What is considered suitable clothing in the modern workplace?

Not only is it helpful, it is also necessary, for employers to adopt a dress code policy. Regardless of how relaxed a company is, it should have such a policy in place which allows employers to set out its basic framework to avoid faux pas – for example, by informing employees that it is not acceptable to wear offensive slogans on t-shirts. This minimises the margins for error and the potential for damage to be caused to the reputation of the business.

Some, but not all companies, take the time to review whether or not their policy is still relevant and in line with the company’s ethos and style. However, as attitudes to workplace dress and case law in this area are constantly changing, it is advisable that companies review their policies regularly, perhaps as often as once per year.

More and more businesses are moving towards a casual dress code rather than asking their staff to wear a suit and tie, or equivalents thereof, every day. Exceptions are usually made for client meetings, when more traditional workplace attire may be required depending on the particular client. However, where it was once the norm, smart attire is now far rarer in the modern workplace. A study by Travelodge in 2018 found that only one in ten people wore a suit to work. Suits are actively discouraged in some industries, and for potential meetings between corporates with potential clients in newer industries. Start-ups, especially in tech, might be put off by formal wear, so those from more traditional sectors might need to consider this upon first meeting.

Therefore, when helping clients to draft their dress code policies, we are mindful both of the work they do, and the people their staff will come into contact with. A policy might need to consider a flexible approach to workwear, ensuring that attire best suits its occasion.

Of course, no employer is infallible, and complaints can still be made.

News in the area of workwear makes dressing for work an ever-evolving field. Therefore, it makes sense that policies are reviewed on an annual basis. Care must be taken when considering appropriate workwear to ensure that it is not discriminatory. For example, recently a company was criticised for paying female members of staff cash bonuses to wear skirts to work.

Furthermore, gender-specific prescriptive requirements should be avoided. For example, the requirement to wear high heels. Any requirement to wear make-up, skirts, have manicured nails, certain hairstyles or specific types of hosiery is also likely to be unlawful.

But there are stickier points for employers to deal with which fall under the ‘work appropriate’ umbrella. It is far easier to categorise, advise on and deal with complaints about attire than to have a conversation with an employee about their personal hygiene and general appearance. However, policies should also cover such matters, so that, if a complaint is made, a reference to the policy can be cited. This will remove any suggestion that a complaint is personal.

Reema Jethwa

Senior Associate – Employment

+44 (0) 20 7307 3971


This article is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action.