Unless there is an office or company uniform in place, summer office attire is usually complicated by the fact that appropriate clothing can change depending on the industry and corporate culture. For instance, employees working in a creative profession, or those that spend most of their day working behind the scenes, might be allowed less formal workwear, while client-facing professionals for example, may need to focus more on company impression than personal comfort. Wearing the wrong outfit can negatively affect an organisation's image and can even cast doubts on its sense of competence. Therefore, it is important that employees dress in a manner which is suitable and appropriate to the employer's business. In order to avoid the distractions and embarrassment that occurs when employees wear clothing that is too revealing or sends the message that comfort and appearance is more important than the organisation's reputation, many companies prefer to set out comprehensive dress codes - particularly covering summer wear. A sound business rationale that enforces the right dress code not only demonstrates professionalism, but also helps to increase employee morale and communication. Additionally, offering guidelines to employees beforehand will help ensure employees understand the expectations of the business before incidents occur. With the introduction of any dress code, consistency of application (as with all employee policies) is important. Courts and tribunals have recognised that it is lawful to have a dress code as part of an employer's right to protect its business image and reputation, but the requirements must be balanced against the reasonable freedom of the employee. When drawing up and introducing a dress code, employers and the HR department might want to consider the issues addressed below:
Have a written employee dress code policy that is clear and readily available for employees to read, understand and that the rules are consistently applied.
Outline exactly when employees are allowed to dress more casually and when they are expected to adhere to more formal guidelines. (And remember that even casual wear needs guidelines - no offensive slogans on t-shirts etc.)
Incorporate Health & Safety issues. In some settings, it may be unsafe for employees to have exposed legs, making shorts or skirts inappropriate. Staff may also be required to have hair tied back or covered at all times or not wear jewellery etc. There will also be specific protective clothing that may need to be worn in certain environments.
Regularly review the dress code policy to ensure there are no hidden discrimination pitfalls in a blanket policy that might contravene the Human Rights Act 1998 which allows for the rights to privacy, freedom of religion and freedom of expression. When addressing correct summer workwear for both female and male employees, employers must make sure they are being held at the same standard. Consistency also involves ensuring that any requirements are set out as broadly and as sensitively as possible to allow for flexibility for employees with particular cultural or religious obligations.
If an HR policy has not been put into practice at the workplace or if the company has a relaxed dress code during the warmer months, employees should follow some basic guidelines which might prevent colleagues and employers from wincing:
Follow the best guides for what to wear - dress like the authority figures at work or have a quick discussion with a member of the HR team.
Make sure work clothes are clean and pressed at all times.
Lightweight fabrics should mask undergarments and feet and toenails should look cared for if employees choose to wear open shoes.
Keeping a lightweight blazer or a subtle-coloured tie at the office is advised in case the CEO or an important client decides to drop by.
Choosing the right fabric can add comfort to style. Women can choose to wear lightweight materials such as silk, cotton, linen, or summer-weight wool and cotton blends that breathe. Short sleeved blouses or sleeveless tops or light-weight cardigans are also good choices for women. Summer office attire for men can include lighter-weight suits, wearing shirts open collar and removing suit jackets.
During the summer, it is advised that employers set out specific guidelines around the dress code policy to eliminate misinterpretation and standardise appropriate corporate clothing across the company. For employees, adhering to these policies should maintain the right balance between the business needs of the organisation and their personal freedom to choose what to wear.
Nick Acaster is director at Alexandra Workwear