Office Dress Code – Formal or Relaxed?

There is a prominent debate raging about companies choices of Office Dress Code. It is between those in favour of formal wear for offices and those who feel it is time to move on and have a more relaxed smart casual dress code. Personally, I’m on the fence so felt that in this post it’d be worth weighing up the pro’s and con’s of both schools of thought to see what…err…suits?

Formal Wear

By formal wear I mean suits and tie’s for men and business suits or business dress for the ladies. No trainers, t-shirts or shorts in sight.

Smart Casual

I am defining smart casual as ranging between chino’s, shirts and loafers at one end and jeans, trainers and t-shirts at the other. Or dresses, t-shirts and alike for the ladies. No suits, but then again, no scruffy jogging bottoms either. Think respectable, smart, but relaxed.

Why the debate in the first place?

Some businesses feel that a suit and formal wear is needed in the office. It’s a place of professionalism and business. Dress the part. I can understand that. Other businesses feel that times have changed, and power dressing is all a bit 1990’s. People should feel more relaxed and chilled at work.

The purpose of a dress code

The truth is that a dress code is designed to re-emphasize the cultural feel of an office that those dictating the dress code want to see. And it is how that vision is interpreted that defines the dress code.

Some in favour of a formal dress code will argue that it’s part of the standards and expectations of business. There is a psychological edge that comes into place when it comes to power dressing. So, try walking down the street in a smart three piece suit and see if people move out of your way voluntarily. Then try the same thing but wearing casual jeans and a t-shirt. I’ve walked down the street in both dress codes and notice a marked difference in how others act toward me.

On the other hand, how is that important or relevant in an office? Surely, if everybody is wearing a suit anyway what difference does it make? Are you trying to intimidate people to move out of your way? Why? Is that good for your business?

The Performance Difference in a Dress Code

In reality there isn’t formal evidence of whether a certain type of dress code improves performance because it is too challenging and impractical for anyone to accurately measure this. There are a number of factors that can affect performance in a work environment and pinpointing whether it is the dress code as the root cause is complicated to say the least.

However, studies have shown that on certain individuals how they dress can affect their performance levels. But what complicates things more is that these studies have been conducted by those on a number of occasions with arguably pro or anti formal wear biases. Therefore, the evidence is skewed and difficult to extrapolate any reliable level of accuracy from.

That being said there is enough evidence to suggest that for some people a suit will improve their performances. However, for others a more comfortable style dress code will improve theirs. It is safe to say that it depends on the individual in question as to whether it will have any effect and if it does, by wearing what.

What Suits your business

The most reliable outcome based on this is that the dress code should suit the type of business that you want it to be. And you should therefore try to hire people that are likely to perform better based on the dress code that you stipulate. Although this will have minor differences to most people so it would seem, there are those that it will add a performance benefit to.

This is open to debate, but some studies suggest that those with certain character traits will benefit from what they wear. Here is a general list of those traits and the alleged benefit dependent on dress code. Please note that these are the more standout extreme types of character traits.

Benefit from Formal Dress Code:

Narcissistic, Arrogant, Alpha, Resentful, Aggressive, Assertive

Benefit from Smart Casual/Relaxed Dress Code:

Shy, Socially Awkward, Passive, Uptight, Reserved

General Conclusion

The information available would suggest that the majority of people would recognise little to no notable benefit from their workplace dress code. However, a small number of people with the above character traits would see a benefit from a particular dress code.

So, if you like your workplace to be filled exclusively with aggressive alpha’s with resentful and narcissistic tendencies have them wear suits. But if you prefer your workplace to be filled with socially awkward pacifists who are a bit uptight and reserved, have a more relaxed dress code. Otherwise it’s purely down to your preference.

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