After the pandemic, should the office dress code return?

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December 2021 News

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After the pandemic, should the office dress code return? (Will the office be the normal place of work is a question for another day!)


Disruption has become the norm for us all in all sorts of ways. Remote working is one of those disruptions and with social restrictions many of us have moved online for business meetings and networking. This may become the new way of doing business. Is there a need, therefore, for a business dress code and what will that look like? 

The importance of Personal Brand

"When you bring your authentic self to the table, people will trust you. And trust is at the heart of any successful relationship." Carla Harris, Morgan Stanley

Building trust at speed has become a valuable currency in business. You will build trust at speed by always revealing your best self. Your personal brand, as Jeff Bezos says, “is what others say about you when you leave the room”. That’s the real you. There is a rising premium on personal brand, being authentic, being an individual, bringing your full self to work, and having a broader expression of who you are.

Your clothes are a way of expressing who you are. What you wear should be congruent and aligned with your personality.

1.     How do others perceive you?

2.     What are you saying about yourself through your visual appearance?

Like any brand, it’s important that your personal brand supports you by being consistent and relevant every day. “It is exhausting trying to be someone that I’m not", said Adele Martin, a House of Colour Image Consultant, and she adds, “how sustainable is this in the long run?”

Jackie Perkins* puts it very succinctly when she says, “Personal brand has many facets and can be supported or sabotaged depending on whether you fluently extend your brand DNA through your appearance. Make it easier for people to understand you by aligning your non-verbal language to your brand DNA.” (*Jackie Perkins is a Personal Brand Coach and Director at House of Colour, where she’s worked for 25 years.)

Persistence of a first impression

The first impression theory persists on and off line. Snap judgements are made about you and by you and 68% of that is based on the visual. This dates back to prehistoric times and we are hard-wired to decide very quickly whether you are friend or foe. When your first impression is a good one it demonstrates that you take your role seriously. It also conveys that you are credible and knowledgeable. Once you have built that reputation and maintain it in your behaviours, you might begin to relax how you dress, as long as you remain consistent, relevant and appropriate.  

To be or not to be … casual at work

The association between competence and traditional dress is a social norm. If our first glimpse of an investment banker or a lawyer, caught them in cut-offs and a hoodie, their high-powered roles are not as believable.  The standard ‘uniform’ for professional work wear has long been the suit or conservatively tailored dress. The invasion of business casual which began with dress down Friday has become even more relaxed with the world’s largest tech companies allowing employees to come to work in jeans and sweatshirts. There is still a gap though, between our notions about professionalism and more relaxed dress codes. Studies have shown that workers are rated by others as more competent when they wear more formal attire. Other research indicates that we behave differently and more productively when we are dressed more professionally.

Imposed business dress codes are likely to become a thing of the past. Be aware though that casual dress causes casual behaviour. The advice is to dress appropriately; ”consistency and congruency are key to securing credibility”, says Jackie Perkins

Here are some simple ways to ensure you are dressed appropriately, particularly when online.

1                Know your audience. Reflect what you see around you. Your communication zone, the area from your chest up, has to do all the work when you are online. All your impact is concentrated into a smaller area. When you need to carry authority, add more formality with a button-down shirt and a jacket (for a man) and a shirt/blouse, necklace and jacket or cardigan (for a woman).

2                Ask yourself; what are my clothes saying about me today? What do I want them to say about me? Ensure you are dressing for your authentic self.

3                Look around your online call. Who stands out? The people in grey, black and navy? Or the people in a brighter colour? Neutral colours which may look business-like in person can look flat and forgettable on screen. Add a splash of colour – shirt, top or scarf. Choose a colour that balances with you and allows you to stand out from the crowd, for all the right reasons.