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The Dress Code Dilemma

Going more casual is one way companies can compete for employees

By Jake Kratzenberg


“And the sign said, ‘Long-haired freaky people need not apply’

So I tucked my hair up under my hat, and I went in to ask him why.

He said, ‘You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do.’

So I took off my hat, I said, ‘Imagine that. Huh! Me workin’ for you!’”

The lyrics of Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs”—first released in 1971—conveyed a frustration with dress codes in the workplace that still exists nearly 50 years later. The days of three-piece suits with a fedora have long passed in the business world. While there may still be some who would prefer to continue that look, the millennials currently entering the workplace want a more casual dress code.

What is this look? For men, it seems a little easier to define: tie or no tie. And a polo or button-down shirt conveys a more casual look. Men should also have a well-cut, plain-colored gray, black or blue blazer available if they feel a little too casual. Some offices now allow denim, but dress slacks or khakis are a safe bet. When it comes to shoes, stay away from sandals or sneakers; dress shoes or loafers are a more appropriate choice.

Women’s business casual is harder to define, depending on the profession, time of year or location. However, skirts and dresses that are at the knee or just below are almost always acceptable. When it comes to pants, make sure they have a professional cut and avoid tight-fitting leggings/yoga pants and loud prints or colors. Tops and blouses should not be too low cut. A blazer is a professional staple that will never go out of style. Shoes should be closed-toe heels or flats; stay away from sneakers and sandals.

What can your company do to update the dress code to meet today’s workforce?

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Visit your competitor. Are they more lenient on tattoos or hair colors? If so, they may be out-recruiting you. The current workforce wants options and individuality. Remember, appearance does not dictate skills. However, offensive or vulgar clothing have no place in the workplace and should be avoided at all costs.

Remember safety when changing the dress code. Depending on the job, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations may dictate highly visible clothing and closed-toe shoes. Hair length may be a potential danger, but can be addressed by pulling hair back into a ponytail or bun or using a hat or net.

Lastly, be flexible and expect both positive and negative feedback. Most importantly, listen to your employees. Dress codes are for the many, not the few. There will always be one person who goes to the extreme but there’s no need to punish a group over the one.

The new workforce is speaking. Are you listening?

Jake Kratzenberg is chief operating officer of The Lane Report.