff are on the same page. Enforce the policy from a set date and make sure a codified version of the code is distributed and signed by all staff – this can help avoid any potentially embarrassing situations. Set up an email address so that any questions can be sent to you anonymously. Some garments or accessories will fall into grey areas – staff may want to check with you in more detail.
Regularly review your dress code
When day-to-day operations change you should ensure your dress code is still applicable. Keeping up to date with employment legislation is also essential to keep you legally compliant at all times. If you expand operations to include staff working in different premises, such as a warehouse, remember to update your dress code accordingly. Provisions for safety materials, such as hard hats and steel-toed boots, should also be included in your dress code as part of health and safety policies.
Dress down days
Dress down days are very popular; they typically occur on Fridays and allow employees to wear more casual attire. You may wish to codify dress down days or allow them on an ongoing basis. Alternatively you may wish to let staff know on a week-by-week basis if there will be a dress down day that week; this will be most applicable for companies that often have important events on Fridays where employees may come into contact with external stakeholders. If you are implementing a casual dress code, dress down days will obviously be redundant.