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How Does Your Dress Code Measure Up?


Call it Spring Cleaning, if you will, but the changing of the seasons is an ideal time to dust off your company’s dress code policy and address the often more laid back attire of brighter days — and warmer months. 

Examining whether existing policies address a company’s casual attire can help better communicate expectations with employees. By doing this small task, you may be able to alleviate some of the headaches associated with those employees who take casual dress benefits a bit too far. 

There’s a whole backstory to the history and evolution of Casual Friday that includes untimely use of Hawaiian shirts and the migration of Dockers from the golf course to the cubicle. Part of it, according to Marketplace, all started with employees not knowing how to dress less.

When companies implement casual dress days it is usually in the form of casual Friday and/or summer casual. This is seen as a small additional perk to current employee wellness and prospective employees, and while It commonly means employees may wear jeans to the office, there are certain implications that any employer must consider. It is not uncommon for employees to take casual dress policies too far. The degree to which attire might become questionable will of course vary by industry and company, offenses could range from ripped jeans, graphic t-shirts to revealing tank tops and flip-flops. How can employers reduce the risk of dress code abuse while also addressing compliance issues as they arise? 

The first thing that you should do is review the current dress code and appearance policy. According to our HR Consulting group, there is a high chance that the policy does not even mention casual attire or the expectations for casual days. If that is the case, consider adding it to the policy. The most important message to employees is that although the company is allowing employees to dress more casually, employees are still required to present a professional image. Furthermore, employees who have client-facing meetings are not permitted to participate in casual dress days. If the policy does not already say so, consider adding a list of prohibited clothing such as ripped or distressed clothing, graphic t-shirts with writing or logos, baseball caps, flip-flops, and cropped tops or low cut clothing. While no policy can be all inclusive, adding general information and guidelines will help the employer to communicate the expectations of the employees.

Here are a few helpful guidelines when creating or updated your company’s policy:

Be a Casual Friday role model. According to an article in Forbes, management should dress a step above the company’s policy to set the tone for how others should be styled as well. Set the tone of being “casual, but polished.” 

  1. Ensure that managers and supervisors are aware of the dress code and expectations for casual days. Share the updated policy with managers and supervisors and empower them to enforce the policy. One common hesitation with dress code violations is that managers and supervisors are concerned about offending the employee or creating a harassment situation (especially if the manager and employee are of opposite sex). 
  2. In order to maintain employer/employee respect, it’s important to not make the employee feel like they are being chastised by their mother or father for something they already know to do or not do. Remind supervisors and managers to always refer back to the dress code policy as the reason for speaking to the employee about his or her attire. If there are other reasons for the employee’s attire such as race, religion, nationality, advise employers to contact HR or Management to assist in appropriately responding to any request or need for accommodation.
  3. Train all employees on the dress code and expectations for professionalism. A good rule of thumb is for employees to ask themselves, “If I get pulled into an unplanned client meeting or meeting with the CEO, will I feel comfortable in what I’m wearing?” If the answer is “no” then the employee should reconsider his or her outfit choice. Another great tip, especially during the warmer summer months, is for employees to keep a blazer or cardigan and change of shoes at their desk in the event of an unexpected meeting. Advise employees that failure to comply with the dress code may result in disciplinary action and, in some cases, employees may be required to go home to change.

Whether you are updating your policy or just providing a friendly reminder, explain to employees that the ability to dress more casually is a benefit and that it does not change the professional image the company wishes to display to clients and business partners.

If you need help crafting this policy for your organization, reach out and talk to one of our HR Consultants.


Vanessa I. Lolli, PHR
Human Resources Consultant  

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