Dress for success

A dress code policy isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. “What’s ‘professional’ in one environment may be stuffy in another,” says Paul Falcone, a human resources executive and author of 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees. A dress code policy establishes minimum standards of acceptable appearance. Falcone explains how to create one that works.

Look to industry norms.
Consider how competitors dress, as industry competition often sets the standard for appropriate dress code, Falcone says. “What’s most important is the image you wish your employees to convey to clients and customers.”

Outline the general expectations.

Company policies typically start with a requirement that employees present a clean, professional, neat appearance. Details regarding business attire—business casual, casual, and the like—typically address shoes and accessories, and may even include a note about excessive perfumes or colognes, Falcone says. Some companies also provide guidance about overly revealing clothing choices
or even facial hair.

Consider intracompany differences.
Some employers may differentiate dress code expectations for front-facing versus back-office employees. For example, an insurance brokerage or investment firm may require front-line employees to wear business suits while back-office support workers can dress business casual. However, don’t make the differences too stark. For example, you can enforce an overall dress code that is professional and conservative even if some employees aren’t required to wear suits and ties.

Lay out violations.

Don’t make employees guess what’s unacceptable. Explicitly state any clothing styles that may be inappropriate or offensive and list examples, like T-shirts, sandals, and jeans with holes in them.

Add exemptions.
The last thing you want is for your policy to set your diversity and inclusion efforts back. “It’s important for every dress code policy to include an exemption stating that clothing and grooming styles dictated by religion or ethnicity will be considered on a case-by-case basis and may be deemed exempt from the policy,” Falcone says. In some cases, dress code policies may be influenced by state laws. For example, last July, California became the first state to ban employers from instituting grooming policies that penalize employees for wearing natural hairstyles such as Afros and dreadlocks.

Explain the consequences.

Tell employees what happens if they don’t comply. Include a caveat stating that employees not properly attired may be sent home to change or may even face progressive disciplinary action, Falcone says.