Ask Away: Do Company Dress Codes Matter?

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ComicWelcome to Ask Away,’s new weekly column! Every Monday (we know, we know: today is Wednesday. But usually we do Mondays!),we’ll pose an employment-related question to a group of experts and share their answers. Have a question on jobs data you’d like to ask the expertsLeave it in the comments, and you might just see it in next week’s Ask Away!

This Week’s Question:  Every company has a dress code of some kind, it seems. We think, of course, of the traditional business attire of Wall Street, but even the jeans-and-hoodies-clad startups have certain rules (whether spoken or unspoken) in place. Still, we seem to be living in a time of great change: many companies are growing more and more relaxed about what constitutes “proper business attire.” Which leads us to this week’s question: what good are company dress codes, anyway? Do they matter? Why?

“I work at a Brooklyn-based animation studio, and even as a sales rep, [I find that] dressing down to match the relaxed artistic environment works better. On my first day at the office, I dressed in a button-down and tie, and the first thing my boss told me was, ‘You’ve probably noticed we don’t dress like that around here.’

“My sales training always taught me that, even though I may be working over the phone, dressing up helps maintain a professional attitude, just as much as smiling while talking makes you sound more pleasant. But in my office, I’ve found that dressing down to match my environment is more important, as it lets me relate to and better converse with the artists around me, which only [brings] me closer to the actual product we sell so that I may better represent it over the phone.”

-Benjamin Capitano
Sales Rep
Whiteboard Animation Studio

“To me, the bottom line for dress codes in most of the companies I write policies for is that they’re in place for the people who don’t know how to dress for work. They don’t target the employee who understands professionalism in the workplace, even when business casual and jeans are acceptable. Most people read the policy once (or look around at their coworkers) and know that a tank top, low-rise pants, or an ultra-short skirt are not acceptable.

“Those employees who don’t see the separation between their work and personal lives cause HR to write more stringent dress codes that 98 percent of the workforce doesn’t need. Many managers also are hesitant to discuss inappropriate dress with employees. So, a well-written detailed policy may help that manager hold the employee accountable and impersonalize the conversation by saying, ‘We’re just following the policy.'”

-Arlene Vernon
HRx, Inc.

“I am a paralegal by title, but also serve as the office manager, HR, marketing, and all-around hat rack. Dress codes, in my opinion, are important. The reason really boils down to understanding what your client/customer expects. For example, in the legal field, image is extremely important. Every client wants a knowledgeable attorney who can accomplish their goals. They want someone successful. That first impression of [the attorney’s success] is based on whatever the [client] sees when they walk in the door. The better dressed the attorney, the more successful they seem to the client.

“That impression extends to the staff. If you are looking for certain kind of clientele within a certain income group, you have to meet the standard of dress for what the client will expect. You’re not going to land a Kardashian dressed in Target-brand cotton blends. Likewise, if you’re in beach-wear retail, you don’t want your salespeople reminding their customers of the office by having them wear suits. You want [customers] thinking of the beach. Dress codes are really about sales and marketing. Every person who comes into contact with a client/customer is a walking billboard for your entire business’ image.”

-Kimberli Taylor
Conover & Grebe, LLP

“I work at a company called BodyLogicMD. Even though we’re the corporate headquarters for a national medical franchise, we have a relatively laid-back dress code. Since we aren’t a client-facing office, there isn’t much need for us to get all dressed up every day — especially in South Florida.

“I’ve heard people argue that there’s a correlation between dressing professionally and increased productivity. I think that’s B.S. When I started here back in 2009, the dress code for men consisted of dress pants and a collared/button-down business shirt, with the exception of casual Fridays, when we could wear jeans. A few years ago, our new president decided to take a more progressive approach and changed the dress code to “just wear clothes.” The only caveat is that employees don’t wear anything that their mother wouldn’t approve of. Not only was productivity not impacted, but just about everyone was thrilled to hear they could start dressing more casually. I was never a fan of wearing a button-down and slacks in 98 degree weather, and it I also saved a lot of money on dry cleaning.”

-Brandon Seymour
SEO Director

“While the employee is working, he/she should be promoting the company’s vision, mission, and brand. If the vision and mission of your company is professionalism, dedication, and customer-focus. the dress code is more professional and business-oriented, especially when interacting with prospective clients. If the company vision and brand is more creative and whimsical, the dress code may be more colorful, unconventional, and relaxed. If the company wants to be immediately recognized from a distance, the dress code may be a uniform with the company logo. The dress code depends on what the company really wants to present or market to the world.

“Companies are in the business to make money, and it’s every employee’s job to attract new clients and make the company money. Smart business owners use anything they can to market and attract new sales. Employee dress code — as well as the accessories they use every day — can be useful marketing tools. Even if the employee doesn’t normally come into contact with clients, [employees may] cross paths with prospective clients by going out to lunch, to the bank, or running errands during the workday. Every employee should also be armed with the company pitch and be able to speak intelligently about the company’s product and services.”

-Laura Rose
Small Business Systems and Solutions Coach
Rose Coaching

“A good company dress code doesn’t stop employees from being themselves and expressing their personalities — you don’t want to micromanage their lives and end up with a disgruntled team. However, it’s important to keep up a professional atmosphere, and it’s tough to feel and act like a professional when you’re wearing pajama pants.”

-Natalie Andrews
Marketing Associate

“We spend almost zero time and attention focusing on what our team members wear. For us, the work they do is much more important than the attire they choose. With that in mind, we do have guidelines that we encourage our team to be mindful of, such as lengths and fit. Our unofficial dress code is ‘Wear whatever makes you comfortable that doesn’t make others uncomfortable.’ Interestingly, this lax dress code means that most of our team errs on the side of more conservative and professional dress, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t see folks walking around in t-shirts, shorts, and flip flops.

“Most of our client interaction occurs over the phone or via email, so what we wear is less important than it may be in other industries. Keeping your industry’s standards in mind, but also being aware that not every policy needs to include hard and fast rules, can make your dress code and company more effective.”

-Shayleen Stuto
Talent Coordinator

“Dress codes serve two main purposes, and while many offices have eased up on their employees’ expected attire — especially in the tech sector — [dress codes] still exist in some way or another. Even those relaxed dress codes you see in movies about Facebook exist for a reason.

“The first idea is that your employees’ attire speaks for the company. Suits and ties show wealth and confidence, which are both two important traits in a profession that [lives] on selling people the dream of getting rich — think Wall Street.

“On the other hand, some dress codes can exist to draw in talent. Hoodies and jeans exude a laid-back atmosphere, which sounds like the [kind of] place a talented software developer might want to work.

“Don’t be fooled. Facebook and Google didn’t make billions because they were careless with any of their business operation decisions. They do have a dress code, it’s just not the traditional corporate one we are all used to.”

-Timothy Backes
Career Advisor, Resume Expert, and Hiring Manager
Resume Genius

By Matthew Kosinski