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One of the most defining aspects of a workplace’s culture is the style of dress. Typically, if you’re expected to don a suit and tie, it’s a more buttoned up (literally) environment with client-facing activity. These formal dress codes are often associated with companies in the finance or law realms. Less formal offices tend to employ people for more behind-the-scenes work (think a young tech company), where something like jeans and Allbirds are standard. There are also companies that fall somewhere in-between — 62% of companies across the country allow casual dress at least once a week, compared to the 36% that allow it every day. 36% isn’t a crazy high percentage, but it is an increase from the 2014 percentage, which was only 19%.

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While the data points to a shift towards casual dressing in the office, I’ve spent time working in both a casual and a more formal office environment at a PR agency, where I often met with clients and needed to look put together to command authority (think slacks and or a nice dress). I didn’t notice a markedly different attitude towards my work, but there were definitely days where I forced myself into an uncomfortable dress, or got blisters from walking to a days worth of client meetings in heels, and wasted time trying to remedy the situation.

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This got me thinking — is there a difference in productivity levels based on clothing and comfort levels? My initial gut instinct was that of course more casual, comfy clothes would make me more productive. I wouldn’t have to fuss with putting together complicated outfits in the morning. The actual time spent getting ready would decrease, I’d be saving roughly an hour a week getting ready, and could use that time to get actual work done instead of ironing a blazer from the Gap.

Casual Dress For The Win

But what do the facts say? Casual dress wins, the majority of the time. According to studies, 61% of employees are more productive when the dress code is relaxed, and 80% of people who work in an environment with a dress code responded that they don’t find them useful. Those are pretty staggering statistics. Breaking that down, there are a few reasons people have started to favor a more casual dress code. One of the reasons is the financial burden that comes from a suit-and-tie environment — you’re expected to invest in nice suits, shoes, ties, and dresses. Not everyone can afford to spend thousands of dollars on their workplace attire.

Another big reason is comfort and confidence. When people are able to wear the clothes that they’re comfortable and confident in, morale is higher and people are more productive overall. Most people aren’t going to be comfortable in fancy suits or dresses and heels. Additionally, a less strict dress code allows people to express themselves, which can help elevate creative thinking. When people are more creative and comfortable, they’re happier, and their work is going to be of higher quality. Office dynamics are also better between happy people (obviously), which will lead to an increase in workplace collaboration and volume of work being completed.

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When Dressing Up Makes Sense

There are a few instances, though, where a dress code is concretely helpful. Wearing a lab coat, for example, actually improves focus, which is something we all want from our medical doctors. Additionally, when you’re meeting a client in an industry where you’re expected to dress formally, doing the opposite could create a sense of distrust and unease. Dressing formally for work also helps you mentally separate work and leisure time, which could be very helpful for people who need to create stronger boundaries between these two parts of their life. 

Do Clothes Affect How We’re Treated?

Another thing to think about when you’re mulling over what to wear to work for the day is that it can affect how people perceive, and therefore treat, you. Wearing whatever is perceived as “professional attire” in your place of work can improve how people perceive you and even give you more authority. This makes sense, as clothes have long been one of the primary ways people express themselves and message their personality, culture and preferences.

But there are some variables. Not everyone infers the same thing from an outfit. For example, someone could see you wearing a new pair of trendy sneakers and think that they are a cool and fashionable, where someone else could think it’s sloppy to wear sneakers. This is where it’s important to know your audience and try to understand your specific work environment.

The Verdict

Thanks to places like Silicon Valley, more relaxed attire at work is becoming more and more popular. This isn’t to say that people should be showing up to work in a pajama top and leggings every day (unless you work at a fitness studio or somewhere where that is required), but overall, we’re definitely moving towards a more casual dress code. And as we move towards increased remote work, dress code is going to matter less and less. Turns out, people can do work from home, in their pajamas, and get just as much done. 

Let us know how your office dress code affects your productivity, and if you agree with our thoughts!