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Time for a work wardrobe re-haul for the office worker?

Is now the time to switch formal work attire for a more relaxed and flexible workplace dress code?

During the height of the pandemic, a significant number of office workers along with many others, had to move from working in the office to working at home. For many, this change was accompanied by a change in work attire. It may have been a cautious transition at first, with workers ensuring that their upper bodies, which appeared in the video conferencing screen, were dressed formally. Gradually however, shirts and ties were replaced with polo-shirts and then t-shirts, and blazers were replaced with cardigans and jumpers.

Workers began to realise that a gain in comfort and ease didn’t have to equate with a loss in skill or productivity. Accountants could still achieve whilst dressed in joggers and marketing executives could still deliver whilst dressed in hoodies.

Perhaps then, now is the time for organisations to consider updating their workplace dress codes so that they better reflect working reality. ‘Dress for your client’ or ‘Dress for the occasion’ dress codes could help deliver this.

There are of course workplaces in which strict dress codes need to be adhered to, such as for health and safety reasons. For many other workplaces though, the need to be smartly dressed only applies for a relatively small percentage of the time; predominantly when the employee is representing the organisation externally, such as meeting a client or customer, attending a networking event or delivering a sales pitch.

Now is the time for organisations to consider updating their workplace dress codes so that they better reflect working reality. ‘Dress for your client’ or ‘Dress for the occasion’ dress codes could help deliver this.

A ‘dress for your client’ dress code, essentially allows workers to dress casually most of the time, provided the attire is not offensive and is clean and tidy, and only demands formal attire for certain situations. The success of such a code is reliant on employers trusting their employees to appropriately judge the formality of an occasion.

Trust has been an important element in this period of change for the world of work. However, where trust is present, a ‘dress for the occasion’ dress code can provide a number of other benefits:

  • Cost of living – with the country on the brink of potentially the worst cost of living crisis in a century, a flexible dress code reduces the need or pressure to own a number of different suits or formal outfits and provides workers with the opportunity to be more frugal with their workwear budget.
  • Heatwaves – this summer, the UK experienced three heatwaves with the met office reporting that temperatures exceeded 40°C for the first time on record. With certain organisations’ dress codes prohibiting the wearing of shorts, a number of men turned up to their workplaces wearing skirts in defiance of the rigidity of their workplace dress codes. A ‘dress for the occasion/circumstances’ dress code would allow for more flexibility to dress appropriately for the weather. It should also help dispel the sex discrimination accusations that a “no shorts” policy could encourage.
  • Sex discrimination – less prescriptive ‘dress for the circumstances’ policies, which entrust the employee to correctly judge what attire is appropriate, are arguably less likely to lead to sex discrimination issues. This is because more prescriptive policies which (for example) demand that females wear heels, detail the required skirt length or opacity of workwear, or prescribe the level of make up or types of hair styles that can be worn, can make some female workers feel uncomfortable and sexualised by their employer. Though dress policies for men and women do not have to be identical, the standards imposed should be equivalent to help ensure the requirements are lawful.

If your organisation is ready to update its dress code policy to better reflect today’s world of work, or if you are concerned that your organisation’s dress code could be considered unlawful, please do not hesitate to contact our lawyers. 

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This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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