Professionalism is in Your Jeans (4 min read)
As the warm weather months approach and works across the country pack away their winter wardrobe and hope their lighter clothes still fit; it might be the perfect time to chat about workplace dress code. Despite the clean look of a suit and tie, many companies are moving away from business formal. From the Airport to the Ballpark, it seems American culture in general has moved towards more casual clothing. Planes and stadiums used to be filled with men in suits and women in dresses, now it is common to see sweatpants or gym shorts at either. Many offices are changing their stance and understandings of dress codes. In this month’s blog, we will be discussing the recent changes in dress code, which industries are embracing the difference, and some more comfortable ways to address fashion in the workplace.
Techies and T-shirts
With the change in workplace dress code, many wonder where this trend started. One factor causing changes in attire is the preeminence of the Silicon Valley based technology sector. Clothing items that were once reserved for Fridays, such as jeans, t-shirts, button-downs with no ties, have become relative office standards around many of these firms. Frankly, the tech world has typically been a little more relaxed and fashion-forward. What started as the ‘tech formal look,' dress shirt and jeans, has morphed into some of the laxest policies in the market. Even before the pandemic, the tech industry had embraced a new 'comfy culture,' making the office a place where people are free to leisurely express their style, even if it means an oversized puffy sweatshirt and a pair of jeans or maybe even a superhero T-Shirt. Admittedly there is a timeless nature to photographs of the '30s and '40s with fedora lined streets and offices filled with three-piece suits. However, much of the tech world has found that their geek chic aesthetic fit their needs and culture. An exciting development is that they are not alone in this. Many industries are following suit with this standard set by the tech world.
Leave the Suit Take the Business
Coast-to-coast and across all industries, many have embraced the tech industry’s avant-garde dress code as the standard and casual clothing and ‘fashionably nerdy’ has become more normalized. As a 2019 article from Recruiter.com stated, there are several reasons why companies and fashionistas alike have turned to more casual work clothes.
- Formal dress, notably well-made formal options, can be expensive. The cost difference between a button-down, jeans, and a pair of stylish shoes and a full suit/dress and dress shoes are noticeable. Additionally, dress clothes can require expensive upkeep such as dry cleaning, occasional tailoring, special storage, and shoe polishing. There is something to be said in defense of more formal options. Formality standards are set by the market and depending on your industry, you may need to wow with Armani. More formal dress can also cultivate a more formal professional atmosphere which can be forgotten or harder to enforce with half your office in pajama pants. To address your clientele and company’s expectations, consider having a conversation with your team about your industry standards and dress ideology.
- As more companies expand their dress code guidelines, the fashion world has also changed so that there are more ways to dress which are still considered “presentable” outside of just a daily suit and tie. Visit any department store in America and you will find hip new styles and comfortable options that may give you the professional appearance you are looking for at a reasonable price. Depending on the brand, some of these more casual wears could even far exceed the traditional formal wear costs, so style, brand, maker, and seller are all factors to consider when creating your workplace policy.
- Many employees have expressed that their clothing directly correlates to how they feel at work. As fashion is very personal, some employees enjoy dressing down, and some employees have expressed that formal office wear makes them happier at work. As a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology described, when employees' confidence in their clothing increased, what followed was better productivity and attention to detail. That doesn't mean that all employees feel the most comfortable or confident in jeans and T-shirts. Just as style is personal, so can be a company’s dress code. Your dress code should reflect the standards of your industry, your unique company culture, and what makes team members happiest and therefore more productive.
Suit and Tie? When and Why
Just as every company culture is unique, so goes the dress code. Obviously, there are some no-brainers to make everyone in the office comfortable and there is also a lot of wiggle room with which to play. Below are some resources and images for establishing a dress code for your office that will clearly lay out some options, especially as weather warms and the work from home debate rages.
- Business Formal: The classic formal wear that you would traditionally see in offices. Acceptable wear is a jacket, slacks, and tie for men, and jacket and slacks or dresses for women. This type of wear may be designed for a more client-facing business where that type of very professional clothing is expected and necessary.
- Business Casual: Slacks/jeans and a button-down for men and women, this type of dress is typically an office with some flexibility in their dress code. It might be adequate for a less formal office setting or less client-facing type of work environment, fashion forward style allows a company to still express their clothing as a symbol of their professionalism.
- Geek Chic: Expressing a more comfortable style, more jeans, and solid-colored t-shirts. Some offices and company cultures will even allow shorts and more expressive clothing. Ideal for a less client-facing/customer service-focused company or an office whose industry expectation is casual dress.
Set your Standard
In conclusion, wherever you stand on the issue, t-shirts and jeans, or suits and ties, the best policy is clear and concise dress code communication. To get the best results, perhaps try these three courses of action.
- When you are adding people to your team, consider asking prospective employees about their fashion style as it may reveal more about them than just their favorite work wears. Style and personality are often inseparable. Even if you don't adjust your policy to fit the comfortability preferences of a single employee, it's a great way to get to know a candidate.
- Sometimes, as we saw from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are natural times to change or examine your dress code policy. If you plan to continue remote work capabilities for your team, it may be wise to check out SHRM’s recommendations for work from home dress code standards.
- Make sure your standards are clearly expressed in the office. Some flexibility is recommended, but your policy can be unique to meet your specific company’s needs and standards.
As with most practices within your organization, dress code expectations require communication. Being honest and upfront with your team about clothing standards should help bring about a common understanding and trust. If policies are simplified and employees and employers look good and feel good, then your organization may be dressed and ready to impress at the dawn of the summer!
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