Does it really matter how we dress at work?

There’s been considerable debate in recent weeks over how we choose to dress ourselves. Much of this has been led by Jeremy Corbyn’s (apparently outrageous) decision not to do up his top button or to dress in the same way that all other politicians do. And outside of politics there have been numerous debates about how professionals are expected to dress at work. But does it really matter?


Aside from being told off for not doing up his top button, Corbyn has also been accused of “looking like a hipster’s ghost” by some commentators. It’s hardly surprising, you only need to glance at a tabloid or at the Daily Mail’s infamous ‘sidebar of shame’ to see how much of a focus we put on how people look and what they wear in the modern day. Even in the football world, Mario Balotelli has been told to keep a reasonable haircut and to dress in a style that’s more in line with the brand of his new employer, AC Milan.


The emergence of the ‘millennial’ generation coupled with professionals who want an increasing amount of freedom and flexibility from their employers has meant that dress codes have been relaxed from what they once were in the vast majority of workplaces. Many firms are even using a casual dress approach as a way of recruiting and retaining the next generation of talent. However, some have suggested that this shouldn’t be the case and that we should continue to ‘dress to impress’. One of these people is new Barclays chairman John MacFarlane and one of his first moves upon arrival was to ban flip-flops and jeans from the firm’s offices. He argued that if “you work on the premise that the overall objective is to project a professional, business-like image without being obliged to wear formal business attire then you should be fine. Principally it means no jeans, t-shirts, trainers or flip-flops.”


Macfarlane’s point is clear enough and in many instances, like a job interview or client meeting, you will have to dress smartly – there’s no way around that. However, for the majority of the professional workforce who have little or no face-to-face interaction with their end clients, does it really matter what we wear? Apparently, he’s not alone as a recent survey found that two-thirds of UK professionals were in favour of a strict dress code in the workplace. But much like giving employees the chance to work on a flexible basis, if you have confidence in your team and trust that they will smarten themselves up if a client were to visit, for example, shouldn’t the rules be relaxed?


Here at BlueSky, we’re a pretty snappily dressed bunch so I asked the views of some of my colleagues. Personally, I dress (relatively) smartly because I feel it subconsciously allows me to get in the right frame of mind for work. But does everyone else feel the same?



Yes it does matter. Whilst it may not be necessary to come in a fitted suit and tie everyday there’s definitely truth to feeling a certain way depending on how you’re dressed. So if you come to work, for example, in a pair of shorts and flip flop sandals everyday surely you’re more set for holiday mode than work (depending on what you do) ?

Not to mention it’s also about how other people view you, which some people may not care about, but you should if you want to build stable business relationships with them.


It depends on what is appropriate for your line of work. If you’re in a job where you’re not facing clients and you’re not on display then I don’t see the need to be dressed “business professional” all the time. Particularly if you’re sat at a desk all day, you probably want to be comfortable. But there is a limit. I really don’t think it’s acceptable to turn up to work looking scruffy – it makes you look like you don’t care. I think the process of getting ready for work can help to put you in a productive mind-set. If you’re sat at your desk wearing the sort of thing you’d slob out in in front of the TV of an evening, I doubt you’ll be very motivated!


Firstly, you can never really go too far wrong if you dress smartly. In an office or professional environment where you regularly receive clients, I think it’s safest to be smart. However, it really depends on what type of work you do. If you work in a creative field, wearing a suit might seem out of place and might actually detract from your credibility – both with clients and your colleagues.


I think clothes play an important role in how you feel – nobody is desperately reaching for a miniskirt when they are ill, just as nobody fearlessly dons a pair of faded and oversized tracksuit bottoms for a night out. Dressing smartly can add to your air of professionalism, but it is also important to be comfortable unless you want your concentration split 60% on work, 20% on your too-tight trousers and 20% on the blister forming on your little toe.   


On a breezy summer day in 2005, Alfie the clown decided to go to work wearing a suit, and no face paint. He thought he would leave most of his props at home too – he was in desperate need of a casual Friday. His day, already a bit lousy, got worse when he realised he was not much without his outfit. Needless to say he could not face his audience – half of the talent was lost. I’ll leave the ending and conclusions for you to draw.


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