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Dress for success: Does it matter what people wear to work?

How we dress for work is something that is usually taken for granted after a day or two on the job. Nevertheless, it is a detail that certainly has an impact on the overall feel, culture and atmosphere of a workplace. And anything that affects the working environment, particularly when it concerns something as personal as clothing, has its role to play on how employees relate to each other, their morale and motivation.

A culture shift in recent years has seen an increasing number of employers seeking to foster an informal ambience by forgoing the requirement for suits and formal clothing. While even traditionally smart City firms now operate a 'dress-down Friday', one survey claims that more than half of UK employers now allow casual dress throughout the week.

The trend for casual style at work became popular during the 1990s, following the lead of laid-back Californian internet and new technology companies. Employers seeking to evoke a relaxed, fashionable and forward-thinking environment began to encourage their workers to come in wearing whatever they felt comfortable in. Many found that the emphasis on individuality and creativity made for a happier, more productive working environment.

On the other hand, formal dress and business suits are not likely to disappear anytime soon. People wearing business suits are still seen as more professional and 'able'. In a recent survey 82 per cent of workers thought they should 'dress to impress' and 65 per cent found it easier to respect a colleague in a suit.

Some businesses have found that casual dress makes for a casual working attitude and a drop in professionalism - and have reverted to formal wear. Others have a bit of both worlds, with workers who have 'front-line' roles or who meet clients regularly dressing up, and the rest allowed to be more casual. A few without dress codes reverse the norm by having 'formal Fridays', when employees suit up at the end of the week. In the end, it is up to the employer to strike the right balance depending on the nature of the work, the outlook of their employees and the working environment they are trying to create.

Any employer operating a dress code must be aware of the equality and diversity issues. This might include being sensitive to the cultural and religious needs of employees and making provisions for them in dress requirements. It could also include treating one sex less favourably than the other. It's important that new employees know what to expect, so any dress policy should form part of an organisation's induction programme.

Acas has produced the Advisory booklet - The People Factor - engage your employees for business success, which touches on organisational culture and dress codes. Acas also gives advice, guidance and training on Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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