Are work dress codes becoming more relaxed than ever?

dress code

The Western trend of ‘casual Fridays’, also known as ‘dress down Fridays’ has been widely adopted by many UK businesses for several years, with some now taking on this more relaxed approach five days a week.

For a large number of enterprises, jeans and a nice shirt have become the workwear norm, with many business owners, including CEO of Curated Digital, Simon Douglas agreeing that employees should “wear what they feel comfortable wearing” for better output and a more accepting workplace.

While some businesses look to move away from fully suited and booted, stricter dress codes, maintaining a smart appearance at work will always be important; which brings the question as to how to balance more relaxed principles in professional working environment.

To give further insight opinions from multiple SME business owners was sought to detail their individual thoughts regarding dress code standards to represent the business.

Kate Palmer, Head of Advisory at UK Employment Law Consultancy at Peninsula: “Dress codes are a must for employers who want to convey a certain image or have a minimum standard of dress in their business. The easiest way to ensure staff are keeping to the code is to implement this from day one. New starters can be given the code before their first day and any breaches can be discussed, informally, right at the start of their employment. This will ensure the code has the proper effect and is kept to by all members of staff.

“The difficulty with dress codes are that some members of staff may interpret the code differently. For example, smart business dress can mean different clothing to different people. It will be for managers, and employers, to lead by example and have quiet words with employees who aren’t adopting the policy correctly. Where the interpretation is intentionally wrong, the dress code will often allow for formal action to be taken.

“Dress codes can create issues for management even where they set a minimum standard for all members of staff. In situations, for example, where the highest performing member of staff is not wearing appropriate clothes under the dress code, the manager should be carrying out formal action.”

Susy Roberts, executive coach and founder of people development at Hunter Roberts consultancy: “Being smart is just as much about grooming, personal presence and how you carry yourself than what you’re wearing. You can be immaculately turned out in casual clothes – what’s important is attention to detail.

“When you are looking for a job or attending an interview, do your research. Go to the place of work to observe what other people are wearing and choose an outfit accordingly. What’s important is to ensure that your clothes fit well, are free from snags, and aren’t creased or crumpled.

“If you work in an organisation that has dress down days, bear in mind that ‘dress down’ doesn’t mean ‘don’t care’. It’s still important to ensure that you are clean, tidy and well-presented. Being smartly dressed and well turned-out, whatever the style, says you care about your appearance and care about what you do. It’s your image and your personal brand and you need to be sure that you’re sending the right message.”

Simon Douglas, Founder and CEO of Curated Digital: “Workwear in a professional environment is becoming more relaxed, and I agree that it should be – but within reason. I often say to people that they should wear what they feel comfortable wearing but to keep business and clients front of mind. I wouldn’t want anybody turning up to a client meeting wearing jeans and a t-shirt, that is unless the client is that way inclined and dresses that way when they meet us.

“However, I do think that there are risks in letting people wear what they want, as it can often lead to standards slipping from a working environment – although I want to create a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere, I don’t want people treating the office like home from home because it’s ultimately still a work environment.

“I am happy for people to wear what they think is acceptable and which they’re comfortable with as long as long as this is within reason and are mindful of what we’re trying to achieve as a business.”

Acording to ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) An employer’s dress code must not be discriminatory in respect of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 for age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation.

Amy Govey, Senior Merchandiser at Baird Group Suit Direct “Like any business, the appearance of our employees is a reflection of the organisation itself, and as a major fashion wholesalers, we find that many of our employees tend take pride in what they wear to work which is great and with that often comes with increased confidence.

“It’s also important not to put staff under too much pressure when it comes to wearing something that they wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable in, and believe that staff should be able to express their own personalities to a certain extent in what they wear to work especially as so much of our time is spent at work.

“However when setting dress codes, it’s important that they remain gender neutral and the same rules are set for everybody in the business and don’t discriminate in any way.”