How To Set an Office Dress Code

Three experts offer advice on what work wear is office-acceptable.

Setting an Office Dress Code | BCBusiness

Three experts offer advice on what work wear is office-acceptable.

When it comes to the office dress code, corporate bankers have a simple choice: anything you want, so long as it’s a suit. But when an office embraces a more casual vibe, work-appropriate clothing is more open to interpretation. What style of jeans is office-acceptable on casual Fridays? Is a designer T-shirt acceptable, while a cheap-and-cheerful one isn’t? When is short too short? For the definitive word on setting wardrobe standards, we spoke with three experts: Lewisa Anciano, vice-president of people at Coast Capital Savings Credit Union; Diana Kilgour, principal of Diana Kilgour Image Consulting; and Ambrosia Humphrey, director of human resources at HootSuite Media Inc.

Consider Culture

All of our experts agree that when setting a dress code policy the first thing to consider is company culture. Maintaining a consistent brand message is important, says Anciano: “For us, our brand is very casual and very friendly, but we are still a financial institution so we have to balance.” Humphrey echoed this sentiment, saying that as a hip, high-tech startup, HootSuite’s dress code extends well beyond the typical jacket-and-tie combination. “When your CEO goes to interviews wearing flannel, you’ve got to be pretty broad,” she notes.

Start On the Right Foot

It’s always best to address potential wardrobe issues before they arise and, for employers, that can be as early as the first interview when “you can get a pretty good sense of what people’s dress will be like,” says Kilgour. Humphrey agrees, saying that the hiring process is often a “good time for you to set any expectations” and decide if an employee will need any guidance as far as following your company’s dress policy is concerned.

Be Open and Clear

Defining “acceptable” can be subjective, so it’s best to be clear about expectations. Kilgour says, “There’s an advantage to having certain parameters spelled out.” If everyone knows that jeans are unacceptable at your office, there’s no excuse for coming in dressed in denim. To ensure everyone is on the same page at Coast Capital, the credit union held a fashion show to advise employees on dress code policy changes. “It was a fun way of presenting it in a manner that’s not threatening,” comments Anciano.

Allow Flexibility

Defining rules is important, but sticking to the letter of the law across the board is often not the best policy. Your staff, for example, won’t all have the same budget for shopping, or the same style sensibilities. Both Coast Capital and HootSuite are flexible when it comes to enforcing rules. Humphrey says that policies exist to fall back on, if needed, but that HootSuite rarely enforces them in a proactive manner. The same goes for Anciano, who prefers to treat dress codes as “guidelines” rather than rules written in stone.