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Dress Codes or Uniform? – How to Decide

08 June 2018

Dress Codes can be more trouble than they are worth.

Don’t dismiss investing in staff uniforms before reading this…

With many businesses moving towards more relaxed dress codes at work or none at all, and even traditional customer-facing organisations, where uniforms have always been a staple, dressing down their workwear to be more flexible and individual, you might think that your business doesn’t need to invest in a uniform.

After all, many workers like having a dress code at work. According to a survey by CV-Library, 65.5 per cent of respondents said they enjoy having a dress code to follow. This actually rose to 67.3 per cent among 18-24 year-olds. The main reason cited was looking more professional for customers.

So maybe a dress code is enough? While dress codes are useful, they can also open up a Pandora’s Box.

Abercrombie & Fitch, for instance, insisted polo-shirt wearing staff unbutton three buttons on their shirts, while American Apparel told staff that bangs and fringes were ‘not part of the direction we’re moving in’. Some companies prohibit open-toed sandals, the NHS insists on matching shoes and shoelaces, while the Cannes Film Festival famously insisted that women wear heels on the red carpet. Meanwhile, Disney and the British Navy prohibit men donning beards while in uniform (Prince Harry required special dispensation from the Queen to keep his for his wedding). Schools have been known to get into hot water for not allowing pupils to wear shorts in summer.

In a customer-facing or shop floor environment, an ill-defined or over-specific dress code can be confusing, inconsistent or just bizarre. Too strict and it’s too hard to follow, leaving employees stressed and disgruntled; too much latitude and you end up with a muddled assortment of staff outfits.

HMRC are also now looking carefully at dress codes, especially in companies who pay low wages and then require staff to purchase their own workwear. Dress codes often create more problems than they solve.

While dress code trends may be going more casual, there are still plenty of reasons why uniforms benefit businesses – and no reason why a well-designed uniform cannot reflect a more laidback style. Read our Bare Minerals Case Study to see how that can be achieved. So before you dismiss the corporate uniform out of hand, think about this.

Do your employees deal with customers day-to-day? Do they encounter any of the issues below in their daily work? If so, then you should consider a staff uniform.

Practical and distinguishable

Have your customers mistakenly asked fellow shoppers for directions or information instead of asking your staff? Or have your customers left your shop without asking for help because they weren’t sure who worked there?

If the answer is yes, then a well-designed uniform could help you avoid these embarrassing encounters and missed sales opportunities. A good uniform can be stylish and understated, but it should mark its wearer out from the crowd. If you’re not quite ready to go for a complete uniform, then consider accessories that can differentiate your staff.

Safe and reassuring

When your staff make deliveries, visit or carry out work at customers’ properties, how do your customers behave? When employees knock on your customer’s door, do they open it? If so, do they open the door nervously and check ID? Or do they greet you immediately with a warm welcome?

If you’d like your customers to easily recognise your staff when they visit, it’s worth investing in a liveried outfit. This is part of delivering great customer service. For safety, security and reassurance, company employees ought to be easily recognisable at a glance.

A great equaliser

Do your employees have trouble being consistent with your business dress code? Much like at a wedding where the dress code states “smart formal” and one guest shows up in a tuxedo and another in jeans and flip flops.

Business dress codes are open to interpretation – and you can expect to see a wide range of looks under the banner of “business casual” or “smart formal”. A uniform takes away that pain point. Whether you choose a uniform design that’s very formal or more casual, having all your staff wear the same thing makes life much easier for both employees and your customers too.

If you recognise these situations, it looks like you’re ready to take the next step on the road to a corporate uniform. To help you decide what works for you, read our blog on Designing Individuality into Uniforms and Managing Your Uniform Budget.


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