The subtle power of dress codes

The subtle power of dress codes

Clothes shape mental health and body image. Let us explore the hows and the whys.

Sridhar Laxman

We often overlook the dress code’s role when we think of workplace culture. However, it can significantly affect employees’ mental health and perception of their bodies.

Clothing and identity

Clothing isn’t just about covering ourselves – it’s a way to express ourselves. Colours, shapes, patterns, fabrics, everything comes together to extend our personality to reflect who we are.

Organisations requiring a strict dress code may limit this expression, possibly making employees feel uncomfortable and stressed.

Dress codes and body positivity

Another concept that needs more awareness is that dress codes traditionally imply a ‘standard’ body type, which can lead to body shaming and low self-esteem. A good dress code, on the other hand, is built based on a better understanding and acknowledgement of all body shapes and sizes, helping employees feel comfortable and promoting a positive body image.

Dress codes and mental health

If employees feel judged by what they wear, they focus less on the work they need to do and more on how they are perceived; this is not helpful for anyone. If it persists, it can lead to stress, reduced productivity, and feelings of isolation. 

A strict dress code can also trigger impostor syndrome – employees doubt their skills and worry they’re not ‘good enough’. 

Letting employees express themselves through their choice of clothing can help them feel more relaxed and confident.

Ways to encourage a positive workplace

Businesses should try to find a balance, a dress code that’s professional but allows personal expression. Here are 10 helpful suggestions.

Flexibility: Let employees dress according to their day’s tasks. This approach recognises the importance of comfort and personal preference.

Inclusion: Ensure the dress code respects all body shapes, sizes, gender identities, and cultures.

Open dialogue: Ask employees for their input when setting the dress code. This way, they’ll feel more committed to it.

Education: Explain why the dress code is necessary to avoid misunderstandings.

Comfort first: Clothing should be comfortable. When employees feel good, they are likely to perform better.

Recognise individuality: Remember, clothing is a form of self-expression. Acknowledge this by allowing employees some freedom to incorporate their style into their work attire. This can also foster creativity and improve overall job satisfaction.

Promote positivity: Actively promote a positive atmosphere around clothing choices. Celebrate diversity in appearance and body types to reinforce body positivity within the team. This can be done through internal communications or events focussing on celebrating individuality and diversity.

Review and update regularly: Work cultures and dress codes should evolve. Regularly review your policy to ensure it remains relevant and sensitive to your workforce’s changing demographics and norms. 

This can also include taking employee feedback into account and adjusting to suit the current team better.

Dress code awareness: During employee orientation, the dress code policy and its rationale should be highlighted. New employees should understand the expectations and the flexibility available to them. This sets the stage for a positive relationship with the dress code.

Implement casual Fridays or equivalent: Providing a designated day where employees can dress more casually can boost morale and provide a refreshing change of pace. It can also allow employees to express their individuality more fully, promoting a more inclusive and diverse work environment.

In conclusion

While a dress code can help maintain a professional image, businesses must consider its impact on mental health and body positivity. By having a more relaxed dress code, companies can promote a healthier, more inclusive work culture where employees feel good about themselves.