The Evolution of Dress Codes in the Workplace: Is It Time to Rethink Your Policy?

Summer is almost here. Do you know what your employees will be wearing? Dress code policies usually come to the forefront in the summer months with the return of flip-flops, summer dresses, and shorts. Do you maintain a formal dress code? Do you make changes to your policy based on current fashion trends? Are dress code policies now becoming more lenient to attract and retain employees, especially Millennials?

With summer quickly approaching, it is time for managers to remind their staff of the company’s dress code policy. Forty-seven percent of all respondents in our 2017 Miscellaneous
Benefits & Pay Practices Survey have a formal written appearance or dress code policy. This is down from the 51 percent reported in our 2009 survey. Also down from the 2009 survey is the percentage of employers allowing casual dress one day each week (31 percent in 2009; 23 percent in 2017). On the reverse side, employers that allow casual dress every day is up (18 percent in 2009; 22 percent in 2017).

What is the definition of casual dress? This definition can range from athletic wear to sports coats! Your definition should be based on what is appropriate for your organization. The type of industry you are in may drive your organization’s policy. Typically, more traditional industries such as banking, accounting, and law firms tend to stick to a formal dress code, especially for employees who meet with clients on a regular basis. Many technology and creative industries have less formal dress policies to attract employees.

Thirty percent of organizations allow business-casual dress every day, but what defines “business-casual”? The above survey data indicates a shift to a more casual workplace as the everyday casual dress policy versus one day a week has become more prevalent since 2009.

If it is time for your organization to add or update an appearance or dress code policy, refer to the Employers Council’s Employment Handbook Planning Guide for sample language and legal considerations.