Casual attire is the worst! At many a companies I have worked for we have offered “Casual” dress as a benefit or perk of employment, whether that meant Casual Fridays, a relaxed dress code during the summer or a Jeans for Charity campaign. Inevitably, a casual dress code policy sets up the slippery slope of what or who (the employee or the employer) defines appropriate from inappropriate attire. In summer time, especially, what constitutes casual becomes a spectrum ranging from your basic jeans and sneakers ensemble to what one would wear rolling into the club. This leads to a mounting level of complaints from “old fuddy-duddies” about too-tight dresses, too short-shorts, cleavage revealing tops and man sandals that then leads to the passive-aggressive “Dress Code Reminder” email from Human Resources.
As an HR professional extraordinaire, I hate casual dress as-a-perk. Not because I hate perks, not because I hate hearing complaints and not because I hate sending passive-aggressive emails, though those last two things are annoying. No, I hate casual dress code because personal appearance in a professional setting matters. Good, bad, right or wrong, a polished appearance changes the way you do what you do, it changes the way your colleagues and business partners approach you and it contributes to the opportunities you receive in your company. Much like making your bed in the morning signals a start to the day ahead, dressing the part mentally prepares one to bring it at work.
Picture, if you will, a project meeting in which you have to delegate major aspects of a project. All things being equal, are you going to delegate that super important action item to Associate A dressed in a button-down collared shirt and slacks or Associate B dressed in cargo pants, a Def Leppard Concert T-Shirt and ratty sneakers? Associate A sends the message that they care about what they do, they care about the success of the company and they view their fellow colleagues as internal customers of the company. In short, Associate A gives a shit. Associate B does not.
Okay, okay, okay, I hear the arguments, I get it. Casual dress is a benefit, employees like it, employees can be themselves, employees feel more comfortable, etc… And perhaps, in a tech start-up, working 3rd shift writing code, no one cares that you are working in your PJ’s. But, I bet you that same pajama-wearing IT geek still wore his spiffy suit that Mom picked out to the interview at the tech start-up for the 3rd shift programming job. And why? Because appearance matters, it gets you in the door, it sends the message that you care, it demonstrates that your the employee who is gonna kill it on that super important project.