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What’s happening to office dress codes?

With the UK hotting up and the workplace getting warmer, cue the great debate about when it’s acceptable to wear shorts, if strappy tops and sandals are professional or if the tie should be worn or not.

From Crocs to the cost of living,  a survey* which quizzed over 1,000 UK office workers to delve deeper into their dress code policies, their opinions and how much they spend each year on their work wardrobe.

With the UK hotting up and the workplace getting warmer, cue the great debate about when it’s acceptable to wear shorts, if strappy tops and sandals are professional or if the tie should be worn or not.

Dress codes are put in place to help teams support the image that companies want to convey, but just how far do employees think employers are allowed to take their dress code? UK office workers reveal their opinions in latest research by instantprint.

Are Dress Codes Still Enforced in the UK?
Survey respondents shared if their employer has a dress code. Unsurprisingly 74% said yes, their employer does have a dress code, 21% said no and only 5% wear a uniform. But that doesn’t mean that our respondents agree or follow the rules set out.

A whopping 80% believe that employers should be allowed to set and enforce a dress code in the workplace and only 18% believe otherwise.

Further research found that 60% of those who said ‘no’ were under the age of 35, compared to just 10% of those aged 45+ and only 5% of 18-24-year-olds responded ‘yes’.

It seems the older generation prefers dress codes to stay as they are whereas millennials and Gen X are looking for a more relaxed environment. Maybe because they spent a large proportion of their careers working from home with a smart shirt on camera and pj bottoms out of view.

Dress for the Job you have
Taking a deeper dive into respondents’ answers, the survey showed which industries do and don’t have dress codes and which ones require a uniform.

As an important public figure who wants to showcase their business and or responsibility, those most likely to have a dress code were:

Real Estate and Housing – 100%
Non-profit and Charity – 89%
Business and Information – 83%
Finance and Insurance – 75%
Education – 71%

Working from home or working in a ‘hands-on approach’ industry shows that dress codes simply do not apply, those most likely to have no dress code were:

Agriculture – 63%
Creative, Arts & Design – 29%
Nature Resources/Environment – 19%
Marketing, Advertising & PR – 12%
Construction, Utilities & Contracting -11%

Unsurprisingly, industries that are known for interacting with the general public seemed to take the top spot when it came to uniforms. Industries that racked up the most votes for uniforms were:

Sales – 25%
Leisure – 9%
Motor Vehicle – 8%
Manufacturing – 5%
Health Services – 3%

Dress to Impress
The survey also asked respondents to share what they would describe their current dress code as.

Casual – I Can Wear What I Like, but Nothing Inappropriate – 32%
Smart-casual – There Is a Dress Code With Certain Restrictions – 20%
Business-smart – I Have To Wear Suits, Blazers, Blouses and Shirts and Smart Office Wear – 16%
Completely Relaxed – I Can Wear What I Like With No Implications – 12%
Smart – I Am Not Allowed To Wear Jeans, T-shirts Etc – 12%
I Wear a Uniform – 8%

It seems that casual takes the top spot, closely followed by smart casual. It looks like the common workplace is leaning more on the relaxed side these days, possibly swayed by those working from home and the hot weather making its way to the UK.

For those that responded with completely relaxed – I can wear what I like with no implications, 69% were under the age of 35. For those that selected smart – I am not allowed to wear jeans, t-shirts etc over 41% of these respondents were aged 35 and over.

Unsurprisingly, completely relaxed and smart hold a joint place at the bottom of the list. It seems that employers won’t accept a ‘wear whatever you like’ attitude but they understand that smart attire may not be necessary every day, especially for those who may not be in client-facing roles.

Business-smart takes third place with many industries from finance to education requiring employees to dress suitably for their jobs. Although times have changed, it looks to be that some industries must remain smart in their attire.

Top 10 Clothing Choices You’re Likely to Be Dress Coded For
Short Skirts, Dresses, Playsuits and or Shorts – 30%
Vests and or Crop Tops – 29%
Revealing, Sheer and or Low Cut Tops – 29%
Ripped Jeans – 27%
Band T-Shirts and or Large Graphics – 24%
Leggings – 23%
Joggers – 23%
Shorts – 23%
Open-Toed Footwear, Sandals and or Flip Flops – 22%
Caps and or Hats – 19%

The results show that modesty is the biggest contender for employers. With short skirts, dresses, playsuits, shorts, vests, crop tops and revealing, sheer and or low-cut tops coming in as the top 3. Casual items come in next with ripped jeans, graphic t-shirts, leggings and joggers also being popular in our respondent’s dress code policy.

How Much Are Employees Spending?
Amongst the cost of living and with many of us still working from home, the survey asked respondents to share how much they spend on their workwear every year. Coming in with only 7% of votes was £100 – £150. Has the cost of living got us tightening our belts when it comes to workwear spending?

How much do you spend a year?
I Don’t Spend Anything -9%
I Get My Workwear for Free -19%
£0 – £20 -12%
£20 – £50 -27%
£50 – £100 – 26%
£100 – £150 – 7%

When looking at age, 22% of 45-55-year-olds spend just £0-£20 a year, compared to 41% of 18-24-year-olds and 27% of 25-34-year-olds who are more inclined to spend between £50- £100. It seems the older you get, the more likely you are to spend less on what you wear to work. Maybe because disposable income needs to be spent elsewhere such as on childcare or other family needs.

50% of respondents also shared that their employer does offer an optional uniform/ option to purchase branded work clothing.

30% shared that they get a levy towards their work clothes.

22% get their uniform for free and 19% enjoy dress-down or casual Fridays.

I’m Sorry, But You Can’t Wear That
The survey also asked respondents whether they ever had a choice of clothing questioned in line with a dress code policy.

30% of respondents shared that they have been dress coded and as a result, never wore that item of clothing again.

Looking closer at gender’s role in dress codes, the survey uncovered that almost 1 in 5 men said no when asked if they had ever been dress coded, whereas more than 2 in 5 women said yes. These women also shared that they were asked to change and or cover-up by their employer.

For the men that have been dress coded, 12% shared that they continued to wear the item of clothing as they didn’t agree.

Vicki Russell, Head of Team Experience at instantprint, commented on the findings: “Dress codes are a great way for employers to ensure that their team looks smart and represents the business in the best way. We set clear expectations and guidelines for our team that still allow them to showcase their tastes and personality in a professional manner.”


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