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The importance of having a dress code in the Professional Services workplace

by Sellick Partnership | 13 February 2018

The 2018 Golden Globes saw the nominees and attendees wearing all-black at the awards ceremony to protest against sexual harassment. The next day, the demonstration swept the headlines, highlighting how what you wear can make an impact beyond you looking great. Oprah Winfrey commented that the all black protest was a “powerful symbol of solidarity”. 

I found this event extremely interesting and made me examine the power clothes can have in business, and why dressing in business-wear for work can enhance your career. Last summer for the entire month of August, Sellick Partnership employees were permitted to attend work every day in ‘dress down’. It was as though we were on school holidays and could enjoy the novelty of not wearing our ‘uniforms’ every day. 

It was fascinating to hear different colleagues’ opinions on the dress down experiment. Whilst some commented that it was great for boosting morale, claiming it created a sense of relationship building amongst peers – some employees used it as an excuse to strike up conversation using what their colleague was wearing as a talking point. Others found it affected their mind set and attitude towards work. It is this psychological element of dressing in ‘business attire’ that has provoked me to explore the positive and negative impacts dressing down can have within the professional services workplace:

It is one less decision to make in a morning
We are already faced with hundreds of choices each day: from what to have for breakfast to which task on my to-do list should I do first. Every day – consciously or unconsciously – we have to make decisions. By eliminating the option to dress in “whatever you want” for work, we are effectively streamlining our day from the offset. 

Mind set and attitude
It can be argued that dressing in business-wear increases productivity at work. Let’s say two employees turn up to work; one dresses in a tracksuit, the other in a suit. Whether or not we like to think of ourselves, studies show that around 80 percent of people evaluate other people’s appearance (survey by Allure.com). How you are dressed determines how you are addressed. The employee who dressed in the tracksuit on first glance can appear slack, whereas the employee who opted for the suit is likely to be perceived as having made an effort. From a mind-set perspective, studies show that the way we dress alters how we feel internally. In 2015, a study by Social Psychological and Personality Science asked participants to change into formal or casual clothing before taking cognitive tests. The results showed that those wearing the formal business attire increased abstract thinking (a crucial credential for creativity and decision-making).

Making a statement
The Golden Globes demonstration took the world by storm and so can you! The way you dress can increase feelings of power and authority, as demonstrated in the example above of the experience carried out by Social Psychological and Personality Science

The “just in case…” scenario
You never know when you will have to attend a spontaneous, unexpected meeting. Dressing smartly allows you to be prepared for anything the day throws at you. You are also more likely to feel confident in an important meeting with contacts you have not previously met if you are smartly presented in front of your clientele.

The novelty of “dress down” Fridays
The excitement of having a dress down day is removed when every day is dress down. Dress down days are a great way to boost morale. According to Love to Know, when people are dressed more casually – when workers across the entire workplace at all levels are wearing similar attire – they may be more likely to interact with people they wouldn't ordinarily feel comfortable approaching. It is easier to chat and share ideas with someone who is dressed similarly to you than with someone in more formal attire than you are wearing. This can lead to cultivating positive working relationships that will strengthen the overall team, and that's always a good thing for any business.

You wouldn’t be in the best frame of mind to do a fitness class if you were wearing a tailored jacket. Likewise, many of my colleagues found that during last summer’s experiment, they felt psychologically more productive when wearing “traditional” business attire.

In the words of Rachel Zoe, “style is a way of saying who you are without having to speak”. Dressing in business attire for work in a Professional Services office shows, in my opinion, a desire to be at work, and increases productivity and motivation amongst employees.

To read more blogs from the team at Sellick Partnership check out the insights section of our website