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Half of US companies still don’t allow casual dress at work

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Not just for casual Fridays anymore.
  • Michelle Cheng
By Michelle Cheng

Reporter

In a workforce where working from home and wearing athleisure to the office are no longer uncommon, formal dress codes are starting to feel like an artifact from a bygone era—for some of us.

A new study by Indeed found that the share of US companies that allow casual dress throughout the workweek has increased from 32% to 50% in just the last five years. While it’s a big jump, it means another 50% of companies still haven’t caught up to a trend that now dates back decades. (Silicon Valley is widely credited with starting the business-casual boom in the 1980s.)

But even in industries where pinstripes and pencil-skirt suits or uniforms remain the norm, there’s increasing evidence that employers are willing to loosen their proverbial neckties. Nearly two-thirds of companies in the Indeed survey say they allow for casual clothing at least one day per week, no doubt a holdover from the “Casual Fridays” trend popularized in the 1990s and used as an inexpensive way to boost employee morale.

Goldman Sachs this year instituted a “flexible dress code,” instructing some 30,000 employees to dress “in a manner that is consistent” with clients’ expectations, which presumably allows for casual dress on occasion. Also this year, Virgin Atlantic announced a more relaxed dress code for female flight attendants, who are no longer required to wear makeup and are now able to swap skirts for pants without seeking special permission.

What’s it all to workers? A 2016 UK survey found that 61% of respondents looking for a new job in 2017 say they would have a negative perception of any company that enforces a dress code. A similar percentage of respondents said they feel more productive and happier when the dress code is relaxed. 

More formal looks certainly do have their selling points. Another jobs board site, The Muse, notes that some employers see the dress code as ultimately a reflection of the company’s values and mission while others see it as putting everyone on the same playing field. (Business casual indeed has been confusing for many of us.)

But the dress code we still like best is probably the one General Motors adopted a few years ago, consisting of a two-word phrase that’s applicable to everyone from the factory floor to the executive suite: “Dress appropriately.”

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