August 18, 2021
An Employer’s Complete Guide to Dress Code Policy Development

Is a dress code policy essential for every workplace? Even in this day and age? 

Yes, these guidelines should be a part of every employee handbook! From insurance agencies to manufacturers to software development companies, every organization needs a dress code policy. It is crucial to set expectations about the image you want employees to convey about your organization. A thorough, well-thought-out dress code will help employers meet comfort, professionalism, safety, brand, and image standards.

Today’s employers must also consider the culture they want to create and how to avoid discrimination claims while protecting employees’ rights—which is why it’s critical to involve your human resources and legal teams in the development of the policy.

Dress codes can range from business professional to business casual to casual and vary based on the day of the week or time of year. Some organizations may require uniforms, whether for all employees or those in certain roles. Now, companies also have to consider work-from-home dress code policies.

So, how can you create a company dress code policy that is fair and comfortable for employees and suits your organization? Let’s look at the most common options, and the key elements every dress code policy should include.

4 Types of Dress Code Policies

Business Professional

Professional dress codes are most common in formal business settings where employees interact with visitors, clients/customers, and the public. These professionals need to appear polished and put-together to create trust and confidence. Think law, finance, banking, and accounting firms. Business formal attire includes:

  • Suits
  • Button-down shirts
  • Blouses
  • Dresses
  • Skirts
  • Sweaters
  • Ties
  • Nice belt
  • Cufflinks
  • Dress shoes, heels, or flats
  • Understated jewelry/accessories

Professional dress codes often call for more conservative colors and patterns (e.g., black, gray, navy, or muted/pastel tones). Typically, casual clothes and shoes are not allowed.

Business Casual

Other organizations opt for a business casual dress code policy. Less formal companies might include creative workplaces like marketing agencies or technology brands. This style includes:

  • Pants
  • Casual dresses/skirts
  • Polos
  • Cardigans and sweaters
  • Denim
  • Khakis
  • Blazers
  • Simple shoes, flats, heels, or loafers
  • Larger, more unique jewelry/accessories

While business casual dress codes often prohibit clothes with graphics, shorts, ripped clothing, tank tops, and sandals, this varies from one company to another. These limitations could be due to a combination of company image and health and safety regulations.


Casual dress codes often apply to those who do not have customer contact or businesses with a more laid-back brand. Casual offices generally allow employees to wear their everyday attire, including: 

  • Blue jeans
  • T-shirts
  • Capris
  • Long/knee-length shorts
  • Athletic shoes

Of course, casual dress code policies may still have provisions against showing midriffs, wearing sandals, or sporting clothing with inappropriate graphics. 

Many organizations incorporate “Casual Fridays” into their dress codes, designating Friday as the day of the week when employees can wear more informal attire. Others offer summer policies with a relaxed dress code that usually runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day.


The uniform is a more restrictive dress code that might be required by law, by the nature of the business, or simply based on the employer’s preference. Industries in which uniforms are common include: 

  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality
  • Government agencies
  • Emergency services
  • Utility services (e.g., cable and internet providers)

Uniforms can range from specific attire, like medical scrubs, to standardized colors and types of apparel, like Target’s red shirt and khaki pants.

If you’ve ever worked in an environment in which uniforms are required (or even went to private school as a child), you might be familiar with their pros and cons. Benefits of wearing uniforms include:

  • Safety: Some jobs may require protective gear, such as fire-resistant suits and steel-toed boots.
  • Branding: Uniforms can present a specific, easily recognizable image and help customers identify employees.
  • Appropriateness: Uniforms help avoid inappropriate outfits in the workplace by limiting options.
  • Productivity: When all employees are in the same uniform, it eliminates the distraction of clothing and comparison.

Like any strict dress code, uniforms can also have potential drawbacks if:

  • Employees push back against wearing them.
  • Customers or clients perceive the uniforms as inappropriate, resulting in negative feedback.
  • Uniforms are not planned well and cause functional problems.

Not to mention, employers must consider who will pay for the uniforms. Check both state and federal laws on this topic. Although the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows deductions for uniforms as long as it won’t bring pay below minimum wage, some states have more restrictive laws requiring employees to pay for required uniforms. Consult your HR and legal departments before instituting a uniform policy.

Remote Work Dress Code Policies

On top of treading lightly around fair and equitable dress code policies, a growing number of employers are now facing the question of remote work dress codes. 

You may be wondering why a dress code is necessary if your whole team works from home. There are a few key reasons: 

  • Promote productivity: According to a recent survey of 1,000 remote workers by CouponFollow, business-professional, business-casual, and smart-casual dressers all reported higher levels of productivity than those who dressed in gym clothes and pajamas. It sounds like looking put together really does help you feel put together.
  • Create a sense of camaraderie: A dress code policy that requires everyone to dress the same helps employees feel like they’re part of a team and connected—even if they’re spread around the world!
  • Boosts morale: Employers can stick to a dress code and start casual days that allow employees to wear their favorite comfy attire.

Between all of the above, instituting a remote work dress code policy can improve motivation. But it’s essential first to determine why you have a work-from-home dress code. Do you want to create uniformity? Convey a particular brand image? Make sure your dress code policy is specific (i.e., list the types of clothing items permitted) and allows flexibility based on seasons and employee locations.

What to Include in Your Dress Code Policy

Every organization can develop a fair and effective dress code policy as long as they: 

  • Outline expectations about how employees should present themselves at work and why (the why helps get employee buy-in).
  • List who the policy applies to: Is it all employees? Does it vary by position? 
  • Explain general guidelines about appropriate clothing and other related items like tattoos, hygiene, and jewelry.
  • Specify the dress code, what type of clothing is permitted or required, what is not allowed, and when employees may need to adhere to a different dress code.
  • Note that employees can address any dress code concerns with HR.

Additional Tips

Follow these extra tips as you develop your dress code policy to mitigate possible lawsuits:

  • Keep it gender-neutral.
  • Consider religious accommodations.
  • Know the health and safety requirements for your industry.
  • Loop in your HR and legal team to address any potential legal issues.

Protect Your Organization with a Dress Code Policy

Nip any potential workplace dress- or hygiene-related issues in the bud with a comprehensive dress code policy. You’ll want to consider the:

  • Nature of your industry/work
  • Health and safety risks
  • Professionalism
  • Comfort
  • Desired brand image

If you need assistance with a dress code or any other type of HR policy development, contact BlueLion to learn how we can help at 603-818-4131 or today!

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.