Note to CEOs: tell your staff to save their blue jeans for the weekend. “Business casual is dead,” says Anne Sowden, a professional image consultant at Toronto-based Here’s Looking at You. While the dot-coms of the 90s made casual attire stylish, says Sowden, the business world has since returned to its conservative roots.
“Companies thought that if they encouraged people to dress more casually, [employees] would be happier and work harder,” says Sowden. However, studies in the U.S. found that a lax dress code decreased productivity and increased harassment suits. Sowden says that in these rocky times, dressing up is even more important: “The perception is the more formal the business attire, the more stable the business.”
Considering implementing a dress code in your workplace? Sowden cautions business leaders not to expect overnight success when transitioning from casual to formal. After years of informal clothing, some employees may find conservative attire a shock to the system. When you’re formulating your dress code, be sure to:
- Be sensitive to budgets. Clothes are expensive, so your staff might not be able to respond immediately to a formal dress code. Consider offering interest-free loans to purchase appropriate attire. Or offer employee-of-the-month gift certificates for shopping.
- Consider the job description. People on the front lines, such as salespeople, need to dress more formally than those who man the help desk. “Those people might be crawling around under desks,” says Sowden. “You want them to dress in a way in which they’re respectable, but also comfortable.”
- Make your specific expectations known. For example, Sowden recommends reminding staff that shoes matter. Nothing will spoil a good outfit more than a pair of dirty shoes, she says. “It gives the message you’re not paying attention to details, [and] if you’re not paying attention to details on your person, then you may not pay attention to details on the job.”
- Ask employees to err on the side of caution when meeting with clients. “It’s much easier to take a jacket off or take a tie off to look more informal,” says Sowden. The essence of business formal? A suit in a dark color (black, navy or charcoal) with a light color underneath. “Adding a pastel like light blue will soften your look and make your look more approachable,” says Sowden.
Read other pointers on How To contribute to your business success!
© 2003 Karen Kelly