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Workplace Dress Codes: Do You Really Need One?

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

I was a brand new manager when I hired a temporary employee to do a specific project at a very conservative company. While we didn't have to wear suits, we definitely dressed on the formal side of business casual. One Friday a year, however, you could make a $5 donation to a company sponsored charity and wear jeans. Unfortunately, the temp started the same week as this once-a-year jeans day. Being new, and unaware that this was a once a year thing, she noted everyone wearing jeans on Friday and assumed our office had casual Fridays.

As her manager, and having never encountered this before, I had to confront her—which I did, but handled it very poorly. She offered to go home and change, I said it wasn't necessary, and we felt both awkward and ridiculous.

But it could have been prevented. If I'd explained the company dress code when she was hired, then none of the awkwardness would have occurred.

Company Dress Codes Make People More Comfortable

Lots of people, especially in small businesses or startups, don't want to have a dress code because it seems stuffy, old fashioned, and uncomfortable. Plus, we're all wearing jeans everyday anyway, right? Not quite. In reality, a dress code is quite the opposite: it can make everyone feel a lot more comfortable.

A dress code isn't synonymous with suit coats and nylons. It can be pretty much anything at all. It can state that jeans are okay, but shorts are not, or that this is a business casual office and while button down shirts are okay, a full-on suit would be considered inappropriate.

What you want your dress code to do is make everyone clear and comfortable about what they should and should not be wearing. Then there's no awkward misunderstanding or uncomfortable conversations when someone shows up in something that would be better suited for a night on the town or a black-tie wedding.

How to Make a Dress Code

If your company doesn't have a dress code, it may be time to sit down and write one. Samples are easily available on the internet. And remember, you need to make it equal between genders. You can't require women to wear nylons and let men wear jeans, or vice versa, but you can have different general requirements. Men may be required to wear a necktie, while a woman can wear any dressy blouse.

If you work for a company without a dress code and you're concerned about what is (or isn't) appropriate for work, simply look at the leadership of your company and follow their lead. If they're wearing jeans, you can wear jeans. If they wear shorts and flip flops most days, but don suits when they meet with clients, that's what you should do too. And if you ever have any concerns, ask! You could even offer to help write up a dress code, because knowing what the rules are makes everything less awkward.

Photo: Creative Commons

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