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October 17, 2017

#MTtalk: Dress Codes at Work

Yolande Conradie

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The Impact of Dress

A few years ago, I was helping one of our directors open a new business in Jeffreys Bay, a well-known surfing town in South Africa. One of my colleagues and I had to conduct interviews to appoint frontline staff, administration staff, and a manager for the establishment.

Both of us like dressing well and looking professional. So, we did our makeup and then spent quite a bit of time blow-drying and curling our hair, ready for our first round of interviews. (It’s probably helpful to mention that it was a beautiful sunny day without as much as a hint of a breeze...)

By the afternoon, we saw that there was a pattern emerging among our candidates. Everybody was dressed very casually – and had very short hair!

On the second day of interviewing, we got up in the morning and followed our same beauty routines because we wanted to look all spiffy when we stepped out the door. But something had happened overnight. Although it was still a sunny day, there was a gale force wind and very high humidity.

We were staying at a guesthouse just one block from the office. But what had seemed like a short walk the previous morning was now like an obstacle course. We needed to clutch our skirts to maintain a reputation of decency. We also had to hang on to our laptop bags and handbags, try to keep our hair out of our eyes, and shield our faces from salt spray and sand.

Adapting Our Dress

We reached the office with ruined hair, sand sticking to our lipstick, and resembling nothing like the two smart ladies who'd left the guesthouse minutes earlier.

From the next day, we dressed rather more casually, and tied our hair in ponytails. We even decided to wear sneakers. Not only was it more practical, but it also made us more relatable to our candidates.

The Meaning of Dress

The story wouldn’t be complete without this footnote. We appointed the one smartly dressed woman as the manager of the establishment. But we fired her a few months later because of theft, while one of the spiky-haired youngsters is still at the business today.

So, while a dress code is important, it is definitely not everything!


During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last week we spoke about “Dress Codes at Work: Fashion or Fitting In.”

Here are all the questions we asked during the chat, and some of our followers' responses.


Q1 Is it right for employers to issue a dress code in 2017?

@MicheleDD_MT All organizations have a dress code of some form. There needs to be a minimum standard to maintain professionalism at work.

@JKatzaman Employers can issue dress codes as they deem appropriate to support their image to the public.

Q2 How are men and women or different professions treated differently in dress codes, and why?

@Midgie_MT Since there is more choice for professional attire in women, they may be treated differently due to individual choices.

@ishieta All goes back to perspectives. We have grown up with assumptions about judging people on the basis of what they wear.

Q3 What benefits do you see in having a clear dress code?

@OkemaForever A clear dress code helps everybody portray the same image of the company.

@MduduziTNtuli I believe first impression counts, the way you represent yourself to someone or people will explain what kind of person you are.

Q4 Are there any unspoken dress code rules at work? If so, what are they and why do you go along with them?

@HirePowerHR  This depends on the industry. Healthcare seems more conservative, high tech is whatever. Hard to have a general rule.

@rinkutalk Certainly there are, and it’s advisable to go with those – makes it comfortable for all around and reflects professionalism on your part.

Q5 How do you present yourself at work? Why?

@Yolande_MT I like “looking the part.” Smart, if required. In some industries where I train, I’ll dress more casually – always appropriate.

@OkemaForever Conservative and professional, not too trendy no matter what. Trends tend to fade.

Q6 What are the downsides or risks of having a dress code?

@harrisonia Downside to having a dress code: EXPENSE. If required to wear a suit five days a week, that = purchase + dry cleaning costs.

@Mphete_Kwetli Some team members may feel not represented well by certain uniforms.

Q7 Does the way you dress have an impact on how you feel/perform at work?

@Jikster2009 Not particularly. We have dress down days and it can be more relaxed (despite stressing over what to wear the day before).

Q8 In what kind of organization would you expect or not expect a smart dress code?

@BrainBlenderTec  Can be any industry – it depends more on corporate culture than space as everything from technical corporations to energy have wide differences.

@ishieta I would hope everyone is smart and comfortable. At the end, isn’t the service/end product of more importance?

Q9 How would you deal with an employee who does not dress appropriately in the workplace?

@Darkiechildz  Penalties should be given to employees who don’t comply.

Q10 If you were asked to give job market entrants advice about their office wear, what would you tell them?

@JKatzaman Set your personal dress code bar high. Better to be told it’s OK to relax and dress down than start off on wrong foot & correct.

@MicheleDD_MT Have them check Careers website. Check out the profiles of employees. Does the “code” align with how you want to work?


Next time, on #MTtalk...

We read and hear about the importance of health and well-being every day. Have you ever thought of the role that exercises plays in your productivity, motivation and energy at work? Please tell us how often you exercise by voting in our poll over here.

In our next #MTtalk on Friday, October 27, our topic is “Exercise and Physical Health at Work.” To share your thoughts and ideas, please join us at 1 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. GMT/10:30 p.m. IST.

To participate in our chat about exercise and physical health in the workplace, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “All Tweets” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. To join the conversation, simply include #MTtalk in your tweet and it will show up in the chat feed.


Dress Code Resources

In the meantime, here are some resources that will help you to learn more about workplace dress codes:

What Are Your Values?

Avoiding Cross Cultural Faux Pas: Clothes

Dress to Impress

6 Traits of a True Professional

Making a Great First Impression

Establishing Credibility

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