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Are dress codes on their way out?

December 6, 2017

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Dress codes have become increasingly less stringent over the past several years.  Even industries known for their conservative, formal attire such as law and finance are moving towards less rigid restrictions.
Typically, industries such as banking have always adhered to a formal dress code due to the fact that they are constantly interacting with the public.  But recently one of the major players, JP Morgan, announced to all its employees that they are switching to a business casual dress code.  The memo they circulated stated “if you’re seeing a client you should dress for that client.”  More and more companies are leaving it up to their employees to dress appropriately.  

JP Morgan’s move is just one example of the decline of rigid dress codes, which some people see as an attempt to attract a millennial workforce that desires informality. But in reality, regardless of the generation, workers prefer casual dress codes.  Fifty-eight percent of employees surveyed said they prefer a business casual or casual dress code in the workplace according to The Los Angeles Times.  With the job market becoming more and more competitive, dress code is one way that a company can make itself stand out from competitors.  

Productivity often increases with a more casual dress code.  Most people can be a lot more productive when not in a three-piece suit or heels.  Many studies have shown that remote workers are more productive, where they are likely donning bath robes, pajamas, or yoga pants.  

Individual expression is becoming more important at work.  As William Bauer, Managing Director of ROYCE New York Monogramming & Leather Goods stated, “We prefer authenticity. As a matter of fact, we encourage creativity and individuality. It may begin with choice of garments, but ultimately it leads to employees feeling more empowered to bring ideas to me because they feel accepted for their choices, rather than denigrated or compelled to be something they are not.” 

Allowing flexibility with dress codes can increase employee engagement.  At the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, a small non-profit in Chicago, the dress code consists of two words, “No nudity.”  While that may be the extreme, they have seen a huge jump in employee engagement since implementing that dress code.  They also provide flexible work spaces so that employees can work where they are most comfortable…including wifi on the roof.  The point is that they allow for individuality. 

According to ASE’s 2017/2018 Policies and Benefits Survey, approximately 30% of Michigan employers allow business casual dress 4-5 days per week in an office/business setting with 56% offering at least one day that’s considered casual.

While some guiding principals on appropriate work attire are probably a good idea, the days of requiring specific business attire are nearing their end.  Employees appreciate being able to express themselves with their clothing and the ability to be themselves at work.

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