A Practical Guide to Dress Code Etiquette

Dressing for Professional Success

How employees dress for work is among our clients’ hot topics. Rarely is the discussion about work attire being too formal, it’s more often about the boundaries for business dress going too far toward casual weekend wear. Even growing and new managers raise the point of how casual is too casual?

Most business professionals agree that a dress code that is more relaxed, and less formal is a good thing. In 1989 (our first year of operation), almost all men wore ties, collared shirts and suit jackets, and women wore skirts and nylons each day. Shirking stiff collars and nylons have no doubt made working lives easier!

Now the issue has become that grey zone where “smart casual” turned to “anything goes”. It seems that getting dress code just right is nearly impossible. The employer wants to be open-minded and clear, while ensuring that attire contributes appropriately to the organization’s culture. Employees may like to “dress the part”, or prefer to express their individuality, conserve on their clothing budget, or work in full comfort.

With no clear cut answer, there are steps employers can take to resolve confusion.

Levis 1992 Campaign

Dress Down History

The idea of leaving your business suit at home and dressing casually at work is said to have originated in the 1950s, when Hewlett-Packard introduced ‘Casual Fridays.’ They did this because Friday was the day that everyone pitched in at the warehouse, packaging products for shipment.

In 1992, Levi Strauss (the jean company) launched a marketing campaign to promote “Business Casual” at work, which included a guide that they sent to over 30,000 HR Managers in the United States. The result of their campaign: 51% of companies with 5,000 employees changed to a business casual dress code 5-days a week.

Source: businessinsider.com; metroactive.com


Start the Dialogue

In a larger organization, an informal online survey for employees could be a quick and easy start to help you define the ideal dress code. Another starting point could be meeting with or asking for input from your management, HR and leadership teams.

Define it

Take the mystery out of it, and let employees know what is appropriate, and what is not. You could post the dress code in the kitchen, add it to your company’s Intranet, send an email, or ask managers to communicate it. The best time to start the conversation is during the interview and offer process. With the desire to start off on the right foot and fit in, new employees are more apt to adhere to the dress code.

Communicate your dress code

If the lines are too blurred, allow some time for change to occur and   occasionally remind team members of basic expectations. The key time for reminders is when the seasons change, especially going into summer.

Can We Define it?

 According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, employers can dictate dress code as long as it does not “prohibit an employee from wearing an item of clothing or piece of jewelry required under the tenets of that employee’s religion.” (chrc-ccdp.ca)

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