Is there Room for Fashion in the Workplace?

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

I thought it interesting to explore how fashion and style intersect with policy in the workplace and consider how personal authenticity can be expressed through dress codes and clothing choices. In 2020, the discussion surrounding appropriate office attire has become particularly relevant as many companies move to a work-from-home model. To illustrate my points, I will use case examples from some of today’s most progressive organisations.

The first thing to understand is that there is a difference between ‘workplace fashion’ and ‘professional dress code’. Workplace fashion refers to an individual’s choice of clothing for work or professional situations, while professional dress code relates to guidelines set by employers about what type of clothes are deemed acceptable for their employees. While these two concepts are often intertwined, they should be seen as separate entities when examining fashion in the workplace.

When considering workplace fashion, it is essential that individuals take into account policies and guidelines set by their employers. If you’re not sure if your workplace has one – ask your manager or check out the intranet if you have one. Most places I have worked have it listed there. For example, some companies may have restrictions on jewellery or piercings; others may have strict rules regarding tattoos and visible body art; while still others may have limitations on colour schemes or even specific brands that must be worn at all times while working. It is also important to remember that certain professions such as law enforcement officers come with very specific uniform requirements which must always be adhered to when on shift (or even when off duty).

However, whilst adhering to company policy is undoubtedly important, so too is being true to yourself and expressing your personal style through clothing choices at work. This can mean anything from adding a statement piece (such as a scarf or headband) to an otherwise conservative outfit or simply wearing colours that make you feel confident and comfortable throughout the day. Many successful companies recognise the value of allowing their staff members the freedom to express themselves through clothing choices – recognising that it can help build trust within teams and foster creativity in problem solving scenarios.

Take Google for example: In 2014 they decided against imposing a strict dress code on their employees stating instead that they wanted people “to feel free to express themselves within our business environment”. This attitude has had beneficial effects not only on team morale but also productivity levels: Research conducted by Harvard Business School concluded that relaxed dress codes could lead up to 8% higher performance results. Similarly Airbnb allow their employees greater room for self-expression through an informal dress code where “anything goes – except flip flops!” In 2019 Wall Street heavyweights Goldman Sachs announced that is was relaxing its dress code policies. The company said its new policy would allow employees to adopt a more “flexible” attire. Even the big companies are loosening up.

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On the opposite side of this debate sits those who believe firmly in traditional models; such as retailer J Crew who require all store staff members wear company issued uniforms. There are many advantages for opting for this approach: it creates consistency across teams; allows customers easy identification of staff members; shows loyalty from employees towards employers etc. However critics argue this kind of approach can stifle individuality amongst workers leading them feeling demotivated or uninspired if they do not identify with what they are asked to wear each day.

Contentious point: setting a dress code can be a legitimate mandate (at least in many countries) for employers and, for those that do, there is no entitlement to being free to wear what you want. If the policy says what you have to wear (and what not to wear), that’s the rule, and you have no cause for complaint. As long as the policy is enforced consistently, that is. Bear in mind that certain protected groups have certain allowances (for example, Sikh males are allowed to wear turbans and this allowance is protected by law).

Ultimately then there needs to be balance between following company policy/procedure whilst still allowing individuals space within which they can express themselves through clothing options: After all individuals should feel proud both inside and out when representing their place of work – something which cannot easily be achieved if everyone looks exactly alike! As discussed above there are multiple ways organisations can achieve this balance ranging from relaxed non-uniform approaches right through stricter uniform regulations – finding what works best for your company culture/team dynamics should be top priority here!

So overall then there definitely IS room for fashion in the workplace – providing we understand both sides of the equation i) following procedures/policies ii) allowing individuals freedom/space within which they can express themselves authentically via clothing choices . By taking into account both these aspects organisations can create positive working environments where everyone feels comfortable enough both mentally AND physically!

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