Various Types of Dress Code (With Factors That Affect It)

Updated October 21, 2022

Employers may choose what they expect employees to wear to the workplace, as long as their decision avoids discrimination. Usually, employers decide the appropriate code of dressing based on the image they want their organization to portray. Understanding appropriate workplace dress codes can help you abide by workplace rules and maintain professionalism in your workplace. In this article, we discuss dress codes, highlight factors that affect them, provide tips for abiding by company dress regulations, and identify the different types available.

What is a dress code?

A company's dress code is a set of policies relating to how employers expect their employees to dress at work. They are company rules that stipulate an employee's appearance on the work premises and at work events. These codes can be strict or flexible, depending on the employer. While they often apply to dress alone, they can also apply to other aspects of an employee's appearance like hair, jewelry, and tattoos.

Related: What to Wear to an Interview

Factors that affect dress code

Here are some factors that affect dress regulations:

Workplace safety

Certain organizations handle delicate tasks that put them or their clients at risk. Such organizations often have formal codes that require employees to wear protective gear. For example, engineers or construction workers who operate dangerous machinery and climb heights need to wear full safety gear. This usually includes helmets, goggles, and overalls to guarantee the operator's safety. Similarly, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff often wear clean scrubs and shoes to prevent infecting vulnerable patients. Surgical staff also wear special surgical gowns, head covers, and masks to protect themselves and their patients.

Corporate culture

The corporate culture and brand image of an organization are major determinants of the dress code. Industries like marketing and technology usually portray such brand images. Organizations dedicated to communicating a formal appearance to their clients usually require their employees to dress formally. They can also require employees to dress formally to encourage certain standards of behaviour. Industries where this is common include law and finance. In contrast, companies that want to create a friendly and informal atmosphere for clients and employees can allow casual dressing.

Read more: How to Learn More About a Company's Culture

Interaction with customers

Employees whose work duties require frequently interacting with customers often need to dress formally to portray professionalism. Roles like desk officers, greeters, and customer service employees often require employees to pay attention to their appearance. Some organizations create uniforms for employees in such roles so customers can easily identify them. In contrast, employees who have less interaction with customers usually have a less stringent dress code. For example, developers, technicians, and warehouse workers who have minimal interaction with customers can usually dress as they choose.

Employee duties

The duties of an employee can also affect how they dress. Employees who perform delicate roles that require a lot of trust from clients usually dress professionally. This is to avoid customers making assumptions that cause them to withdraw their patronage. Professionals like doctors and financial advisors need to dress in a manner that communicates authority and knowledge. Similarly, employees in roles that require portraying an informal image often dress informally. For example, shopping assistants and marketers can dress informally to make customers feel more comfortable taking their suggestions.


An employee's religion can affect the extent to which they can abide by a company's dress code. For example, employees whose religion dictates they cover their heads or wear certain jewelry can receive exemptions from employers. If your religion mandates or prohibits certain dressing, ensure you notify your employer as soon as possible after gaining employment.


Setting different standards for different genders in the workplace is discrimination and is illegal in most Canadian provinces and territories. Regardless, the specifics of the dress code can differ based on gender. The best approach for employers is to set uniform standards like "professional business attire" for all genders.

Tips for abiding by your organization's dress code

Here are some tips for abiding by your organization's code of dressing:

Ask questions

If your organization's dress code is unclear or fails to address an issue, you can ask your colleagues questions. Approach a colleague who has been with the organization for a while and politely inquire about the code. You can ask about exceptions and whether it applies to specific days or periods during the week. If your company has an upcoming event and you're unsure what to wear, you can also ask your colleagues to be sure.

Wear clean clothes

Regardless of the dress code, wearing clean clothes is a general rule that applies to all industries. A large part of portraying responsibility and maturity involves appearing neat. Ensure you wash and iron your clothes properly. This is particularly important for business formal attire. Similarly, ensure your shoes are clean. You can keep extra attire in your office in case you stain your clothes during work. Ensure you smell nice, as that is a part of your hygiene. Finally, remember that appearing neat is essential for roles that require frequent interaction with customers.

Groom yourself properly

Beyond your clothing, your features are also part of your appearance. While it's unlikely your employer has policies on grooming yourself, proper grooming can complement the dress code. For example, regardless of your hair type, ensure it appears neat. You can do this by shaving or preparing your hair neatly.

Choose clothes that fit

For your clothes to have the best appearance, they need to be suitable for your body shape. They also need to be comfortable enough when you work. You can try out different sizes at the store to decide which works best for you. Ensure you pick clothes that flatter your body shape. Your appearance can affect your interaction with your colleagues, supervisors, and customers.

Avoid wearing distracting items

Certain employers, like government agencies, may prohibit items like tattoos and some forms of jewelry. While most employers avoid strict requirements like these, limiting them can help ensure you comply with codes for your organization. For example, if you have large tattoos, you may need to cover them during work. Use jewelry minimally to highlight your clothing rather than distract from it. Also, consider the environment at your workplace when selecting the colours of your clothes.

Related: Are Jeans Business Casual? A Guide to Different Work Attire

Types of employee attire

There are different dress regulations employers can require their employees to follow, including:

Business formal

Organizations with traditional work environments often prefer this type of dress. The formal code is common in professional industries like law, accounting, banking, and consulting. An organization can also require executive staff to wear business formal attire, regardless of the industry. It requires suits, ties, dress shirts, dresses, and professional shoes.

Related: What Does Business Formal Attire Mean? What You Need To Know

Smart casual

This is a step below business formal attire. Companies that want employees to appear formal but are flexible can adopt this option. Employees usually use the smart casual option to wear tailored sweaters or vests instead of full suits or jackets. Smart casual also includes dress shirts, dresses, ties, and professional leather shoes.

Related: A Complete Guide To Wearing Smart Casual Attire

Business casual

Business casual is a slightly more formal variation of the casual option. Employees often opt for short- or long-sleeve shirts and khaki or corduroy pants. Employees can wear ties, but rarely with suit jackets. Excessively informal clothing like jeans, shorts, sundresses, or crop tops are not business casual clothing.

Read more: Guide to Business Casual Attire


Many organizations in the technology industry choose this option. As the name implies, casual wear means informal clothing like jeans, shorts, sneakers, and t-shirts. Regardless, employees cannot wear clothing that is revealing or includes words or images that can offend other employees. Companies that use the casual code can still have a more formal dress code for specific work events or duties.

Related: Understanding a Casual Dress Code (With Tips and Examples)

Branded clothing

Organizations often use branded clothing during trade shows, marketing campaigns, and publicized work events. This can be a shirt with the company's name or logo on it. Organizations use this for marketing, easy identification of employees, and to ensure uniformity.


A uniform is specific clothing that employees from the same organization, rank, or unit wear. For example, uniforms are common with organizations or agencies that deal with security. Athletes, greeters, and servers are other roles that use uniforms. In addition, uniforms help your colleagues and customers identify that you're a part of the company.


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