Loosen Up The Dress Codes, Shall We? – On Office Dress Codes

What’s in a name? Rather today one might ask what’s in a dress. The need to dress a certain type for a certain occasion has clearly taken a lot of people’s time. The need to ‘fit in’ has been discussed as one of the primary reasons to dress a particular way even when one is not comfortable in it. The question that one might ask is “is it our job to dress in a way that makes everyone in our workspace comfortable”? Call it “dress down Friday’s” or “business casuals”. Employees are always confused as to figure out how casual is ‘casual’ as they do not want to over-step the boundary of the liberty given to them and receive a letter from the HR.

Speaking of the corporate dress code scenario specifically in India, one knows that formals have to be worn by the employees on most workdays and casuals can be worn on Fridays or working Saturdays and this has been the practice for a long time now. However, it is important to understand that over time companies have realized how the freedom of dressing affects the creativity and productivity of the employee. Companies have understood that employees today consider dressing less formally as a perk. It would be fairly safe to say that the era of strict office dress code is coming to an end. The current times demand a higher focus on adaptive performance, agility, teamwork and multi-tasking rather than on ‘dress code’.

Many companies believe in the policy of ‘work without the show’ which primarily means that one can come to work and be just as productive without a suit as with one. Companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, AoL, LinkedIn, Twitter, Zappos and a few others follow this rule. Google’s tenth principle philosophy is “you can be serious without a suit”.

Companies like JP Morgan and Price Water Cooper (PWC), the largest professional service in the world and one of the Big Four auditors have also welcomed some fresh changes in their organization which included loosening up the dress codes. According to a current employee of PWC, the biggest coup was that they could wear jeans to work. “Signs like this are important in showing our people that we’re open to new ways of working”, according to the company in light of their policy changes.

One can notice that the policy of casual dressing is not just found in the new age companies but also in a lot of workplaces that have been there for a long time now. Studies have suggested that “you are what you wear” and this is one the main reasons why companies have dress codes.  The impression management and self-presentation theories have fed in a lot of ideas into people’s minds about how to be ‘socially desirable’ in every situation. Change is unnerving but it is also true that change is the only constant.  Professional pressures to conform to dressing preferences can be very restricting and it also does not guarantee employee productivity.

Office dress codes are getting more casual and relaxed and the trend is likely to continue for good. One could thank the ‘Start-Up’ culture as they call it or the millennials for this but it is true that it is an employee-driven market. If you can give the employees what they want, you can hope the same from them too.

Moitrayee Das

Moitrayee Das is a Ph.D. student from the school of Management and Labour Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.