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  • Writer's pictureAllie Geilich

Dress-Coding for Success: How to Write and Enforce a Workplace Dress Code

“The only rule is don’t be boring, and dress cute wherever you go.” – Paris Hilton

We’ve all received an invitation to an event and had to ask ourselves – what on earth am I supposed to wear? No one wants to show up to an event feeling that they misunderstood the unspoken rules of attire.

The same is true for the workplace.

A lot of employers are understandably weary when it comes to telling their employees what they can and can’t wear. After all, how we dress can be deeply personal.

You don’t want to offend or cause arguments with the people that work for you if you can help it. We get it. But the truth is, a dress code policy is helpful for both employees and employers.

The right policy will give your employees clear expectations that make it easy for them to prepare and get dressed for work in the morning.

For you, it’ll ensure you’re maintaining the kind of workplace image you aspire to. And that you and your business are protected if you have to discipline someone for failing to present that image.

What are my workplace dress code options?

There are several overarching categories of dress that can get you started with an employee dress code:


Having a uniform that your employees are required to wear takes a lot of the guesswork out of your dress code.

Some uniforms are very strict, i.e. – You have to wear a specific shirt, pants, and shoes (think flight attendants).

Others are a little vaguer, i.e. – You can wear whatever you want but you have to wear a specific color.

While this may make things easier for you, it may make your employees’ lives more difficult. It’s also not appropriate for all settings.

Think about your industry’s standards and the type of work your employees do before adopting a uniform policy. Generally, uniforms make sense for healthcare settings, some hospitality folks, and retail environments. But they aren’t as recommended for office jobs.

Business Professional

This is what you see when you watch Suits or Mad Men. Suits, dresses, skirts, and blazers all fall into this category. Shoes are generally loafers, pumps, ballet flats, or equivalent. Ties and jackets are required.

Business Casual

This is often where things start to get confusing. You’ll want to be specific about what this dress code means to you if you decide to go with it.

Generally speaking though, business casual-compliant clothing includes – sport coats, blazers, slacks or khakis, more casual dresses and skirts, button-down shirts, and blouses. Ties are not required.

Acceptable shoes include anything from the business professional category along with sandals, and some sneakers.

Smart Casual

This one is very similar to the business casual dress code. But it expands to include dark-wash jeans, polo shirts, and slightly more casual dresses and skirts.


This is the least formal dress code you can offer.

While there may still be restrictions – such as not allowing employees to wear offensive t-shirts or needing them to wear non-slip shoes – more casual tops may be accepted and jeans and leggings are fair game. Dresses, skirts, and blazers would likely be out of place. Footwear could include sneakers, sandals, and ballet flats.

What do I need to consider beyond dress style?

Glad you asked! There are several items you’ll need to decide on beyond what type of clothing is appropriate. These include –


Policies around employee hygiene are often included in the dress code. Most of these guidelines likely stay the same regardless of your industry.

You’ll want to specify that employees should come to work with clean clothes (no visible stains or discernable odors), use deodorant, and maintain proper oral and body hygiene. You may want to add that employees should have clean and trimmed fingernails and avoid heavy perfumes or odors in general.

Suggestive Images and Phrases

Whether your dress style is formal or casual, it’s never appropriate to wear clothing displaying offensive images, phrases, or symbols in the workplace. Your dress code policy should remind employees of this.


Some details of your dress code may be a matter of employee safety. Such as needing to wear non-slip shoes in a restaurant kitchen. Make sure to include any and all-safety related clothing restrictions that apply to employees in your policy.

Tattoos, Piercings, Nails, and Beards

You’re allowed to dictate whether your employees can have visible tattoos and piercings in the workplace. And whether they can have long nails, certain polish colors, and wear beards.

We highly recommend that you consider whether an employee having any of these items really impairs their ability to do their job.

For example – long acrylic nails may get in the way of an employee’s work if they are in a healthcare setting. But it’s unlikely that their tattoo will.

You’ll also need to keep in mind your employees' rights under Title VII. Things like facial hair and tattoos can be forms of religious expression. There are also situations in which these kinds of restrictions can cause undue harm to an employee. For example – some people experience severe irritation when shaving facial hair.


Like tattoos and nails, you have some leeway to enact policies regarding employees' hair. Most employers require their staff to have clean and kempt hair. But be careful with the way you define this.

Some US states – including Connecticut – require employers to comply with the CROWN Act or similar pieces of legislation that prohibit discrimination against employees based on, “hairstyles that are commonly associated with people of color, such as afros, afro puffs, Bantu knots, braids, cornrows, locs, twists, headwraps, and wigs.”

Some employers choose to have a policy against having hair that is dyed in “unnatural colors.” And while it is within their rights to have such a policy, we would advise you to consider if it is necessary for your business.

After all, would you really want to lose out on an amazing employee because they dye their hair pink (if doing so doesn’t interfere with their ability to do their job)?

In some workplaces, hair can be a health and safety issue. If that could be the case in your industry, you should have a policy that requires employees with long hair to pull it back and keep it away from their faces.

How can I ensure my workplace dress code is inclusive?

It was once common for dress codes to specify what men should wear and what women should wear. But we highly recommend – in order for your dress code to reflect an inclusive workplace – that you keep it gender-neutral.

Here are some examples of how you can edit your policy to ensure gender neutrality:

  1. Instead of saying – Acceptable dress for women includes dresses, skirts, slacks, and blazers and acceptable dress for men includes suits, sport coats, slacks, and chinos.

You can say – Acceptable dress includes dresses, skirts, slacks, suits, sports coats, blazers, and chinos.

  1. Instead of saying – Women must wear long hair pulled back and away from their face.

You can say – Employees must wear long hair pulled back and away from their face.

These simple tweaks will help you ensure that your dress code is inclusive of all gender identities. While maintaining your company’s same presentation standards.

What do I need to know about enforcing my dress code policy?

The most important thing to be aware of when it comes to enforcing your dress code is consistency.

You cannot punish one person for a violation but not another. This could lead to accusations of unfairness or even discrimination.

You’ll also want to avoid contradicting your own policy. Don’t allow passes to anyone for any reason, or your employees will get the message that violating the dress code is acceptable.

You should handle dress code violations the way you would handle any other violation, with progressive discipline. A verbal warning will usually suffice for a first infraction. But if someone continues to violate the policy, you’ll want to move them through the additional steps of your progressive discipline policy for each infraction.

Serious violations of the dress code may warrant skipping steps of your progressive discipline procedure. Examples of a serious violation of the dress code could include wearing clothing with offensive sayings or symbols.

If an employee’s dress is inappropriate, offensive, distracting, or unsafe, you should send them home to change into something more appropriate. If they are unable to do so, direct them to take the rest of the day off either unpaid or with their PTO time.

There is no one-size-fits-all dress code for employers

To craft a policy that works for you, you’ll have to consider – your industry, the formality of your work environment, the equipment your employees use, and more.

No matter what you decide, having a clear, coherent workplace dress code policy and enforcing it consistently will help your employees understand what’s acceptable. And ensure that you’re protecting your company’s brand and reputation.

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