Navigating Dress Codes in the Workplace

Jade Hynes
October 26, 2022

Fashion defines a human in many different ways. According to Hive, how you dress can be tied to your productivity. As you consider governing how you require your team to show up to work, keep in mind with great power, comes the great responsibility to develop great (and inclusive) employee policies.

Why Are Dress Codes Important in the Workplace?

As a scaling organization, a dress code policy may be the last thing on your mind. With a need to focus on creating other policies or prioritizing recruitment, why is a dress code policy subject so critical?  

Dress codes help you and your employees present yourselves as professionals within the context of your employer brand. When you identify what is considered appropriate, you’ll need to plan your approach to dress code strategically. Base your policy on how you see your organization growing and how you want to be perceived by your employees and your customers. 

There are businesses of all sizes, with different expectations of professionalism, and dress code options to reflect each of them.

Decoding Common Dress Codes

Professionalism is defined simply as the competence or skill expected of a professional. When it comes to decoding dress codes, evaluate professionalism within your industry. Next, determine how your dress code is an extension of the company culture you are attempting to foster.  There’s a multitude of options when it comes to dress codes, but each has common expectations to define your company’s approach to professionalism.

First, harmony between an employee’s individual expression and the business needs is your main objective. Your specific guidelines are dictated by the type of jobs your team is doing.  Mechanics at car dealerships are required to wear protective items like gloves, goggles, and flame-resistant coveralls. Salespeople in the showroom, who are performing less hazardous tasks, report to work in business casual attire, such as polo shirts and khaki pants. Both departments are representing the same brand and product, but their dress codes are governed by their job responsibilities.

As times change, and societal expectations evolve, it’s important your dress code policies acknowledge the different ways professionals choose to express themselves through their outfit choices. You can still set expectations for professionalism, without limiting individuals based on their gender expression, what they are comfortable wearing or outdated societal norms. As you develop your dress code policies, focus on the requirements of the job, your definition of professionalism, and an employee’s ability to project professionalism, while still giving employees the opportunity to authentically express themselves at work. 

Let’s take a deeper look at some of the most common dress codes.

Business Casual

Business casual has evolved over the years, but normally requires trousers, mid-length skirts, suit jackets, and button-downs. Jeans may be more common now, along with boots and sneakers.  

This approach to dress code allows employees to present themselves as professionals while maintaining a relaxed atmosphere. Your team’s appearance should still be clean, pressed, and well-maintained while avoiding ripped or discolored clothing. A good rule of thumb for team members to consider is showing up  “photo ready”.  If they wouldn’t wear it for your website they may want to reconsider it for the office.

Business Professional

A slightly more conventional approach to a dress code is Business Professional.  

Business formal wear is common in white-collar work environments.  This dress code policy typically includes dark or neutral colors, silk blouses, tailored suits, ties, and polished formal shoes. You’ll want to avoid gender-normative boxes for your employees when choosing a business professional dress code to ensure you are remaining inclusive and creating a true sense of belonging for everyone on your team. You can still set expectations for dress, without outlining specific items that specific genders are required to wear.  

Smart Casual or Casual

Smart casual is your most informal of the three approaches to dress code. Smart casual dress code policies may allow T-shirts, pullovers, and jeans. As informal as smart casual can be, you want to avoid items that read super casual, like flip-flops and baseball caps. Always make sure you’re still presentable. You still want your employees to meet the “photo ready” standard.   Permitting smart casual dress says you believe you don’t need a three-piece suit to look professional.

How to Create a Dress Code Policy 

Now that we’ve established how pivotal this policy is, let’s start with key questions: How would I like to be perceived by my customers? What is my team expected to do and how are they expected to do it? And how can I remain inclusive and create a sense of belonging? With the evolution of dress codes over time, it’s important to recognize humans express themselves in different ways.  

Review your day-to-day processes and how other leading professionals in your industry are presenting themselves. An appropriate dress code is based on the field you’re in and the individual job requirements of each contributor. In order to maintain an inclusive environment you’ll need to consider that every step of the way.  

Consider your core values. Just like they influence your recruiting, company culture, and business practices, your core values are the heart of how you operate. How your team shows up to work will reflect that standard. This is a great opportunity to partner with your HR professional and identify how your dress code reflects company culture and employer brand.

Different situations may require different dress codes. Clients may interpret professionalism differently, which can impact your expectations for dress, so clearly outline your expectations for internal and external facing work. Showing up appropriately will demonstrate competence, and integrity, and build trust between customers and employees. Allow for flexibility within your own team setting. It’s appropriate to expect smart casual while in the office but business professional when meeting a client.  

When you provide clear guidelines pertaining to dress codes, you’ll be preparing your team for any professional situation.

Need Help Navigating or Creating Your Dress Code Policy? 

At Red Clover, we leverage our versatile backgrounds and diversity of thought to fine-tune dress code policies to reflect your individual business in our handbook creation process. Our perspective is unique and our main goal is to see your business succeed. You’ll find we take a progressive approach to dress code – we get the job done in jeans and Chucks – but know how to show up for our more formal clients.  If you’re a scaling business looking to define your culture and policies, contact us to get the conversation started.

Related Articles


The Results

Tech Companies

A 70 headcount pharmaceutical technology firm needed support in company culture alignment and integrating company core values in business interactions internally and with external customers. As a leader in medical software, there was also a need to guarantee legal and regulatory compliance in every aspect of the business, especially as it scaled to serve an expanding customer base.

See The Full Case Study

For News and Events

Sign Up For News and Insights on HR, Change Management and Strategies.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.