(Casual) Dress for Success: The Summer Trial Period for Your Dress Code

Ah, June. Time to think about bugs, high electric bills and (in some parts of the country) pavement so hot it could melt your flip flops. And also time for business leaders and owners to pull the summer dress code policy out of the desk drawer… followed closely by multiple discussions arguments with employees about the difference between a flip flop and a “dressy sandal.”

It hardly seems worth it. We should just stick to our regular business dress code, maybe with an exception for Fridays. Right?

Not so fast. Relaxing the workplace dress code has been an ongoing trend for decades, and not just during the summer. Traditionally conservative companies like Goldman Sachs and the Walt Disney Company have recently taken steps to relax their dress codes. Looking professional no longer requires wearing a tie, suit or dress.

Factor in the heat of summer, and the topic becomes even more pertinent. The south can get brutally hot this time of year, and northern buildings often don’t have central air conditioning. This makes summer a great time to test the waters of a casual dress code—wearing a tie or pantyhose is far less appealing when you break a sweat walking from the shower to your closet.

So if you have a growing chorus of employees in favor of casual wear, try starting a new dress code as a summer pilot program. Be clear about that fact with your employees, and let them know that its success and continuation will depend on how well it works temporarily. (Nothing like peer pressure.)

Here is some food for thought when considering changes to a formal dress code policy.

Consider your industry standards.

Depending on your line of work, clients might expect a certain professional image from you and your employees. A start-up may have a very relaxed dress code all year round, while a law firm calls for more formal attire. So draft a dress code policy that is right for your company and your industry.

How should you handle client-facing employees?

A casual shirt and jeans might be fine for performing tasks in the office. But if an employee deals directly with clients in person, has to attend sales or offsite meetings or otherwise physically represents the company, will such an outfit be appropriate?

A good compromise is to build those exceptions into your dress code policy. For example, allow client-facing employees to dress casually but bring a change of clothes if they have a client meeting.

Get specific on approved dress code items – and not just clothes.

There are varying degrees of casual dress codes. Collared shirts vs. t-shirts? Casual pants vs. jeans? Can jeans have a small-yet-fashionable tear?

Safety must also be considered. The aforementioned “dressy sandal vs. flip flop debate” is about more than image; in a warehouse or manufacturing plant, it’s also a legitimate safety concern. And don’t forget other aspects of appearance, such as facial hair, tattoos, piercings, etc.

A successful dress code clearly defines acceptable clothing items and grooming habits. Be specific enough to avoid accidental violations, but not so much that you bog down the policy with endless rules. Use pictures if you have to! Just make sure they’re tasteful and don’t single anyone out for ridicule.

Another consideration: The benefit isn’t only for your current employees!

Casual dress codes do more than allow for employee comfort; they’re also an important recruitment and retention tool. Comfortable dress is a rising priority for workers, especially millennials and Generation Z (who now account for 40% of the workforce). With roughly half of companies now allowing casual dress every day according to the Society of Human Resource Management, you risk losing top people to other employers offering this perk.

Even if your industry has expectations of professional attire or additional safety concerns, there are still ways to try a casual dress code. Your HR consultants at James Moore can help guide you through the process. By getting creative, you can blend the needs of your office and provide this popular—and cost-free!—benefit for your staff.

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