SURVEY SAYS: Dress Codes at Work

We recently covered a survey that found employees prefer a casual dress code at work.

And most employers surveyed have a business casual or casual dress code. However, managers reported that sometimes employees take ‘casual’ a little too far.

Last week, I asked NewsDash readers, “What is the dress code for your office, would you prefer something different, and have you seen any employees taking ‘casual’ too far?”

More than 60% of responding readers reported the dress code for their office is business casual, while 22.5% said it is casual, and 11.8% indicated it is business formal. Slightly more than 5% indicated there was no official dress code for their office.

Asked if their office’s dress code changes during the summer, 12% said yes, while 81.3% said no.

Nearly 57% of responding readers said they prefer a business casual dress code, while 30.3% prefer casual and 6.6% prefer business formal. Another 6.6% indicated they prefer no official dress code.

Many readers responding to the question about coworkers violating the dress code or taking ‘casual’ too far, complained about flip-flops. Also, several agreed with the reader who said, “Leggings are NOT pants!” I’ve seen that one myself. Others shared stories of coworkers wearing apparel that showed too much skin or too many “anatomical details,” and coworkers wearing no underwear.

In comments from readers about dress codes at work, some noted that work attire has gotten way too casual, and even if there is a dress code, there will always be violators. A few long for the time when business formal was the norm. A couple offered advice, such as “If you have to ask if it’s acceptable, it’s probably not,” or to think about what your mother would think of your outfit. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said, “Hurray for business casual and the death of pantyhose!”

Thanks to everyone who responded to the survey!

Reader experiences with dress code violations 

Wearing flip flops - I think the look and sound are not appropriate for an office.

I have had employees wear what I would deem "beach" attire to work, the types of dresses used to cover up a bathing suit, flip flops (this 55 year-old once called them "thongs" and had to apologize to those (young) women with looks of horror on their faces that I was attempting to regulate THAT piece of attire), bottoms that any reasonable person would call "shorts." Yes, I favor business casual.

Extremely short skirts and footless tights as pants have surprisingly shown up in this conservative dress code environment. Footless tights are not an option even under a skirt.

Young employees wearing leggings as pants to work.

The biggest offense is the plunging neckline. The dress code says no cleavage showing. I am perfectly willing to apply that to both men and women. Yet people push the envelope, hoping no one will say anything.

At one place where I worked, the dress code was "casual", but specified that appropriate undergarments were required. I later found out that the person whose attire triggered that requirement was male.

Many of our younger female workers wear skin tight pants that while not revealing flesh reveal too much anatomical details. A few older ones have also adopted this, to their detriment, really.

We have a business casual environment but someone wore lace pants one day, similar to a swimsuit cover up.

My age must be showing, but several of my co-workers attend meetings with clients (that should be business formal dress) in leggings or in dresses that only come to mid-thigh. The boss doesn't seem to mind, however.

No matter what the dress code is, someone will always try to sneak in 1 or 2 steps below the requirement. After 17 years, I just avert my eyes.

Leggings are NOT pants! Just because they make them in your size doesn't mean they are appropriate AT ALL.

Violations include= no shoes, offensive shirts (designs and/or words), "belly shirts" by those that shouldn't, and clothes that are wrinkled and smelly.

Our employees generally have a lot of common sense. I have not seen anything outlandish for a long time.

definitely too many visible tattoos supporting the rival football team and flip flops w/ torn jeans.


Some of the summer apparel is questionable.

Flip Flops are not business casual

Some of the guys around here wear shorts & flip-flops. I believe they should work somewhere else -- like a beach side bar!

We are a General Contractor, most projects in the $50m - $300m range. While our office staff has office casual, the job site is something else. Job site personnel that come to the office are easily recognized & not an issue – it’s the job. Casual too far comes from flip-flops at work, beachwear, gym wear, etc. Clearly, these were designed for comfort, not a work environment.

Tight leggings, half tops, flip flops, sneakers, jeans (unless you are moving/doing physical activity like an IT person crawling under desks), short skirts, low cut tops, see through tops unless there's a modest top underneath it. Shorts should not be allowed, no tank tops (for men or women), though sleeveless tanks with matching sweater cardigan are ok. No sweatpants, no t-shirts - again unless it’s a moving day or volunteer day where you are doing physical activity.

shorts, T-shirt/tank top and flip flops are taking casual a bit too far!

I saw a young woman this week who apparently had just come from the beach; a strappy, backless tank top and a "skirt" and flip flops. I'm glad I didn't have to witness her bending over or sitting. (insert eye roll here)

A few years back, I had to send a woman home to change because her skirt was so short than when she sat down there was absolutely nothing left to the imagination. The fact that she thought underwear unnecessary added to the problem. When questioned if she knew why I was sending her home to change, her reply: "All the other women here are just jealous."

The smaller the office, the more you notice the problems.

Sandals / Open toed shoes in the office are a no for me.

Reader experiences with dress code violations (cont.) 

We are a professional office and occasionally have a blue jean Friday, which I like. Each employee wearing jeans must donate at least $5, which is given to various charities. My one complaint is that a number of younger men wear their shirt tails out. They really look sloppy. I am in senior management, but unfortunately not all of the others in senior management agree with me.

We are able to wear jeans on Fridays. We've had employees come to work in holey jeans and sweatshirt hoodies. We are supposed to "look nice" when we wear jeans...maybe these people thought they did look nice?

We had a more-formal-than-casual period when I started here, and one "lady" would wear short skirts/dresses with fishnet stockings & high heels.

Flip flops, which is well below the "business casual" description and is accompanied by the constant flopping noise as people walk through the office.

Some women often wear tops which are too revealing for the office, definitely not business in any way for our business casual dress code.

I hate to say this, but it is apparent, at least in our office, that the females in our office are the most frequent violators of the dress code, I've seen flip flops and muddy Croc's worn to work. The managers will not address their employees and seem to think that HR should be the fashion police for the company.

As with children, your behavior closely follows the way you are dressed. I think our society has become too casual in many ways. If we expect to be treated as professionals, I think we should dress professionally.

Hmmm, I've seen some very casual attire in my years. HR doesn't want to be the "dress code police" so we leave it up to the supervisors to address, but we still see a lot of non-compliance with the policy.

We have business casual only on Friday but people go to blue jeans. Since when is blue jeans business casual?

I worked for a retail company previously and saw some pretty outlandish outfits. The oddest was a mesh see-through neon green one-piece jumper with a black bikini bathing suit underneath. Outfits such as this were considered acceptable for that culture. I was just happy to be able to wear jeans.

Our dress code is actually: Business Appropriate So dress depending on what you day looks like.

There is a list of unacceptable attire. We have an enforcer who will send people home if their attire crosses the line.

Yoga pants, purple velour "jogging" suits, see-thru tops, the list goes on and on.

Flip flops! Cannot seem to get people to understand that they are not only inappropriate, but a workers' comp accident waiting to happen.

I had to talk to one of my employees whose idea of casual was wearing a t-shirt, sweatpants and flip flops.

Too low tops and flip flops

Summer dresses are nice, but you need to remember that you need to bend differently than when you are in pants - we've had one too many complaints over the years about seeing too much of someone's business!

Yes, we have had flip flops and garden clogs worn in. Our policy is pretty casual with only a no blue jeans clause. But we can wear other color jeans.

When her supervisor noticed the tail feathers of the tramp stamp the employee was sent home to change. She never came back.

Jeans and sneakers are not allowed, yet employees wear them. Capris are too casual. Clothes too tight, too much skin shown.

We do have an informal policy of more casual on Fridays. Of course some people take it too far, I've seen hot pants, bared bellies, flip flops, we're a financial services organization, and employees should get that we need to dress a little more professionally.

I am not concerned with people taking it too far. I am concerned with consistency of application. Women in our facility frequently wear sandals/flip flops. When can men have that same luxury?

The main thing I see is with women. Their clothing may be a bit too tight, like skinny jeans.

I've noticed two things: skin-tight clothing that's not appropriate and jeans that are worn over and over without being washed.



Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We have a dress code yet struggle with agreeing on the definitions of clothing items (by the way, thongs are not referenced in any way in our policy).

The dress code is pretty strict. We cannot wear crop pants, capris (even if to the calf), or pants that show the ankle (which can be very difficult for tall individuals or shorter individuals that buy short or petite sizes. Ultimately we choose the place we work, which means acceptance of the environment and the policies they have in place. With that being said, we don't have much space to complain.

I don't think hoodies are appropriate in an office setting.

I would be happy to be able to wear a pair of capris and a blouse in the summer when it is hot, however the next person might wear a pair of shorts and a tank top.

Putting heals and a nice blouse on doesn't make jeans business casual. I think that's the biggest problem I've seen here.

I think that if your employee is stupid enough to wear "too casual", just inform them and/or fire them. Don't punish everyone- this isn't kindergarten.

We recently (June 1) changed from business casual to casual with the caveat that everyone should dress appropriately for the specific circumstances. e.g., we have a board meeting in the office tomorrow so the expectation will be business/business casual.

it's hard to define casual in a handbook. you realize pretty quick that the same "casual" outfit on one person is cute while it can be inappropriate on another.... it takes all types

There is some positive correlation between business formal and productivity. Unfortunately, there is also negative correlation with employee morale.

I always say, if you have to ask yourself whether something is appropriate, it probably ISN'T!

Management believes our tech staff are so valuable that their dress code shouldn't be questioned. In my opinion there should be no shorts or flip flops in an office environment.

In general, if someone's apparel becomes a distraction, for any reason, it is inappropriate in a business environment.

I cannot believe anyone would wear tight leggings or super revealing clothing (or super comfortable clothing like sweatpants) to an office where clients could be coming and going. I used to work for a big four consulting firm in midtown and some of the clothes I saw people wearing was absolutely baffling. Some looked more like they were going to clubs or the beach or to clean out their garage - not to an office in midtown. Sorry, corporate jobs need to have some regulations about clothing because clearly some people cannot make good decisions otherwise.

I'm all out of words regarding dress codes. No matter what dress code is in place, you will always have people who have to push the limit. Even with a casual dress code, it seems almost anything goes. So, I will continue to dress the way I feel is appropriate, and hope no one on my team requires management intervention regarding what they think is appropriate. 🙂

Dressing for work, just like good manners, has become far too casual, IMHO. I admit to being old school, and actually like wearing a suit and tie every day, even when I am just catching up on paperwork in the office. Seriously, more people need to keep their mothers in mind as they get ready for work and ask themselves as they look in the mirror: "Would my mother nod approvingly at the way I look, or would she just roll her eyes?"

Managers need to monitor this. Often they don't and want to hand it off to HR, making us the fashion police.

even though our dress code doesn't officially change during the summer, the reality is that it does change. Younger women tend to pull out their short skirts, men wear shorts and sandals. And each year it seems to become enforced less and less, becoming the norm.

Would prefer to be able to wear jeans every day.

I work from home so the dress code includes PJs, t-shirts & shorts. It sure does save time and money (laundry/dry cleaning) not to have to worry about putting together an "outfit" everyday!

Even if it's 90 degrees outside, I still wear long sleeves--it's cold in my office!

I believe that you can dress casually and think formally, example, Albert Einstein.

I work for a construction company, and one day came to work in an extremely casual dress. I found out really quickly that that was too dressy for this company; no dresses allowed!

I love the concept of business casual and the blue jean Fridays when we have them. It makes for a better work environment. When the occasion calls for it, we do wear business formal.

Verbatim (cont.) 

I work in the corporate office where our dress code is business formal. However, all other offices (including those just across the pond in the building complex) are business casual and are allowed to wear jeans on Fridays. Not so for our corporate office, we must be business formal all week!

I think they are needed - people need guidelines and rules.

We have a person who likes to push the boundary on most anything. On our casual Fridays, I remind him: don't ruin this for the rest of us.

Friday is casual - jeans allowed. That's a nice extra.

We are allowed to wear jeans on Friday, which is a nice perk with which to wind down the work week.

We used to be business formal, so the switch to business casual was seen as a blessing to all. We will occasionally be allowed to wear jeans for a $5 donation to a local charity.

It is amazing that professionals don't seem to know what is appropriate!

Since I am a telecommuter, my dress code is actually "casual" and sometimes "slobby". But when I did work in the office, I was glad when the dress code changed to business casual. Business casual works for just about every occasion and made it much less expensive to dress for work. And hurray for business casual and the death of pantyhose!

I was at a fast food restaurant one day and a gentleman asked me if I work for a bank. When I told him I did, I asked, "How did you know". He said "because y'all are the only ones that dress that way anymore." Gave me a laugh and I have never forgotten it. That was about 20 years ago and we still dress the same.

Too many individuals don't understand the impact of appearance. Business formal mitigates the mistakes people make under business casual.

Dress appropriately for the occasion. Most people know what this means.

They'd be great if they were enforced!

I would love for professionals to resume dressing like professionals. I am often shocked when I see teachers interviewed on the news. They dress exactly like the students.

Business casual is easy because it’s easy to define. Whereas, casual has many different meanings for many different people; hence the "violations."

As a manager, this is my least favorite issue to deal with and the lack of common sense that some people have is incredible. Our dress code is pretty flexible and spells out what is and what is not acceptable, but it is amazing to me the number of people who don't get it. Or don't think it applies to them.

Most people wear acceptable clothing. Only a few make it necessary to have to have a written dress code. It is a pain to the rest of us who know how to dress for work.

For 30 years I've watched this drama and metaphorically it boils down to this; if employees stop for dollar bills on the way to work, it's gone too far.

When we were business formal, most women in the office dressed at the business casual level. When we went to business casual, many women dresses at the casual level. Now that we're at the casual level, HR has to send out a memo several times a year, reminding them that tank tops, spaghetti straps, shorts and flip flops aren't appropriate.

Some sort of code is advisable. Otherwise employees cross way too many boundaries in the way they dress.

We are a service center office that never has any customers in our facility. While I understand dress codes in our customer facing facilities, people in our facility could be allowed to dress as they please. Instead we are asked to comply with the same code as other facilities.

It has been a year since we changed from business casual to being able to wear jeans. I welcomed the change.

I work for a large company that changed from business casual to no dress code last year. Most of us love it. We still wear our "work clothes" half the time but it's nice to be able to put on jeans if you feel like it.



NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not necessarily the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.