I have always been fascinated by the variety of dress codes at work. My early years at work were predominately suites and ties, and most recently, jeans and casual button downs. My thirty-five-year career has seen every type of dress code. And once I started working in HR, I had a say in what was acceptable.
Most of us in HR are the gate keepers of appropriate dress at our respective work sites. There are many theories and opinions on work place dress and hygiene etiquette. I still remember when a colleague was interviewing for an executive position at Disney back in the mid nineties and they had a strict code on beards, hair length, ear piercing and visible tattoos. A lot has changed over the past two decades. Yet there are still some industries and businesses that keep a formal dress code in place. Even in professional sports, some teams require suite and ties for travel and certain grooming, too. The New York Yankees baseball team requires professional travel attire and does not allow facial hair or long hair touching your shoulders for all players and coaches.
Some folks like to dress up even when not required and others would prefer a comfortable pair of Jeans or even sweats if given the option.
Sometimes image is important.
So where should your organization set the bar for dress when at work? And how flexible can the policy be?
If your charged with providing input, here are a few things to consider:
Let’s start with your clients. What is their acceptable attire? The unwritten rule (sometimes written) is always dress at least at the level of your clients if not a step up. At least for days where meetings are schedule or possible.
Second, evaluate what type of physical work environment does your staff spend time at? Are you consumer facing? Folks who work in hospitality and food services often have uniforms, which takes the question out of each individuals hands. Retailer’s, especially apparel retailers, often require employees to wear the brand or some type of uniform. Some individuals work in factory and warehouse environments and clothing needs to be safe. Can you say, "steel tipped or rubber soled shoes?" For many of us it’s an office of some sort and choosing function over fashion is certainly open to discussion and debate.
Third is to evaluate your organization’s culture and acceptance of change. I worked for a 100-year-old manufacturing firm with many long service employees that were set in their ways. Dress code included. Making changes there needed to be incremental over time. Is your organization open to change, even if its just what you can or can’t wear?
Also, what is your senior management’s viewpoint? You may need to sell the change to one or two folks who have strong beliefs in dressing up each day. My time at an Accounting firm was filled with a CEO who believed you need to dress up every day regardless of whether you were meeting with clients. Our change process there began with getting approval for "Jean Fridays" with a small donation to a rotating charity. Over time the CEO relaxed his viewpoint after seeing how many folks participated. We were able to move to a business casual except for client meeting days.
We also live in a day and age that folks like to have political statements in their wardrobe. This could be as subtle as a pin or button or direct as a written statement on a shirt or sweatshirt. A few individuals even have body art displaying a view point or a disturbing image. It is important to decide on having a policy to deal with this in the workplace. And yes review it with counsel before putting anything into practice.
Finally, don’t forget about telecommuters having a dress code too. I spend up to eight hours a week on skype calls and need to insure I do not look like I just rolled out of bed. Requiring at least some level of decorum for calls is advisable. I once had a candidate in their pajamas on a call….food for thought.
January is a great time to reevaluate your dress code and work place etiquette. Make sure to gain plenty of buy-in and be flexible where ever you can.