January 19, 2016

Like politics and wine, the farthest ends of the dress code spectrum are the easiest to navigate. For instance, if trousers and suit-jackets are required, save the Hawaiian prints for Saturdays. Or, if frayed jeans are acceptable, save the wingtips for Sundays.

The vast, murky middle ground between professional- and casual-wear lies the ever-popular “business casual.” Where attire is meant to foster professionalism and productivity, but instead leaves many scratching their chins over rules on collars, shoulder straps and how much skin should be exposed below the ankle.

So what’s the deal with dress codes? Well for one, they can be a testament to changing ideologies and eras; from IBM’s strict button-down shirt and tie, to jeans and tees at Microsoft and Apple, to the obligatory hooded sweatshirt at Facebook. They’re an inkling into how a company values service, self-expression and accountability. More so, they give insight into organizational culture and how a business aspires to be viewed by customers, competitors and potential employees.

Take GM, which moved from a 10-page document on attire to a dress code that spans two words: dress appropriately. It’s empowering managers to be accountable, lead their teams and have open discussions about issues at the office. It’s a shift from bureaucracy to self-empowerment and representative of a larger corporate mission.

So if a strict dress code has your coat tails in a bunch, ask yourself if it’s part of a bigger issue. Is your company too process-driven? Slow to change? Hierarchical? High pressure? There could be more things troubling you than those itchy wool pants.

Conversely, an ultra-relaxed atmosphere might have you begging for more structure, support, communication or direction.

Your company’s dress code isn’t arbitrary. It’s one element of its culture, which plays a big part in your growth, success and overall satisfaction at work.

If you’re yearning for a role that’s a better fit, but not sure how to get there, try filling out the form on this page or starting your application. We’ll put you in touch with one of our admissions counselors to talk about your career path.