Kansas City’s summer temperatures can make dressing for the day a sticky challenge. As a business owner, you may be wondering whether a reminder about “appropriate workplace attire” needs to be on the agenda. Like it or not, beach-themed fashions may have already flip-flopped into the office.

Dress codes have been a hot topic because defining business casual is confusing. Navigating issues around employees’ fashion sense can feel like a hassle.

However, with today’s more relaxed work environments, it helps everyone to have parameters around workplace attire expectations to avoid any wardrobe blunders.

The long-term benefits can also improve your company’s brand image.

Why Casual?

What did you wear to the office today? Your outfit, most likely, is certainly less formal than what was worn a couple decades ago when men’s and women’s closets were dominated by shoulder-padded suits (following John T. Malloy’s rules on “Dress For Success”).

Office attire shifted in the early ’90s when Silicon Valley’s casual Fridays turned into dressing casually all week long—and the fashion industry took notice of this new workwear trend.

No matter how you say it—smart casual, business casual or just casual—people are perplexed. Expecting your employees to crack the appearance code on their own allows for office-wear blunders. With millennials (and now Gen Z-ers) growing up during these more casual times, bewilderment around dressing for the office will continue. Yet, we wonder why the youth doesn’t get what it means to dress professionally or know what to wear to an interview.

Why Appearance Matters

Anymore, it’s not so much about Stacy London’s “what to wear, what not to wear” but more about the “WHY.”

Does it really matter what you wear? You bet it does! And as a company, understanding why dress matters could affect your bottom line.

Did you know that dressing more professionally than casually increases abstract thinking and gives people a broader perspective? According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “wearing nicer clothes may raise one’s confidence level, affect how others perceive the wearer, and in some cases even boost the level of one’s abstract thinking, the type in which leaders and executives engage.”

Two other important factors about fashion and dress code to keep in mind are:

Clothing is a nonverbal form of communication. People make snap judgments based on what you wear and how you wear it. You don’t want to risk making the wrong impression!

Clothing relates to branding. Your employees are “brand ambassadors,” so make sure their clothing choices best represent your company, both internally and externally.

Business owners should consider these scenarios related to fashion:

  • Are you 100 percent confident your sales team is making the right impression when they meet with a client or customer for the first time?
  • Does the sales team look fashionably current, professional and up-to-date (not dowdy, dated or schlumpy)?
  • Are your employees representing the right company image when they attend networking events?
  • An employee is presenting in front of a large group of business people. Does the outfit convey credibility?
  • Are employees paying attention to details such as making sure clothing fits properly and appropriately? (Not too tight, baggy or distracting.)

Employees appreciate today’s casual work atmosphere, including the freedom to be more fashionably creative. If your company has loosened its tie, but you don’t want to loosen standards, defining a dress code will allow you to describe what professionalism (or casualism) looks like within your company culture.

The goal is to educate your employees so they have more apparel awareness. Fashion is a powerful social tool and can offer enhanced professional development opportunities while improving the company’s image and strengthening its brand.