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Is It Time to Update Your Company's Dress Code? What 'Business Casual'

Means Today. Some businesses are changing the definition of office-appropriate apparel. Here's how to set guidelines for a dressed-down dress code.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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  • Business leaders have largely urged employees to return to the office--but they may want to tell them to leave their suit jackets in the backs of their closets.

"Changing the dress code is the best perk that costs zero dollars," says Travis Lindemoen, founder of the Kansas City, Missouri-based human resource and hiring company Enjoy Mondays. "There are no downsides to loosening dress codes," he adds, noting that comfort and happiness go hand-in-hand when it comes to employees shaping their mindset about work. He points to post-pandemic studies that show employees are in fact more productive when they feel positive about the clothes they're wearing. Those who are happy at work are more likely to stay, which means casual dress codes may aid retention rates, he adds. 

With that in mind, many companies are seeking advice on how far to flex those dress codes. Sandals and open-toed shoes that expose "toe cleavage" are no longer taboo, tennis skirts and dresses are seen more in the office than on a court, and T-shirts are a given. But where should business leaders draw the line between what's appropriate and what's not?

New Cannan, Connecticut-based executive search consultant Lizandra Vega says that employees' outfits should nod to their industry, but still allow them to express their personalities. "Attire should reflect the culture and segment of the company," she says. "There's a fine line between keeping professionalism and giving employees the freedom to express their personal styles," she adds.

For businesses that have left dress codes up to interpretation, Vega says that written guidelines are always helpful to remind people of expectations. No matter how much you trust your employees' judgment, relying on past policies isn't going to cut it.

Business leaders should keep diverse perspectives in mind when creating dress codes. In a written dress code, "refer to working population as 'employees,' rather than using pronouns," Vega says, noting that businesses should avoid specifying different dress code expectations based on gender identity--for instance, that employees identifying as women must wear dresses or heels. 

Leaders should also be mindful that worker priorities have changed, Vega says. Post-pandemic, consumers value comfort and the freedom to express their own creativity. With the combination of hybrid work and inflation, consumers are not spending their money on formal suits and pencil skirts that can be worn only in the office, she says. So, it's wise for HR to lean into versatile recommendations, especially as people mentally prepare for busy fall schedules commuting from work to daycare to soccer practice and the like. 

Is It Time to Update Your Company's Dress Code? What 'Business Casual'

Some companies have elected to eliminate dress codes altogether--save for special occasions. Pre-pandemic, the New York City-based communications agency M Booth had a year-round business casual dress policy. Think: dress pants during the week and jeans on casual Friday. Now in hybrid workflow, employees have completely ditched business attire and are wearing more jeans, jackets, and accessories than ever before, says CEO Dale Bornstein.

"We have a responsibility to bring a bold and inspiring energy," Bornstein says, noting that as a creative agency, her employees should reflect as much creativity as possible. She adds that restrictive clothing is inherent to restrictive thinking, which is counterproductive to the creative line of work her employees are in. 

M Booth's expectation, however, is that employees modify their attire based on their responsibilities for the day. If they're meeting with a client, a nicer outfit--like a button-down instead of a T-shirt--is preferred. But if it's a team meeting day, they're welcome to wear their gym clothes so they can make it to their workout class during lunch. Bornstein's main focus is making sure her employees are confident when they're working and talking to clients. As long as they represent M Booth appropriately and confidently, it doesn't matter what they wear. ​"When you're comfortable you do better work," Bornstein says. "So long as it shows you care enough about your position and your responsibilities."

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