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Office dress codes: obsolete or essential?

Office dress codes: obsolete or essential?

Does a dress code still have a place in the modern office? As more and more companies move towards a more casual approach to business style, we investigate whether dressing for success really does help you get ahead.

Besides the time and money investment of upgrading your wardrobe, choosing the right outfit for work every day can present a never-ending swathe of dangers: jeans or no jeans? Are denim shorts ever appropriate? Is there such a thing as too formal for work?

Whether you work in finance, fashion, or floristry, there’s bound to be some form of dress code that you’ll have to adhere to. But does it really matter whether you opt for office casual or a more sophisticated style?

Staff happiness

According to digital marketing agency, Bring Digital, it shouldn’t matter. Tom Rosillo, Operations Director at Bring Digital, said:

“We abolished our dress code as we wanted our staff to feel comfortable at work. A smart dress code, for us, was not as important as staff happiness that took priority. We want to encourage a relaxed fun atmosphere to ensure we are getting the best out of our staff.”

However, Mr Rosillo does not go as far as letting employees turn up to client meetings in socks and sandals. He adds: “We do encourage employees to dress smartly if they are meeting with a client and we expect them to take pride in their appearance.”

Shifting styles

Whether or not a dress code, or lack of one, actually increases staff productivity is a question that many companies seem to disagree on.

Anna Gibbons, Corporate Communications Director at Sellick Partnership, a leading recruitment firm specialising in the finance area, said: “Dress codes are important for all businesses as it helps to set the tone, creates a team and establishes clear expectations for staff, which are important elements of running a successful business.”

As fashions change and the more creative and technical sectors expand, the sartorial expectations of employers have seen a shift too. Ms Gibbons said:

“In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when power suits and shoulder pads were fashionable, it was perhaps more common for people to wear full suits to work than in the years which followed.”

Even occupations that adopt a more regimental style, like law, have seen significant shifts in tone. 

“Only recently have female lawyers been permitted to wear trouser suits in court,” she added.

Confidence boosting

Jodi Goldman, image and impact specialist, emphasises the idea that there are psychological factors at play when we get dressed for work. She says: “The separation between work and play is important and a dress code helps to psychologically enforce this difference. How we feel obviously affects how we dress. When we’re sick, tired, or sad, most of us stop caring about how we present ourselves.”

“But it’s actually a two-way process: how we dress also affects how we feel. When we feel confident in the way we look we produce confidence boosting endorphins and our stress levels decrease.”

Ms Goldman believes that if you feel good, look good, and enjoy what you are wearing, this will have a positive effect on confidence and productivity.

“I hear people say 'it's only work, I don't want to have to spend money on what I wear',  'who cares, I am only in the office, I'm not client facing so it doesn't matter what I wear' and 'it shouldn't matter what I wear, my work should speak for itself' etc. If you don't invest in yourself, and show that you value yourself, why would anyone else?”

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