Formal or casual? The 3 advantages of updating your professional dress code

The way people dress in workplace environments varies from business to business and what’s considered a typical business dress code has evolved over the last few decades, but is there an argument for going casual?

Both small businesses and large corporates are becoming more open minded in their professional dress code policies and some businesses have gone so far as to allow their employees to come to work dressed casually.

But the question is – why has this evolution taken place and what impacts does your professional dress code have on your workplace?

Before taking a look at the benefits of this change, it’s important to understand why dress code policies existed in the first place.


Uniforms and career identities: What’s the point of a dress code policy?


There are various professions that require their staff to wear uniforms (particularly in the services industry) – and the reality is, these uniforms have always served a number of important purposes.

From the customer’s perspective, uniforms make it easier for staff members to be identified. Whether you’re in a hotel and looking for help with your bags, or in a supermarket and looking for a certain aisle, when staff members wear uniforms it doesn’t take long to pick them out from the crowd.

From the employer’s point of view, having staff wear a uniform engenders a feeling of belonging, encouraging employees to automatically feel like they’re part of a team. It breaks away boundaries and puts everyone on an equal playing field – something that has proven to bring top results.

When it comes to the more corporate-type companies like law firms, banks, real estate firms and so on, the dress code (or uniform) has always been formal business attire. The suit-and-tie effect is supposed to show a sense of professionalism, class and success – all of which are important to people working in the corporate scene.

But as time has progressed and more people open their own startup businesses, the traditional approach to clothing in the workplace has changed.


Why are professional dress code policies changing?


1. Casual dress signals to others that you’re different – in a good way

In today’s competitive market, it particularly important for business owners to demonstrate their individuality and make their business seem distinct to any competitors in the market.

According to Trevor Townsend, Chief Executive of Startupbootcamp Australia, the reason why startup founders and many small business owners have opted to move away from formal dress codes and come to work wearing casual clothing is largely because they want to “signal to others” that they are looking to separate themselves from corporate and “want to be judged by what they do differently, not by how they fit in”.

2. Casual dress is more comfortable

The truth is, the transition from formal to casual dress in the workplace comes together with a general change in attitude for many people.

Today, many startup founders work around the clock and forgo many of life’s luxuries in order to show their point of difference.

With this in mind, Townsend explained that wearing formal clothing in such an environment can be quite uncomfortable and unnecessary.

“Founders usually start out working at home and putting on a suit to sit in the ‘garage’ is probably not necessary and certainly is uncomfortable,” Townsend told The Pulse.

“As they start venturing out and meeting customers and advisors, keeping their casual clothes is much more practical than getting changed to go to a meeting.”

3. Casual dress breaks down hierarchical boundaries

In recent times, there has been a push for work cultures that remove hierarchical boundaries and treat everyone involved in the organisation equally. There are many ways to achieve this,  but according to Townsend, casual dress in the workplace can be a sure way to achieve this sense of equality.

READ: 3 key benefits of a positive company culture

“Traditional business leaders dress formally to stand out and show authority. The modern leaders can be quite different – they work to inspire staff rather than manage by authority, and therefore dressing casually breaks down the barriers between workers and management.”


Casual dress in the corporate scene


While the benefits brought above are mainly relevant to the start-up and SME space, there has also been a huge culture shift within the top end of town, with large corporates introducing various initiatives that allow (and encourage) their employees to take a more casual approach to the way they dress for work.

In particular, just over a year ago, ANZ Bank came out with an initiative called ‘Dress for your day’, which was designed to get rid their regular dress code policies and empower their employees to use their own discretion in deciding what to wear based on their daily schedule.

When asked about what he thought corporates and larger businesses were heading with their dress code policies in the mid to long-term future, Townsend believed that the corporate world has already turned a corner and is quickly moving towards an all-casual future.

READ: The business case for increasing diversity

“When Obama started regularly appearing on TV without a tie, I knew that we had crossed some sort of threshold.

“If you feel that you need formal dresswear to be effective in the workplace, then you are living in the past.

“The corporate world is changing.”

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