The smart vs casual debate: What do you prefer to wear to work?

We’re lucky to have a relaxed dress code. There are a few rules we have to follow, but we can pretty much wear what we want. This doesn’t mean that everyone decides to turn up to work in jeans and a t-shirt though – some people in our office still choose to dress smartly.

This got us thinking – does what you wear at work affect how you work? I decided to investigate, asking employees from a whole host of industries how they feel about casual clothes in the workplace. Their answers may surprise you….

Casual clothes are comfortable and promote productivity…

A lot of people in and outside our office believe that the option to dress casual allows them to be more comfortable – especially in hot weather. After all, wearing a full suit when it’s 25 degrees and there’s no air conditioning is sure to affect productivity. If people are comfortable, they’re happier, and if they’re happier, they’re more likely to work harder.

Alex De Sousa, a web developer at Vertical Leap, is completely against the idea of having to dress smartly at work.

“No work uniform is good – I wouldn’t even entertain the idea of working for a company where I couldn’t dress casually,” he said. “Eight plus hours of my life every day in something I don’t feel comfortable in is not how I want to spend my life.”

Moreover, wearing what you want allows for personal expression, something which is vital for any creative job, and welcomed in many other roles. Mark Dorney, an ex-retail worker, loved the fact he was allowed to wear geeky t-shirts at work.

A relaxed dress policy doesn’t just allow employees to show off their own personality, it can demonstrate the company’s quirky nature too. In a world where a lot of businesses have their employees dressed in shirts and ties, an unusual uniform or look can make your brand so much more memorable. Stuart Clark, SEO specialist at Vertical Leap, worked for a company that did just this, successfully.

“I once spent a year working in a design agency near a beach which had a very specific dress code; shorts, flip-flops and no suits!” he explained. “I soon become accustomed to the relaxed dress code and enjoyed my new flip-flop lifestyle – as did our customers who loved us for our quirky nature. Yet elsewhere, this would be deemed unprofessional.”

Perhaps this work uniform worked so well for this firm because it made everyone appear approachable. A suit, or even a uniform, can be intimidating at times, according to PCSO Matt Brown.

Matt brown's comments on Facebook

Wearing a suit helps you get your game face on….

Whilst there are some clear benefits to casual work attire, there are a number of downsides too.

What you wear can say volumes about the type of role you’re in, and unfortunately, humans by nature are judgemental. First impressions count – there aren’t many situations where you would turn up for a job interview in jeans and t-shirt, therefore your clients should receive the same treatment. It’s a sign of respect.

Heather Clark, social media specialist at Vertical Leap, believes that different dress codes are needed for different situations.

“For meetings, I will dress smartly for the occasion, but suits are sometimes a little too fancy when someone’s expecting a creative social media type to turn up, so smart with some personality is best for this occasion,” she explained. “If a client is a solicitor or similar, then it is appropriate to dress to match their dress code, so as not to appear out of place.”

How the general public, clients and investors see you is so important it can actually affect how successful you are. Entrepreneur Neil Patel conducted an experiment where he spent a six figure sum on clothes to see if it would improve his business. He found that because he was dressed smartly, people assumed he was successful and so wanted to be associated with him. His closing ratio increased from around 24 per cent to 40 per cent as a result.

Is perception all there is to it, though? What if people are more successful when they wear smart clothes because they feel successful and ready for work themselves? Many people choose to dress up for this exact reason, including engineer Lee Groom.

A study by Dr Karen Pine, a professor at the University of Hertfordshire and fashion psychologist, may prove that the clothes you wear don’t actually matter – it’s what they represent to you. It found that the participants who were told to wear a lab coat whilst working were more likely to show heightened levels of attention. When they wore the same coat, but were told it was a painter’s, the participants weren’t as attentive. It really is all in our heads.

Smart casual – the ultimate compromise?

Since there are benefits to both casual and smart clothes, why not combine the two? People will feel ready for work, look good in front of customers and clients, but will still be able to display some individuality. It also seems lots of people are open to the idea of dress down days, even if they usually wear a uniform or suit:

Ben Dolan comments from Facebook

Amy Duhig Facebook comments

Head of operations Jason Spry thinks the culture has relaxed over the past few years when it comes to office dress code.

“This has been evident with our clients where many now have dress down Friday,” he noted. “We found ourselves dressing down once a month for charity and then through feedback from our staff have now also moved to every Friday. Staff seem to enjoy this freedom – as do I.”

Personally, I am a big fan of being able to dress how I like at work, and I feel lucky to work in an industry where I don’t need to spend my morning ironing a dress for work. Every so often, I too like to dress smartly, and I would certainly do this if I was attending a meeting.

Having a relaxed dress code allows people to make their own decisions – you can come to work in a suit, or you can turn up in jeans and a t-shirt. As long as an employee is happy, isn’t wearing anything offensive and  is still able to do their job properly, does it really matter what they wear?

Let us know what you think by voting below!

Laura Varley profile picture
Laura Varley

Laura was a Content Marketing Specialist at Vertical Leap. Laura joined us in 2013 and was responsible for managing the content produced for various SEO clients.

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