The right fit: how what you wear affects how you work
Whether it’s a uniform, smart casual clothes or formal business attire, most Australian workers consider the dress code of their current workplace to be ‘ideal’ for them, according to research conducted by SEEK.

But younger workers, aged 18 – 34, are most likely to feel judged on their choice of clothing and pressure to stay ‘on trend’

The SEEK research, which surveys 4800 Australians that are representative of the workforce each year, found most people thought dress codes impacted them in some way from motivation to how they perceived their colleagues, and career progression.

Young people, aged 18- 34, were the group that were most affected by dress codes – either feeling judged by their choice of clothing or pressure to keep up with fashion trends. More than half of people in this age group said dress codes had some impact on their decision to choose one workplace over another.

Australian workplace dress codes

For the survey, dress codes were defined as:

  • Formal business (e.g. business suit and tie for men; business suit or business style dress for women)
  • Smart casual (e.g. sports jacket with chinos or nice jeans for men; nice slacks, skirt or dark jeans with a collared or dressy top for women)
  • Business casual (e.g. pressed khakis or chinos with a polo or collared shirt for men; dress pants with a fashionable top for women)
  • Casual / Informal (e.g. t-shirt and jeans)
  • Uniform
  • Other

In Australia, the most common workplace dress code is the uniform (26%). This isn’t entirely surprising given that the industries where uniforms are most commonly worn, trades and services, retail, hospitality, healthcare and medical and sales, account for the largest proportion of Australia’s work force.

Smart casual attire was the second most common at 25%, smart and business casual at 16%, casual / informal clothing at 16% and formal business attire at 11%.

Mark Hall-Smith, Director at Blade Recruitment, said this finding was generally reflective of his experience of dress code requirements when recruiting for companies.

“I would say there has generally been a move towards relaxing some formality around dress, particularly in the growing digital sector but I think it still depends on the industry you are in and what role you have,” Mark said.  “From my experience, the media sales industry still retains some formality around dress and I think that really boils down to if you are asking a client to be spending a lot of money, looking ‘smart’ does build a certain type of trust and confidence that the business deal will be handled professionally,” he explained.

The right fit

Most people surveyed said their current workplace had their ‘ideal’ dress code, with smart casual at 26%, followed closely by uniform (23%) and then business casual (19%).

Smart casual was the most often chosen as the ‘ideal’ dress code by people surveyed. Of those whose current dress code was formal business attire, 20% said they would prefer to dress smart casual and 18% of those who dressed casually would also prefer to ‘dress up’ to smart casual.

Just over one in three people (36%) believe that the current dress code at their place of work doesn’t allow them to dress in a way that represents their personality/personal style, this can largely be attributed to the significant number of people who wear a uniform to work.

Not surprisingly, workers with a casual dress code felt that they had the most flexibility to dress in their own personal style.

When it comes to dress codes, 58% of people believed a company should provide guidance on what to wear at work to provide a united company image and for safety reasons, particularly in jobs where uniforms are worn.

Career progression and motivation

Only one in four people surveyed (26%) believed what they wear to work could impact their career progression and whether or not they get promoted. Most people said they believed it was important to present yourself in a professional manner and gain ‘respect’ in the workplace to improve career progression.

A total of 41% of people believed some people in their workplace don’t dress appropriately – either  ‘too provocative’ or ‘too daggy’.

One in three people (34%) said they feel judged based on what they wear to work, and this feeling is significantly higher among 18-34 year olds at 44%. A significant number (29%) of 18 - 34 years olds said they felt pressured to keep up with the latest ‘fashion trends’, compared to just 19% of all people surveyed.

Just under one in three people (31%) also felt that what they wore to work impacted how motivated they were and how they performed at work. This view was most common in smart casual workplaces, while 80% of people with a casual dress code believed what they wore didn’t impact motivation.

Despite perception on how it can impact motivation and career progression, more than half (54%) of people surveyed said dress code didn’t impact their decision to choose a place of work at all. Only 39% said dress code had either some impact or a small impact on their decision.

Mark said these findings were generally reflective of his dealing with candidates.

“I do think the dress code of a workplace is probably a factor for a candidate when assessing whether to join or remain with a company, but I rarely hear anyone mention it when I specifically ask why they are leaving a company and what they are looking for in their next role. Having said that, I think most people would probably consider dress code as further justification of their decision,” he said.

Interestingly, people aged 18-34 said dress code had a significantly higher impact on their decision to choose a place of work, with only 43% stating that dress code didn’t impact their decision.

Dress code perceptions – what other people think your workplace dress code says about you:

  • MOST MOTIVATED – Smart Casual
  • LEAST MOTIVATED – Formal Business attire and Casual / Informal
  • MOST PRODUCTIVE – Smart Casual
  • LEAST PRODUCTIVE – Formal Business attire and Casual / Informal
  • COLLABORATIVE – Smart Casual and Business Casual
  • MOST CREATIVE – Smart Casual and Casual / Informal
  • LEAST CREATIVE – Formal Business attire and Uniform