Bridge Insights

Has Business Casual Fallen Out Fashion? Why Your in-Office Dress Code Policy Deserves a Second Look

Feb 15, 2021

When we compare 2019 to where we are today, many of us have experienced a drastic change in our work wardrobe, and that’s largely thanks to the shift many businesses made to remote work. With uncertainty surrounding the future of working from home, many employees have lingering questions about the future of the blazers and blouses collecting dust in their closets. Has the term business casual gone out the window with our Oxfords and booties?

When it is finally time to return to in-office work (if that ever happens), what does the future of workplace attire hold? Although it’s safe to say sweatpants haven’t replaced slacks permanently, we can assume that the fashion norms of 2020 will have some influence over what appropriate attire will look like.

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Appearing Professional vs Being Professional

When we look at acceptable office wear throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, we can see the trend of corporate fashion becoming more relaxed. One would think that yoga pants would be the natural progression after jeans in the workplace. Given 2020 and the shift to working from home, that’s not *technically* incorrect. Webinars and virtual meetings have made a “fashion mullet” (professional on top, pajamas on bottom) the de-facto workplace uniform.

But beyond that, if you were to pop on an impromptu video call, you might catch your colleagues wearing a sweatshirt or graphic tee and/or catch a cameo appearance from a pet or child. The permeation of a more casual and laidback approach to conducting business, of course, has its cons along with its pros, but most of us would agree that the world doesn’t end simply because your cat gave everyone on your Zoom meeting a front-row seat to its back end (or you couldn’t figure out how to take off your cat filter).

All of this builds up to a collective shift in what professional looks like in terms of company culture. More and more leaders are questioning if requiring belts and business slacks are necessary to successfully do our jobs.

The Conflict Between Comfort and Corporate

Intuitively, we know that our outward appearance and presentation is an important part of successful job performance. Think of going on an interview: the person in khakis and a button-down shirt sends the message they are more serious about the job opportunity than the candidate in ripped jeans and a stained tee.

Even still, there is something to be said for feeling comfortable and your overall productivity. According to a 2017 study, 61% of employees are more productive when their employer’s dress code is more relaxed.

Combining that with the benefits to productivity and employee welfare that remote work brings, there is something to be said for reassessing the dress code if bringing your team back into the office is in the cards.

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A Wardrobe That Works for Your Work

According to that same 2017 study mentioned earlier, 80% of people who work in an environment with a dress code didn’t find them useful. Leaders need to ask if their dress code serves a purpose and build a policy from there.

Consider the impact mandatory attire rules have on employee safety, productivity, and welfare; the 2021 employment buzzword is, after all, flexibility.  Ask yourself if allowing jeans in the office five days a week instead of only on Fridays will impact the bottom line of your business. Will a sweatshirt affect the level of customer service your call center employees provide to your customers? What message will these changes send to your team? Keep in mind, there is no correct way to answer these questions; each work sector has different standards, and safety is always paramount (no Crocs on the plant floor, sorry!).

When leaders take into account shifting public views on professionalism, the level of formal dress needed for effective business operations, and build a policy that meets that, you can be sure your organization’s corporate dress code policy will always be in style.