Dress codes at work have come a long way from how strict they once were, but are they really any different?
We’ve all been subjected to a uniform at some point in our lives. From school to part-time jobs, almost everyone has been given a set outfit that they had to wear.
For many, that stops when they start their career, although there are often some restrictions. They may be your own clothes, but do they have to be a certain style? Have a certain level of seriousness?
Work dress codes have cropped up in headlines a few times in the past year, with debates around everything from gender discrimination to proper political attire as a government representative.
Most are familiar with Nicola Thorp in the UK, who was sent home from her job as a receptionist without pay because she came to work in flat shoes and refused to buy a pair of heels to comply with the dress code.
Can employers invoke such strict dress codes? Of course they can, but there is a danger of becoming discriminatory against women. Unless the men’s dress code is equally as strict, companies can run into problems.
A casual move
Indeed, plenty of firms and public sector jobs have maintained a business attire dress code, which essentially means their staff’s wardrobe have two very different styles.
However, something is changing in the world of dress codes.
With start-ups and global companies such as Facebook adopting a more casual approach, the notion of dressing up in a three-piece suit every day for work is becoming less appealing.
Furthermore, the talent shortage, particularly within the tech sector, is having an effect.
Earlier this summer, Goldman Sachs, one of the largest banks in the US, announced that it has relaxed its traditional Wall Street-style dress code for its computer developers in a bid to attract top talent.
According to Reuters, the bank told its tech division to “exercise judgment in determining when to adapt to business attire”.
While most banks still adhere to a strict business dress code, more are adapting to casual business, including JPMorgan Chase and Barclays.
Desirable dress codes
According to an employee survey conducted by placement firm Robert Half International, more than half of people prefer casual dress codes.
The survey also found that almost a quarter of CFOs surveyed have relaxed their dress codes in the last five years.
Dress codes are usually in place for two reasons: health and safety, or appearance. The latter is usually a mixture of brand representation and public-facing roles.
However, for firms that count a wide range of companies among their clients, even this is changing, as firms want to put them at ease by matching their dress code to a particular client on a given day.
Therefore, client managers who are normally extremely professionally dressed might lose the tie and jacket when visiting a more casually dressed client.
For others, such as technology employees, this is where the dress codes are really relaxing. It is far less important for developers, engineers and coders to be dressed a certain way than it is to simply be good at the technical elements of their job.
And, when it comes to attracting those who are the very best in their field, companies are employing forward-thinking ideas to entice talent by not being so restrictive.
In the fight for the best talent, money is not usually the deciding factor for those being headhunted. It often comes down to the company culture and, if part of that culture is a rigid dress code, it could be the reason one loses to another.
Couple that with the fact that more than half of the global workforce is made up of millennials who favour a casual dress code, and you’ve got a clear message to the corporate giants.