"Managing People with Morecrofts"

Dress to impress or ditch the dress code?

by Thomas Sutherland

I’ve read a lot recently about dress codes. Mainly in relation to whether they are now outdated and irrelevant. No doubt a lot of this discussion has been related to the recent heatwave, but there also seems to have been a movement in recent years to encourage increased informality at work, especially with the idea of a dress code.

Of course, many people will have different reasons for wanting their workplace dress code to be loosened. Many will argue that standard workplace attire is too stuffy and uncomfortable or that they should only be restricted to a full suit where the nature of their day demands it (i.e. when they meet customers). 

I note that one of the biggest causes of anguish, for men at least, is the tie. A certain Richard Branson is famed for his outspokenness in relation to ties. In fact, he even goes so far as to describe the wearing of ties as ‘one of the most pointless traditions in the western world’ and something that restricts new ideas and innovative thoughts! No surprise then that it is not unknown for Mr Branson to carry a pair of scissors on his person in order to cut off the tie of unsuspecting wearers! Not exactly the biggest fan…

Whilst I don’t advise managers to go round cutting off the ties of employees, I do find the concept and origin of ties fascinating. As a quick history lesson, the practice of wearing of ties originated in the days when they were necessary to hold the top of shirts together where the collars lacked buttons. Nowadays, of course, they are worn purely out of tradition and perceptions of smartness. 

Those perceptions, however, are being challenged and it is nowhere near as controversial for professionals to wear a shirt with an unbuttoned collar in a professional role, unless in a highly professional setting, such as a major meeting.

Naturally, social media offers many comments on the existence of ties in the modern world. Some responses being sensible and many more being quirky and ironic. One of my favourite responses to the question of why ties still exist being ‘so people know you are Clark Kent rather than Superman’!

Personally, I note that the majority of networking events I attend feature smart casual clothing and a relative absence of ties. I see this as an increased acceptance that the concept of smartness doesn’t mean a full suit and can be tailored to the situation. Yes, pun intended!

In any event, the above points relate to the idea of smart dress in general. Is a restrictively strict dress code required at all times in the majority of jobs? I’d go so far as to say that this is doubtful except in the most specialist jobs, for example where it is vital for staff to be identifiable from customers, such as in a hotel or on an airline.

There is no exact answer to what is a ‘sensible’ dress code and each employer will have a different view. I note the continued emergence of more loosely phrased dress codes which, whilst still setting out certain boundaries, may use vaguer phrases such as ‘casual business attire’ and ‘positive image’ rather than listing suitable clothing. Indeed, I have recently drafted a dress code alongside these lines.

This is certainly a subjective topic, so I’ll leave it to readers to decide their view lest I tie myself up in knots trying to reach a definitive conclusion…

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