Most of us have experienced the farrago of feelings on the day of an interview, despite that everything is most likely prepared beforehand: your resume is printed, potential questions and answers rehearsed, and the proper attire in mind.

But what is proper attire?

Of course it’s probably better to err on the professional side when interviewing, but a marked shift has taken place during recent years regarding the definition of proper attire. Companies on both sides argue about how attire relates to work performance, stating either that 1. Allowing employees to wear what they desire will make them more comfortable and secure Tweet This, or 2. That by unifying the attire, focus and/or stress related to appearance is removedTweet This

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Though young to the work environment, I have so far been introduced to uniforms, and dress codes ranging from proper to casual. I’ve always taken a translucent standpoint in the matter because it’s not something I have a say in. Still, I can’t help myself but to ask – does a specific dress code have an effect on employee performance?

A study was conducted addressing the general opinion in different countries on how work performance relates to perceived appearance.  Twenty-four countries participated in the study, and the results were divided: “45% of workers think that someone wearing casual work clothes is more productive in their job ,” while “55% of workers believe someone wearing a more prescribed workplace or business attire is more productive.” Judging by these statistics, the general impression among employees is split, with 10% more employees believing a “prescribed workplace or business attire” positively impacts productivity. But this also shows in the leaps casual dress has made in recent decades. Today, one may be a victim of preconceived notions held by co-workers and customers about work performance based on attire, but it is likely that productivity is similar.

Marketing consultant Andrew Jensen recently published an article that brings up two key questions to keep in mind when determining dress code: 1. Who are your clients? and 2. Who are your employees?

How would you, as a customer, react to a banker who wore jeans and flip-flops? I’m going to hazard a guess that it wouldn’t meet the professional appearance you believe the the person monitoring your money, or any other person in the financial sector for that matter, should portray. Would you trust them less, and perhaps question their ability as banker? But, if you threw caution to the wind and gave them a shot, would it actually affect their performance? Chances are it wouldn’t, but appearances are important nonetheless.

2744040362_6265e8f9f3Look at your company.  Are you strictly internal or are you facing the public on a regular basis? What kind of company are you, and what are you trying to portray? Retail stores range from employees in suits at high-end stores such as Nordstroms, to diverse dress codes at Converse, Forever 21 and other stores. What are you as a brand aiming to portray? Do your employees match your perceived brand image?

If you do decide to mandate a dress code, keep what Jensen says in mind: “…it is still important to consider your staff’s general preferences, especially if your main goal in setting attire guidelines is to increase productivity.” A staff that begrudges the dress code may not be more productive at all.

Look at your company from the perspective of your customers, and the issue of appearance might influence whether or not you enforce a dress code. If your employees don’t match the image in your head of how you think they should look, you – viewing from the customers’ perspective – may start questioning their competence.

Companies should continue to address the issue individually and assess both internal and external expectations held by employees and customers. Striking a balance between keeping your employees comfortable and your clients trust in you is to find a balance between work performance and credibility.

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[CC photo from paul goyettethinkpanama, and Lars Plougmann]