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Are we moving away from formal work dress?

Greg Devine


Women in smart casual office wear

In my workplace, donning a suit and tie is something we save for special occasions, rather than as office-wear. When holding a formal meeting with clients then, of course, looking smart is important, but in general, smart-casual or even casual-casual suffices at Novus/ITK.

It seems that many companies take this same stance, including—more recently—supermarkets.

Tesco has recently updated its uniform policy to give employees some personal choice over what they wear, particularly with the clothing on their bottom-half. Employees will be able to wear their own ‘bottoms’, providing these meet requirements. Though jogging bottoms and tracksuit bottoms will not be allowed, the company will allow employees to wear jeans. Neutral coloured jeans, however, so no bright green flares, unfortunately. Ripped jeans are also banned. Tesco workers can still order company trousers, though, should they prefer them.

Members of a Facebook group were sceptical about this move, insisting it was more a cost saving measure than allowing employees more freedom. The rest of the Tesco uniform is being relaxed, too…buttoned-up shirts are being replaced by polo shirt-style tops, and even t-shirts in some situations.

I would imagine other supermarkets will soon follow, as this is usually the case. Having personally worked in a supermarket, being able to wear more comfortable clothing would definitely be appreciated by staff. And I really don’t think shoppers will be that bothered if the shelf stacker next to them wears a polo top rather than a buttoned shirt; customers just want to get their milk.

Man working in a supermarket

Man working in a supermarket

This is a debate in itself. At what point and in which sectors would you expect someone to be in formal wear? A more casual supermarket uniform might not make too much of a difference, but I’m sure if I went into a bank to ask for a loan and the person in front of me wore a t-shirt and shorts, I’d be questioning the legitimacy of that worker, and the bank.

As a business, it’s right that Novus/ITK employees wear smart-casual attire. We’re a creative company and wish to portray a message of seriousness whilst also giving a glimpse of our imaginations and originality. I personally feel I wouldn’t be as creative if I wore a suit and tie to work. The atmosphere just wouldn’t feel right. I’d feel the same if I turned up for an operation and the surgeon was wearing jeans; it wouldn’t do much to calm me down. I’d wonder if I’d stepped onto a horror film set rather than into a medical setting.

Your boss allowing smart-casual attire doesn’t come without its issues. To start with, what actually counts as smart-yet-casual? According to Indeed, wearing jeans or chinos gives off a more casual vibe. They also recommend the option of a skirt for women. Tops are quite self-explanatory…something like a shirt, polo shirt or blouse should suffice. The main question seems to be around shoes, and whether trainers should be accepted. Indeed seems to think not, but I reckon in some places you could get away with this. Yes, trainers should be avoided if meeting clients or if you work in a more formal setting, but if you’re just working in the office, certainly in a creative industry, trainers should be acceptable.

Even the smart-casual examples mentioned above are likely to be more formal than what many employees wear when working from home, so there’s still a distinction. If your employees came into the shared workplace in their pyjamas or loungewear, however, perhaps we’d all agree that this would be a step too far!

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