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Stylists’ top tips on dressing for British summer plus what do UK office workers think of their workplace dress codes

workplace dress codes for the summer

It seems that the warm weather has returned and with temperatures rising, some of us may have to re-think our office wardrobe for the millionth time this year! Ally Boldan, a PR and Communications Executive at instantprint recently carried out a survey with help of her team where they quizzed over 1,000 UK office workers to delve deeper into their workplace dress codes, their opinions and how much they spend each year on their work wardrobe.

As part of our research, we also spoke to three fashion experts to uncover their top tips for dressing for the warmer weather and their advice to employers and employees.

The research into UK workplace dress codes revealed that:

  • A whopping 80% of respondents believe that employers should be allowed to set and enforce a dress code in the workplace.
  • Restrictions on tattoos and or piercings racked up 36% of votes.
  • 30% of respondents shared that they like dress codes but think they could be more flexible/less strict.
  • 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.
  • 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’.
  • 32% of employers have adopted a ‘casual – I can wear what I like, but nothing inappropriate’ dress code since lockdown.
  • The blurring of lines between fashion for work and private lives means that your style choices work harder so they’re worth investing in.
  • Linen blazers and palazzo-style pants will bring formality whilst keeping you cool.
  • The full blog and research can be found here

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?

We asked our respondents 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.

Top 10 clothing choices you’re likely to be dress coded over

  1. Short skirts, dresses, playsuits and or shorts – 30%
  2. Vests and or crop tops – 29%
  3. Revealing, sheer and or low cut tops – 29%
  4. Ripped jeans – 27%
  5. Band T-shirts and or large graphics – 24%
  6. Leggings – 23%
  7. Joggers – 23%
  8. Shorts – 23%
  9. Open-toed footwear, sandals and or flip Ffops – 22%
  10. 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. One could question if this merely applies to female staff members and sparks quite the debate during summer months when a vest per se could be appropriate if worn correctly.

Casual items come in next with ripped jeans, graphic t-shirts, leggings and joggers also being popular in our respondent’s dress code policy. There is often debate that printed tees and leggings could be deemed suitable when worn correctly, but is distressed denim and loungewear a bit far?

But what are employers not bothered about? It seems that your taste in jewellery, coming in at the bottom at just 4% is something that employers are not interested in policing. The same goes for footwear that isn’t open-toed. Heels at 5% and Crocs, Uggs, pumps and canvas shoes at 11%, are A-okay for some of our respondent’s employers.

You may not be able to wear a vest and some nice sandals to work this summer, but you may get away with Crocs and large hoop earrings if that’s more to your taste.

The dress code includes what?

40% shared that personal hygiene and or grooming direction was part of their dress code. This wasn’t so surprising, but it does leave us wondering if 60% of employers don’t care or won’t say anything about employees who may not adhere to this one.

Coming in next was restrictions on tattoos and or piercings racking up 36% of votes. Even in 2023, it seems that this is still prevalent and a little body ink or a hole in your ear, nose or whatever else is deemed unacceptable in the workplace. Should anyone be judged on their ability to do their job based on their personal body modification preferences?

Interestingly, many of the respondents also shared that restrictions on false nails and or nail polish, gel, and acrylic – 35%, restrictions on hair colours, styles and or maintenance – 28% and restrictions on makeup and or fake tan – 23% were a part of their dress code. This may be understandable for those who work in industries such as hospitality and health services because let’s face it no one wants a false eyelash in their fajitas.

How much are Brits spending?

Amongst the cost of living and with many of us still working from home, we asked our survey respondents to share how much they spend on their workwear every year.

How much do you spend a year? % of workers who spend this amount
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.

workplace dress code

I’m sorry, but you can’t wear that!

The last thing that we asked our respondents is whether they ever had a choice of clothing questioned in line with a dress code policy.

30% of our 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, we 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.

Tips from the workwear experts

As part of the research, instantprint spoke to 3 fashion experts to uncover their top tips for dressing for the warmer weather and their advice to employers and employees.

Samantha Harman
The Style Editor, Certified stylist and coach helping leaders make money through the power of their clothes

“We’ve entered a new era in workwear, which raises questions, but also provides a great opportunity for employers to create new guidelines and seek input from their employees.

What to wear to work is an important conversation that’s not happening. I frequently talk to both managers and employees who are confused about what to wear to work. One recently said to me, ‘people either look like they’re going to Royal Ascot or they’re in their pyjamas; there is no in-between.’

When I asked why they felt they couldn’t have this conversation with employees, they said ‘I don’t feel comfortable with that because I’m struggling with what to wear myself. No one has ever given me training on this and I’m scared of saying the wrong thing.’

We give employees training in many other areas – complaince, data, health and safety. But the one thing we do every day, is get dressed. And it can literally influence how successful we are. 

There’s something called enclothed cognition – what we wear informs our identity and our behaviour. If someone feels good in their clothes, and like they’re dressed appropriately for the situation, they’re more likely to be productive, visible and get better results for the business. 

Also bear in mind that many new grads have Interned and trained during a pandemic; they’ve never been in a formal office environment – they need support with what to wear.

In general, summer is the toughest time to get dressed. Not only can certain materials feel uncomfortable, but it can also bring up feelings of body insecurity. So it’s important for employers to be mindful of the different needs of employees. 

For employees – focus on breathable fabrics that allow you to focus on your work. If you’re in the room, but in your head you’re thinking about how tight your trousers are, or how awkward you feel, you aren’t going to perform at your best. 

Go for suiting in looser fits that allow air in. Linen blazers and palazzo-style pants will bring formality whilst keeping you cool. 

Layering is also a must in the unpredictable UK weather. It’s warm when you get dressed, but by lunch it could be raining! Laying can also help you make your favourite summer pieces work-appropriate. Layer a cotton shirt under your favourite slip dress. 

Clear communication from employers is vital. ‘Smart’ means totally different things to two different people, and if the guidance isn’t clear people are left to interpret it for themselves.”

Shazia Saleem
Fashion designer, sustainable fashion expert and founder of Pop London

“Layer up, it might be hot outside, however, most offices blast the air conditioning to full therefore having a little flexibility in your outfit can be really helpful, that can be something as simple as throwing a jumper over your shoulders.

Invest in a selection of styles for your wardrobe made from natural fabrics such as linen, cotton or silk that don’t have stretch as styles made from these fabrics tend to be on the smart side of the smart casual spectrum, such as a shirt dress for women.

The blurring of lines between fashion for work and private lives means that your style choices work harder so they’re worth investing in.

Dress towards your ambition. Senior management often set an example as to style and you can also take inspiration from social media accounts of leaders in a particular industry, what do they wear to the office? Don’t be afraid of colour or to add your personal touch, for example through a silk scarf or pocket square.

The smart casual work wardrobe can be tricky to pull off which is why guidance from companies can be helpful, as shown by your survey respondents. This could be straightforward such as asking employees to check if they are client-facing or have executive meetings on a particular day to determine whether they should dress smart or casual.”

Emma Lightbown
Fashion podcaster and stylist and features presenter at Emma Lightbown Styling

“Following a dress code can be both a blessing and a curse, whilst it can be great to have guidelines on what to wear it can often stifle creativity and restrict a persons sense of identity they often express through their clothes. The research featured so many interesting and often surprising points, it highlighted the bias between men and women with employers seeming to be more focused on modesty than grooming and hygiene. What we wear speaks volumes about us before we even say a word so in customer facing roles our outfit choices can project everything from professionalism or an air of authority or on the flip side even incompetence!

Here’s some top tips for nailing the dress code:

Understand the dress code policy: Familiarise yourself with the specific dress code guidelines and policies of your workplace. This may include formal, business casual, or casual attire. Pay attention to any specific rules regarding clothing items, colours, patterns, or accessories.

Dress professionally: Regardless of the dress code, always aim to dress professionally and presentably. Choose clothing that is clean, neat, and well-fitted. Avoid wearing clothing that is too revealing, casual, or sloppy.

Don’t be afraid to express your personality with prints and pops of colour, following the dress code doesn’t mean you need to ditch your own identity. People who wear brighter colours and bold prints are often thought of as more confident and friendly.

Follow the dress code hierarchy: If your workplace has a hierarchy of dress codes (e.g., formal on certain days, business casual on others), make sure to adhere to them accordingly. Adjust your attire based on the designated dress code for each day or event.

Consider the nature of your work: Take into account the nature of your job and any specific requirements or safety concerns. Some industries, such as healthcare or construction, may have more stringent dress code policies due to safety regulations. Make sure your clothing is appropriate for your work tasks and environment.

Seek clarification if unsure: If you are uncertain about any aspect of the dress code, it’s better to ask for clarification rather than assuming. Consult your supervisor, HR department, or colleagues to ensure you are following the guidelines correctly.

Dress weather appropriately – modesty was a key factor for most employers in the research so when the weather heats up there are still ways to keep cool without breaking the dress code – look for natural fibre clothes such as cotton, viscose and linen. 

Remember, adhering to the workplace dress code demonstrates professionalism, respect for the company culture, and an understanding of appropriate attire in a professional environment.”

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.”