Should You Require Employees to Wear Suits?

by Suzanne Kearns on February 9, 2012
iStock_000017070003XSmall-300x199.jpg

Attention, slackers! Casual dress codes may be on their way out. A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that only 34 percent of bosses “officially permit” employees to wear casual garb to the office every day — a dramatic drop from 53 percent a decade ago, BusinessWeek reports.

In fact, some industries — law firms, accounting firms, financial institutions — still require employees to wear suits and formal attire. Perhaps companies in other fields should, too, notes Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. Should you? Here are a few reasons you may want your employees to dress up on the job:

  • Suits send the right message. “A suit is considered an executive, professional wardrobe staple and sends the message of confidence and power,” Gottsman says. If your employees are involved in negotiations, bargaining, or any other task for which they need to exude power and confidence, it may be wise for them to wear a suit. But not just any old suit will do. Gottsman says that wearing ill-fitting or wrinkled attire sends the message of sloppiness or disinterest.
  • Suits instill trust. If you’d like clients to have confidence your employees from the get-go, or you want to create an atmosphere of trust at your place of business, consider implementing a formal dress code. For example, investment advisers and bankers wear suits to elicit trust because they want customers to feel comfortable allowing them to handle their money.
  • A formal dress code creates uniformity. A company whose “corporate uniform” is based on suits conveys a message of consistency and unity that customers pick up on. When employees wear suits as a group, they send the subconscious message that they respect their positions and take their jobs at the company seriously, Gottsman says. She adds that employees can still personalize their look with their tie and shoe selection.
  • Suits send visual success signals. There’s a reason that attorneys wear suits in court: People tend to perceive formally dressed professionals as authoritative, intelligent, educated, confident, and secure, Gottsman says. Think back to the last time you interacted with someone in a suit when you were dressed down: Didn’t they have the psychological edge?

The type of suit professionals — both men and women — choose matters, too. Gottsman says black isn’t the best color choice, because it often comes across as literally “dark,” or somewhat morose. Dark navy and gray are better options. The rule of thumb for shirts is that the darker the color, the less powerful the look. So, white or light blue shirts are the top choices, while brown is lackluster. (The reason Dwight in The Office wears mustard-colored shirts: It sends a message that he’s dull.)

Suzanne has been a full-time freelance writer for 20 years. She’s written for numerous business and financial publications such as Entrepreneur, Reason Magazine, Home Business Magazine, and Money Crashers.

Advertisement