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Deciphering Code, Dress Code That Is

Should your company have a dress code?

With the switch in schedules and eventually weather as the summer slips away and fall creeps closer, (Not until September 22nd, so pump the brakes on your pumpkin spice everything for a couple weeks) you may be taking note of another major shift in your household. It may be time to follow some rules about what the kids can and can’t wear. Chances are that there’s a dress code behind this forced makeover.

The debate about uniforms/dress-codes has been around as long as groups of people were able to organize themselves and use language. Lately, the debate has taken on the validity of the concept of “appropriate clothing”, particularly for females, and the inherent patriarchal influences behind such models. As fun as all that would be to get into, it doesn’t have an immediate influence on how we run our business. But perhaps your company’s existing dress code does. The question lingers, is that influence always a positive one?

Let’s look at the top 5 reasons having a dress code can be good for your company:

  1. It can create a uniformed look that, especially if it actually involves a uniform, can strengthen the brand image

  2. It can level the socio-economic playing field and subtle competition that ripples as an undercurrent throughout the office. If you think “keeping up with the Joneses” is only about cars and houses, think again. Chances are co-workers pay attention to the how their superiors or peers dress and silently evaluate the potential real or imagined social and political implications of being in or out of that league.

  3. It can allow you to avoid some sticky situations and uncomfortable conversations that can turn into legal quagmires. You don’t need to talk to one employee about their inappropriately tight, short, low-cut, sloppy, stained, or in some other way offensive attire. There is a policy. It applies to all. Done. Breathe sigh of legal relief.

  4. A dress code can set a tone for a certain kind of decorum. The clean-cut image a business or even business-casual dress code sets can be a physical, subtle reminder to act like the professional adults they are called to be.

  5. To be totally honest and quite blunt, a dress code can affirm that employees will follow the rules. These people will acquiesce to commands, suggesting that they can be managed, or in harsher terms, somewhat controlled. Sounds sort of Orwellian, unless you happen to be requiring that level of control for some safety or security measures. Protocol: it can make the world go round and business run smoothly.

Now, before you rush to your HR office and put out an SOS that you need a dress code or a dress code refresher STAT, let’s just see how well these top 5 reasons hold water.

Indulge me for a moment and consider the counter-examples to those “good reasons”:

  1. Are you operating mostly internally with little public interaction? If your business is conducted within four walls that employees and occasionally a client or two pass through, then the “brand image” is a paper-thin argument. If you’re driving for UPS or something, that’s a different story.

  2. I find this to be one of the best reasons to have a dress code…in school. We are all adults now. Perhaps the subtle peer pressure for everyone to reach a certain standard can be a positive way to send a message that doesn’t come from the top down yet sets a culture within the company. Socio-economic differences are a fact of life. Rather than insisting everyone adhere to an “offensive-to-none-despised-by-all” dress code, use the opportunity to see who stoops to petty levels of judging a book by its cover or who cannot be confident enough in his or her own skin to own what he or she wears. Both are valuable insights to an employee’s character that may impact the future of the individual and company.

  3. This is a tough one to punch holes in. Quite frankly, you can avoid some really sticky situations with blanket policies. The problem begins when interpretation by individuals and prerogative of the boss in terms of application creeps in and mitigates the very purpose of the policy. One way or another, the policy will end up being negated. Now you have a policy that isn’t followed. You’ve poisoned the well.

  4. Right. I’ve certainly never seen men and women dressed to the nines and acting recklessly. Oh…except every day at happy hours across the country. Oh and Wall Street, especially circa 2007. Oh and that nagging little stat according to a new survey by Vault that confirms 50% of respondents were involved in a romantic relationship with a co-worker. Think about it: has being dressed in your Sunday best ever stopped you from getting grass stains and playing in the mud? How little has changed.

  5. Let’s begin with acknowledging the “ick” factor of this reason. Orwellian indeed. With few exceptions where it’s required, such as in the military, the idea of a boss creating rules as a test to see who will follow and who will fall feels like the setting for a John Grisham novel. If this is your power move, please just stop it. Walk away. No.

The truth is, you’re hiring individuals for their expertise in a certain field, a skill set that is vital they possess in spades, or a breadth of knowledge and experience in your industry.

Ask yourself: does it really matter whether they practice these skills or manage a project in their distressed jeans and a tee shirt or flat front slacks and button-down shirt?

Does the end result suffer? Do co-workers suffer? Do clients suffer? I would hazard that 8/10 times the answer to all those questions is “no”.

So who is your dress code policy really for? The answer to that may have to do with when it was created. Chances are, if your dress code has been around since the company printed its first policies on mimeographed paper with perforated edges that had to be torn off, it’s time to take a fresh look and make sure you’re not holding on to something that, like an 8-track, simply no longer has a place in this world. RIP 8-tracks.

If you’re looking to improve morale, attract Millennials, inject some new life in your company, or develop a fresh culture, dropping or loosening the parameters on your dress code can be one of the best, cost-free ways to do so.

To see how it works exceptionally well in action, contact The Alias Group and find out how to incorporate this strategy into your business plan and why we’ve decided rewrite the rules rather than play by them.

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