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I recently saw two articles talking about workplace attire. One of them was mentioned on The Hustle newsletter and it outlined what was considered “business professional attire”. It said that business professional attire for women includes hosiery, light makeup, and simple jewelry. For men, it includes a tie, dress socks that are darker than your pants, and possibly a pocket square.
I think I understand why these articles were published. Let’s face it, during the pandemic, office attire went casual. If you were working from home, there were probably days when you wore a nice shirt and yoga pants or joggers. Now that returning to the office conversations continue to happen, companies want employees to also return to regular business attire. Honestly, I’ve even seen articles about companies conducting etiquette classes for people returning to the office.
But here’s the thing. A lot has changed over the past few years, including what people want to wear. So maybe instead of dusting off a five-year-old workplace attire policy and mandating employees follow it, use this as an opportunity to reevaluate what makes sense. Here are a few things to consider:
SAFETY: First things first. If employees need to wear something because it protects them, then identify those items and clearly explain to employees why they need to wear it. Or possibly not wear something. For example, I’ve worked places where I could not wear hoop earrings because they might get caught on something and injure me. Safety needs to come first.
INDUSTRY: Some industries have long traditions of dressing a certain way. But let me say that some of those traditions are being discarded. The U.S. Senate recently “ditched their dress code” because of a growing number of elected officials want to wear casual attire. It is possible to change traditions. Don’t forget that old quote, “The six most expensive words in business are ‘we’ve always done it that way’.”
COST: Sometimes workplace attire can be expensive to buy and expensive to maintain. Want to give your employees a free pay increase? Don’t make them buy expensive suits that need to be dry cleaned. That doesn’t mean your dress code would become wearing pajamas to work. But there might be something in between that allows employees to look professional without a huge expense.
WEATHER: This brings us to the point I wanted to make about workplace attire and the weather. As you know, I live someplace that’s hot and humid in the summer. This summer was even more hot and humid than usual. We had two solid weeks of extreme heat warnings. Asking employees to wear suits, hosiery, ties, etc. in this kind of weather is unrealistic. Employees are going to be miserable. And when people feel miserable, they don’t do their best work.
I realize we’re going into the cooler weather months but something to consider for the future. Maybe have a summer dress code. We’ve done this before, and it could be a nice compromise. Even the executives loved getting a break from wearing suits for a few months. And the catch was this – if people abused the policy, it went away. Trust me – everyone followed the policy.
Business suits do not turn people into leaders nor make people more professional. We all know unprofessional jerks who wear suits. Our attire helps us to feel confident and comfortable to do the work. And that’s what everyone wants. Employees who feel confident and comfortable doing their jobs.
Image capture by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Reykjavík, Iceland38