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Why It’s Time to Change Your Company’s Dress Code

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Staff writer
business.com Staff
Updated May 31, 2022

Workforce trends and cultural standards have evolved over the years, and it's important to revise your company dress code policy to match.

Updating a company dress code may not be at the top of most business owners’ priority lists, but it deserves serious consideration. As the state of the workplace changes, it’s important to reevaluate your dress code policy to ensure you aren’t enforcing outdated rules that are no longer necessary. Recent shifts in the workforce, such as an increasingly younger generation of employees and a rise in remote work, make it critical for organizations to stay relevant and up to date with cultural and workplace norms.

The importance of company dress codes

Although some employees believe company dress codes are antiquated and pointless, your company dress code still holds importance for your organization. A dress code communicates your company’s culture and expectations to employees. Since staff members represent the face of your company, their appearances make an impression on customers and clients.

Some industries and organizations must follow certain dress codes for the sake of employee safety or legal compliance – for example, a doctor wearing a sterile gown and gloves while performing surgery. For businesses where employees have no interaction with the public and are only seen by co-workers, or firms with a remote workforce, staff should still consider what is and isn’t appropriate to wear during in-person or virtual meetings.

Did you know?Did you know? According to Statista, 29% of U.S. job seekers say company values and culture are among the main factors and benefits they consider when accepting a role.

Why it’s time to change your company dress code

Your people are the lifeblood of your organization, so take them into account when making business decisions – especially when those decisions directly impact them. If you’re still implementing an old-school dress code, it may be time to revisit the policy and ensure it still matches your business’s needs and your employees’ expectations.

Your dress code should accurately reflect your company’s culture and values.

For many employers, the company dress code has remained the same for several years, if not longer. The policy may call for some combination of formal business attire, no visible tattoos or piercings, and no crazy hair colors or styles. That may make sense for some formal practices, such as those in the banking or legal fields, but it is no longer relevant for many organizations.

In recent years, many cultural standards have changed, making formal dress codes less relevant, especially in organizations that aren’t client- or customer-facing. As millennials and Gen Zers have taken over the workforce, ideas about how employees need to dress in the workplace have shifted. You want to create an environment that matches your business’s brand so you attract the type of employees you’re seeking. If you notice your business’s dress code no longer aligns with your current company values and culture, it’s time to make a switch. [Related article: How to Manage Millennials vs. Gen Z in the Workplace]

The pandemic has shifted employee expectations. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have created a permanent remote work plan and embraced hybrid work schedules. These workplace trends have impacted many facets of business, including the way employees dress. As many workers have grown comfortable joining remote Zoom calls in their pajamas, you may be wondering what this means for your company’s dress code.

For many, comfortable clothing has triumphed over style, and this includes how people dress in the workplace. Of course, workers still need to balance comfort with professionalism. Employers should take note of how employee expectations change over time and adapt their dress code policies accordingly to meet both business needs and workers’ desires.

You may be losing out on highly skilled job candidates.

It’s easy to judge a book by its cover, but that’s not a great strategy if you want to hire the best job candidates. The way someone looks or dresses doesn’t dictate their skill level or expertise. An unnecessarily strict dress code may prevent a group of talented job seekers from working for your company. 

An outdated dress code that makes staff feel they aren’t free to be themselves could also cause employees to quit and increase your turnover rate. If your employees don’t need to adhere to a strict dress code for safety, legal, or customer- or client-facing reasons, it may be time to relax that dress code.

How to change your company’s dress code

If you’re interested in updating your company’s dress code, follow these steps.

1. Look at your competitors.

Competitor analysis plays an important role in ensuring your business remains competitive with customers and employees. What do other businesses in your industry say about company attire? If you notice your current dress code requirements are making it difficult to keep staff, those employees might be favoring jobs at competing firms that permit a more flexible dress code. If you can, get a copy of your competitors’ dress codes to compare. Many company websites share that information publicly.

2. Consider safety issues.

Remember that certain industries require specific dress codes for safety reasons. For instance, an employee working at a bank may be permitted to wear high heels; however, someone working in construction or manufacturing could be limited to wearing steel-toed boots for their safety. Consider various clothing, jewelry and hair options that may need to be limited or required to keep your employees safe in the workplace.

FYIFYI: Prioritizing workplace safety is not only a legal necessity, but it can also reduce the risk of employee injuries, which minimizes the possibility of workers’ compensation claims.

3. Decide what message you want to send to customers and clients.

If you have a customer- or client-facing staff, you may need to reevaluate what type of message you want to send your clientele. Are you a relaxed tiki bar that offers a casual dining experience or a trendy, upscale boutique that sells expensive clothing? The former would likely have a more relaxed dress code, whereas the latter might prefer its employees wear fashionable clothing to match their brand. 

Similarly, a business with a more serious tone, like a bank or legal firm, would probably want their team to don something formal, like a suit, to exude professionalism. However, If your workers aren’t seen by the public, weigh practical needs against employee comfort to find a middle ground.

4. Factor in your company culture.

An employee-centric company culture has become a top priority for many employees in recent years, and a company dress code is the physical reflection of a business’s culture and values. If you want to create a fun environment where employees feel free to express themselves, allow a more casual dress code that gives them the freedom to do just that. On the other hand, if your company culture and values are more serious and professional, a more formal dress code could apply.  

TipTip: A business’s culture can impact employee recruitment, productivity, engagement and retention. Follow these tips for creating a strong company culture.

5. Set realistic standards.

Although you may want to let your employees wear whatever they want, some rules should apply. You will still want to hold some standards, such as good hygiene, and be rational with your policy to ensure it doesn’t offend anyone. For example, you could allow employees to have visible tattoos, but you may want to include some exception that tattoos with offensive slogans, graphics, sayings or wording should be covered.

Be mindful of different cultures and avoid policies that may be interpreted as discriminatory. Some dress codes may conflict with certain religious requirements, disabilities, height and weight, or other characteristics. [Learn about anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.]

6. Communicate your dress code clearly.

Once you’ve revised your company’s dress code, communicate it clearly to your employees. Include the updated policy in your employee handbook and have employees sign forms of acknowledgment. Discuss the new rules with individual teams and answer any questions staffers may have. If they have any concerns or suggest exceptions, address them with an open mind. Be sure everyone is aware of the consequences of noncompliance as well.

Image Credit:

Prostock-Studio / Getty Images

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
business.com Staff
Skye Schooley is a staff writer at business.com and Business News Daily, where she has written more than 200 articles on B2B-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and business technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products that help business owners launch and grow their business, Skye writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.