How Does Workplace Attire Affect Productivity?

Across America, company dress codes for employees are as diverse as the employees themselves. From being so strict that hemlines are measured, to telling employees, “You can wear anything, as long as you wear something,” companies certainly seem to be in disagreement over how workplace attire affects productivity.

Some contend that allowing casual attire implies that they allow a casual attitude, which results in a casual (lazy) work ethic. The other side argues that as employees are allowed to dress more comfortably, their confidence – and therefore their productivity – will increase.

Because of the lack of consensus, the vast majority of workplaces tend to implement an easy, middle-of-the-road type dress code requiring employees to dress in business casual attire. So what is the right answer? Scientifically speaking, how does a dress code impact productivity?

In short, we just don’t know. Just as managers disagree on the issue of attire, there has also been little consistency among researchers. In fact, one study, sponsored by The Master’s College in California, published the following conclusions: “There is an effect on… performance in the workplace because of casual dress… Casual dress has equally positive and negative effects, and… dress codes may or may not be necessary for professional performance.” Conclusions, indeed! It seems that attire is such a deeply personal preference that, at least from a statistical perspective, there is no perfect way to predict how implementing a dress code in your workplace will affect productivity.

However, there are some things you can consider to help you determine the dress code that best suits your workplace environment.

Who are your customers? How often do you interact with them?

First, who are your customers, and how often do you interact with them? Is it essential that they always view you as strict professionals? If so, reducing the rigorousness of the dress code is probably not the solution you’re looking for. Do you connect with customers exclusively on a business level, or do your interactions have a tendency to become more informal? If you relate to your customers in a business-only fashion, then your dress code should reflect that. Just keep in mind that many customers will judge a business’s productivity based solely on its level of professionalism.

How will your employees react to your attire guidelines?

Another question helpful to consider is how your employees will react to your enforcement of strict attire guidelines. Your workplace might never reach complete agreement about the dress code, but it is still important to consider your staff’s general preferences, especially if your main goal in setting attire guidelines is to increase productivity.

If your workplace is extremely casual on an employee-management relations level, introducing an intense dress code into this informal environment is probably going to be counter-intuitive. By the same token, if you already have a strict dress code in place but sense resentment among your staff because of it, consider relaxing the attire rules. However, it is extremely important to do so only to the point where customers’ perceptions of your company will not be negatively affected.

So although the precise effects of workplace attire on productivity are not known, the question of dress code is still an important one to address. There is no formula that can be applied to all workplaces; instead, use your best judgment when deciding what attire guidelines are right for your company. Consider your company’s unique goals, attitudes, employees, and customers, and use these traits to help you reach a decision.

About Andrew Jensen

Andrew Jensen, a business growth, efficiency & marketing consultant, provides business advisory services for clients in the Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; York, Hanover, Lancaster & Harrisburg, PA regions. Andrew advises regarding business growth, productivity, efficiency, business startups, customer service, and online/offline marketing. Follow Andrew on Google+


  1. In our small law office, the middle-aged and older employees seem to be more comfortable with professional attire, while the younger set would rather be “comfortable” instead of dressing for success.

    Your article gives valid points from both ends of the “dressing room” and I look forward to using your advice when we, once again, debate our company dress code!

    • I think we should get to a point where dressing a certain way isn’t referred to as “dressing for success”, and rather let someone dress however they want (as long it isn’t too revealing or indecent) and let their work ethic and personal skill determine success.

  2. I feel that the establishment goes to extreme on dress codes. If you look presentable, and conduct yourself well then that is all that should matter.

    • Good point, Andrea, though Culture dominates and isn’t too keen on those who push against it. Accepted attire change in an old school corporate atmosphere is possible, but most easily favorably gained through tiny baby steps. Some distant day we’ll look back at rigid formal dress codes and smirk at what was once considered the only proper route. Already, younger companies – even in stereotypically old school realms – are raising eyebrows with how they redefine attire acceptable for conducting business.

    • ME ME ME Nguyen says:

      Agree with you. Clothes are not as important as competence. One could dress a Tiger in business attire, but that won’t increase the Tiger’s ability to conduct business professionally.

    • Leo Reis says:

      Unfortunately, different people have different levels or their own opinion of presentable.

  3. RevSpaminator says:

    Dress code should also be appropriate for different areas of your company. A financial institution may have front line staff dressed professionally but allow business casual for the back office staff and jeans/t-shirt for IT staff who are crawling under desks and answering calls about backed up toilets. (yes, people call IT about that too – but overpaid janitorial staff is another topic of discussion.)

  4. Love the article! It’s so nice you refer to scientific publications – even though their conclusions aren’t unambiguous ;) Andrew, could you write something similar about work space? I’m to start working from home and I’m looking for the tips. One of the best texts I found mentions the space as an important productivity factor. What do you think about it?

  5. yes they shoudl have a dress code

  6. Leo Reis says:

    Great article and I enjoyed reading it, I believe dress code is important for productivity but even more important for credibility not just with clients but also with other staff.
    There should never be a question that you are the expert in your industry.

  7. Michelle Archibald says:

    I don’t think that we realize the psychological effect that dressing casual has on our own self before it ever effects other people. “It first effects the way we think, the way we feel and the way we behave before it ever effects other people around us.” (Judith Rasband). I agree that dressing professionally gives us credibility to the people we are working for and with. It also has an effect on the wearer whether we believe our own self to be credible.

  8. Kate Bailey says:

    I have worked in an accounting firm for over 20 years, and I am in my 50s. We have a relaxed dress code here. We don’t see a lot of clients in the office, and we dress more professionally when we go to their office. They know we do a great job regardless of our dress though, which is casual, but neat and tasteful. Our clients are used to this and are fine. We still present our work professionally, and work productively as a team in this atmosphere.

  9. I don’t think there’s need for a lot of research. If the traditional theory says that formal attire increases productivity and casual attire decreases it, one has to explain the extraordinary productivity at workplaces like Google, Facebook, where not only the attire is very casual, but also the office layouts, designs and decorations are far beyond conventional stuff, which many might deem distracting. But if all of that(attire, unconventional offices) is distracting how can they produce the staff that they produce? Something’s very fish about the traditional view..

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