Traditionally speaking, dressing for the workplace is pretty cut and dry. Business attire, the suit and tie, seem to be the convention when dressing for work.

But not everyone subscribes to these traditional ideals and many companies, and even entire industries, are moving away from the suit and tie in favour of a less formal approach.

Perhaps this is to reflect the way they like to do business or to create a more comfortable environment for their employees. Whatever the reason for the change and whatever the new ideas are, it remains as important as ever to dress appropriately for work. 

According to XpertHR’s latest research into dress codes, there is a clear shift from traditional business attire. Of the near 600 businesses they surveyed, three-quarters operate a dress code policy. Among those businesses, 40% operate a ‘smart casual’ policy while only 17% require that their employees dress in ‘business attire’. Very few workplaces allow their employees to dress as they please. We spoke with our consultants from a cross-section of industries, about why it remains important to dress correctly in the workplace.

How and why do dress codes vary by industry?

Some industries do still employ a smart dress code. Consultancy is a sector where businesses need to project a smart, professional appearance. Kyra Cordrey, Director at Michael Page Finance & Consultancy, tells us that in her sector everyone is suited and it is pretty much industry-wide. The exception is boutique consultancies where they will mirror the client’s approach. She says it is important to separate work and play; you can tell a lot about someone by the way they dress for different situations.

One piece of advice on dressing for work: I always tell candidates to dress as if they care. 

You might have expected that much of the legal profession adhere to a business/professional dress code. This can be the case, especially in top-tier practices, but as David Forsdyke, Managing Director at Michael Page Legal explains, many legal teams and law firms are trying to demonstrate a more flexible approach to the working environment. This is often reflected in a dress code, which is smart casual rather than a formal/professional approach. In the case of in-house legal teams in creative industry sectors, such as digital or media, the legal team usually adopt a more casual approach, appropriate for that business environment.

David notes that while people should judge you on your skills, experience, and competencies, human nature is such that judgements are made, rightly or wrongly, on attire and personal presentation. While smart means different things to different people, he suggests that regardless of dress code if you make a real effort, it will be appreciated.

One piece of advice on dressing for work: You spend more time in work gear than in casual attire – budget accordingly!

Logistics varies from many working environments in that it is often based around depots, warehouses and transport offices. It is a hands-on environment so formal suits and smart attire are unusual. Ben Lyons, Operating Director at Michael Page Logistics, tells us that even in an industry where formal attire is not the norm, you rarely meet senior-level people who are dressed in scruffy and ill-fitting attire. It is important to dress in line with the organisation’s dress code and represent the company correctly. 

One piece of advice on dressing for work: Dress for the job you want to be doing! Look at the senior people in your company; how do they dress and present themselves? Follow their lead.

Not every industry subscribes to these traditional dress codes though. Creative sectors such as digital and fashion are much more likely to snub standard dress codes. Katie Self, Manager at Page Executive Digital and specialist in Agency and Digital Creative sectors, tells us that even in an industry where dress codes are more relaxed, dressing to impress is still important. Your employer may be dress-down, super smart, trendy; whatever their dress code, make sure that your attire is relevant and ensure you look like you have made an effort. First impressions count for everything; they linger past the first interview and if you get the role can even last throughout your probation.

One piece of advice on dressing for work: This is a seriously competitive market; don’t let yourself down by making a simple mistake. 

Fashion is another industry where traditional dress codes are almost non-existent. Nicola Wensley, Director at Page Executive is a specialist in the fashion sector and tells us that more often than not the internal dress reflects the company’s product. For example, teams within a high street fashion retailer will be wearing next season’s fashion items. In fashion, part of your job can be interacting with PR and attending industry events. Therefore, what you wear is important because it demonstrates that you live and breathe the brand.

In the fashion industry, your style is a reflection of taste and particularly if you are in a role that involves making product decisions, it is a key indicator of your ability to perform.

One piece of advice on dressing for work: First impressions count, so what you wear should play a part of your interview preparation.

One thing is clear, how you dress for work is important. Whatever you do, wherever you work, your attire is a significant part of your identity and a key factor in how you are perceived throughout your relationship with a company. Starting with your interview, make sure you get it right.

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