What  companies can or should have workers wear has fueled debate for years, with businesses still making headlines for their supposed offenses. As it turns out, you've got some science and psychology to support you, regardless of whether you're in favor of casual or  formal standards.

That old "dress-for-success" adage might have some truth.

People associate individuals in "professional" attire with positive traits, such as confidence and flexibility. These good perceptions get potential customers and business partners to act differently--simply adding a logo to an outfit enabled researchers to garner a response rate 39 percent higher for survey requests, for instance. Plus, individuals tend to adopt the behavior sets or expectations they associate with particular types of clothes. Students who thought they were wearing a doctor's coat, for instance, paid attention better than students who thought the coat was a painter's coat.

But flexibility has value, too.

When workers dress in a style that matches that their target audience, the similarity makes people feel like they are insiders, making them more likely to buy or engage in partnerships. Companies thus might benefit from more flexible dress codes that change based on the situation. Researchers also have found that certain jobs or ranks might have more leeway than others. For example, viewers rated female models who wore conservative clothing just slightly more promiscuously (one blouse button undone, a skirt just above the knee) less favorably when told the models were senior managers. When told the models were receptionists, ratings weren't affected. Having everyone adopt the same attire across the board thus likely isn't necessary in many companies. Companies also must consider that certain forms of dress, such as a hijab, might be protected under religious freedom or other laws.

More comfort, more results.

Researchers have found that people who dress more casually follow directions better. Other experts assert that a more laid-back approach to dress can reduce stress while increasing collaboration. Individuals who are allowed to be self-expressive through their clothes also might gain a stronger sense of self, leading to better confidence, leadership and innovation.

So what businesses need to do is ...

People usually expect those in high prestige jobs or positions to dress quite formally, and formal dress can mean big increases to the bottom line. Even so, that increased confidence, innovation, collaboration, and productivity that can come with more casual attire or choice of dress matters. What goes "too far" for your business's dress code might work elsewhere. Evaluate your company's goals, don't be afraid to  experiment with your company's dress code while reviewing metrics, and decide what route to take from there.

 

 

 

 

Published on: Jun 14, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.