You may think that you recognize inappropriate dress for your workplace when you see it, but what may seem obviously wrong to you may seem quite acceptable to the next person.
The only way to keep it fair is to have a written policy that applies to everyone, regardless of age, seniority, or other factors. (Some argue that it must also be fair between genders. A good point but even more challenging to implement.)
Some issues should be addressed in all corporate dress codes. These include piercings, visible tattoos, safe footwear (especially where there is a greater likelihood of tripping and other accidents), and hemlines. In addition, dress codes should make exceptions for employees’ religious attire to prevent religious discrimination.
A written dress code is important year-round, but it is even more essential during the summer. Thin fabrics and skin-baring styles are likely to result in thumbs-down wear.
These four considerations are fundamental in writing a summer dress code:
- Work conditions. Employees who work outside are much more sensitive to temperature than those who work indoors, especially considering how well many offices are air conditioned. They may need special accommodations to be comfortable, yet safe.
- People that employees have contact with. Some staff members are only seen by others in their organization. They may be allowed greater latitude than coworkers who work with clients, suppliers, contractors, and other outside entities. Certain companies require more formal dress when there are board meetings on the premises.
- Scheduled casual days. Some organizations specify days on which greater flexibility is allowed. For instance, sometimes summer dress codes are more liberal on Fridays, always a great employee perk!
- Nature of the industry. There can be great divergence in formality of dress among industries. Financial industries, such as banking and insurance, have a reputation as more button down (literally). On the other hand, advertising, entertainment, and similar creative industries are likely to be more casual and flexible.
Clothing concerns during the summer include:
Shirts. Are buttons and sleeves required? If T-shirts are allowed, should they only be in plain colors or are messages and logos allowed? (Be sure that if permitted, the messages are not offensive to protected classes, such as by gender, race, religion, age, etc.)
Shorts and Capri (calf-length) pants. How short is too short? How far below the waist is too low? When in combo with the shirt and any jacket, no belly button or strip of bare skin between top and pants should show, don’t you agree?
Shoes. What about tennis shoes? Loafers? Sandals? Flipflops? (Safety concerns may be relevant here, as well as avoiding too informal a look.)
Denim. If denim is allowed, must it be black or any color except blue? Can it be torn or faded? (Note that some very expensive designer jeans now sport these features.)
Halter tops and tank tops. Probably not, but perhaps with layering it’s fine. This can be a fine line to walk if you are typically in a business casual environment.
Sundresses that are strapless or only have thin spaghetti straps. Again, these may be O.K. if combined with layering.
Some decisions reside with each individual
In addition to respecting corporate rules, each employee must make his own decision on how casually to dress. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have, goes the workplace adage.
Some types of dress are not banned by dress code but still present the wrong image. Women wearing light floral dresses and men dressed at the border between acceptable and not may be perceived as too young or not serious enough for the jobs to which they aspire.
A well-written and administered dress code, especially for summer, can aid employees in dressing appropriately while presenting themselves in a professional style, avoiding uncomfortable clothing conversations with employees.
Before you come up with a company dress code, it helps to recognize the corporate culture you are dealing with. Do you know what your corporate culture is? Check out our soft skills course “Developing People and Organizations” which discusses not only how to establish a great company culture but ethics and developing your employees.
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