To be dress-coded or not to be dress-coded

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To be dress-coded or not to be dress-coded 

Are dress codes outdated and resented or timeless and useful?

Are dress codes a necessary and needed tool or a stifling of personal expression and freedom?

Smart Casual – the dress code we all love and hate! Does it mean smart jeans, no tie, flat shoes – I guess it depends a bit on who you’re asking and why you’re asking! You may remember when dress-down Fridays first became a thing and there were people dressed ready to go straight out from the office dressed to party and those who thought it was a duvet day at work and rocked up in their onesie!

There is no question that we have seen some seismic shifts in the workplace over the past few years and one of those shifts has been around attitudes to how we dress for work.  Particularly since Covid when so many people were working at home… pJs and tracksuits were becoming the norm on teams’ calls.  

What may once have been a banal topic of conversation, what to wear and what passes as acceptable has become quite the debate! We get asked the question frequently about dress code and what to wear for an interview. 

You may recall back in 2016, 150,000 people were signing the petition when a temporary receptionist was sent home from work for not wearing a pair of high-heeled shoes. Then again in 2019, Virgin Atlantic hit the headlines with their new radical uniform policy. Who would have thought that clothing and what to wear to work would take up so much of our brain power? How many of us have left the house having had two or three outfit changes and a major wardrobe malfunction before 8 am! 

Coming out the other side of a pandemic, it seems there have been rethinks, changes of heart and perhaps even epiphanies over what we now believe is acceptable to wear for online meetings, in the office, client meetings and so forth. There is now a substantial contingent who feel it their right to be left up to their discretion to judge what best to wear for work and interview.

Is this wave of opinion a good thing or have we just been left to our own devices for too long and need to be brought back in line and reminded that we should all be striving to put our absolute best foot or shoe, in this instance, forward?

Let’s talk interviews – years ago most people would have pulled their best suit or outfit out of the wardrobe and gone dressed to impress and thought nothing of it but as we alluded to earlier things have moved on… isn’t it now the case to factor in the sector, type of business, location and where and who you’re meeting as to what is going to work best on the day. Let’s face it turning up in a suit and tie isn’t likely to work for a funky start-up in Shoreditch! Equally, converse and ripped jeans probably aren’t going to be the best look for meeting the MD of a more traditional business.  

You may have answered our recent poll to gauge your thoughts on whether dress codes for interviews have changed post-COVID. Interestingly, only 39% of you still thought it is best to “dress to impress”. On the flip side, 51% felt that “smart /casual usually works and notably, 9% of you threw caution to the wind crying “Who cares, just be yourself”!

Taking on board that 9%, many could argue that being yourself combined with doing a great job and being a brand ambassador outweighs just following a dress code. Does being yourself at work enable a far greater individual output in creativity and productivity and lead to increased job satisfaction and engagement, thereby benefitting all involved? We’ve talked about gender and the impact that’s had on the workplace, but we haven’t discussed the Gen Z population – who have a different approach – having interviewed a graduate recently their thinking was that joining an online interview wearing a beanie hat and a pair of beats headphones was OK! To be fair when joining the workplace post covid why would they ever have needed anything that smart to wear?   

We guess, in conclusion, there is no one size fits all and the recent saying ‘dress for the day ahead’ is really coming into its own. For us as recruiters, we see a crucial part of the job as being able to advise on this. We’ll talk about the culture and what to expect at an interview with one of our clients. Our ‘personalised’ approach allows us to get to know the client in advance and share some of these insights with you to alleviate the ‘what shall I wear to interview’ headache and in the meantime we’ll work with our own HRLife dress-code … fairly smart-casual!!

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