For quite some time, people—business workers, bosses, teachers, parents, even researchers—have been preaching the “Dress for Success” attitude. The message is pretty straightforward: When you dress nicely for work, you’re more likely to have a better attitude, production rate, and relationship with your colleagues. You’re motivated to be an achiever, because the clothes you’re wearing make you feel like one. It’s all about dressing the part.

From the outside looking in, clients and strangers are likely to form impressions of you based upon what they know about you, which in the beginning, is quite limited to your appearance. If you’re dressed up professionally, you can quickly send the message that you’re put together, successful, and sophisticated. Your image is a reflection of how you and your company will be perceived. 

Based on these reasons and many others, most workplaces have some level of a dress code enforced. Some companies have strict requirements, such as men to wear a suit and tie and women to wear a dress or pantsuit. Other companies may just describe the “look” they’re going for, such as business casual. Or, perhaps only a couple specific instructions are given, such as no open-toed shoes or no jeans. The list goes on. Plenty of dress codes leave a lot of ambiguity and can be interpreted differently depending on the company enforcing it. 

Dress codes can get confusing.

On top of all the different existing dress codes, the workplace is only becoming more and more diverse. People from all different cultures and traditions are now working alongside each other in the same environment, bound by the same rules and regulations. 

Diversity in the workplace is an absolutely wonderful thing that reaps countless benefits for workers and companies alike, however, dress codes can certainly complicate the diverse scene. Or, maybe it’s the other way around.

If your office resembles something of a mosaic of people, the best way to create relationships and harmony is to celebrate everyone’s differences. Pretending we all have the same interests and lifestyle is an ineffective way to approach diversity and limit inclusion. 

The facts are: We aren’t the same. We had different upbringings, maybe in different countries. We have different household cultures. We celebrate different holidays. Our likes, hobbies, religion, style, family are different. 

Welcome diversity by learning more about those things that are different than what you know. Allowing space for everyone’s culture to breathe and be expressed is something that needs to be accomplished at the very core of our companies if we want this practice to affect all employees and relationships. 

Our dress is a part of our culture.

People from different backgrounds likely won’t have the same opinion of what a work dress code should entail. Even more specifically, cultures have different definitions of what’s considered “casual” or “professional.” 

Rather than holding all people in a workplace accountable for the dressing norms of traditional America, what say ye to broadening our definitions? To allowing people to keep their culture and professionalism at the same time?

A diversity-friendly dress code shouldn’t be a huge change to implement. It might only require a few adjustments. First things first, get to know your employees. Talk to them. How do they think their culture or ethnicity can be better expressed at work through their wardrobe? Are there any particular dress code rules that prohibit their ability to practice their culture? How can you be more welcoming and accepting of their individuality?

I don’t mean to suggest that you should completely abandon company ideals of what is office-appropriate attire. Keep your basic standards, but allow room for people to feel like themselves at work. Valuing your employees’ individuality goes a long way and is just one of the steps necessary to creating a more inclusive workplace. 

Knowted is known for its ability to humanize the workplace and create positive relationships in diverse professional settings. Read more about how to improve your team dynamics and corporate culture here

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