Managing Summer Dress Codes (with Policy Examples!)

May 16, 2022
Managing Summer Dress Codes (with Policy Examples!)

We've all been out of the office for so long at this point. We’ve all gotten used to working from home and many have all but abandoned traditional office wear as a result. Yet, the time to return to the office is upon us. As workers start to venture back into the in-person workplace, now is a good time to rethink your dress code and politics. Because it’s been so long for so many of us, reminding might be in order when it comes to appropriate office dress. This is the case especially in the summer when temperatures start to climb. Plus, COVID has changed the working world in so many ways. After showing up in t-shirts and other casual wear on Zoom, does it make sense anymore to require formal office attire? Here are some answers to burning questions like these and more for all things office attire and dress codes in 2022.

How COVID has impacted workwear in the office

After years of working in home in our comfiest clothes, the comfort continues with the rise of “workleisure” attire. As The Wall Street Journal explains, brands are scaling back their suit productions. They're pivoting towards more stretchy versions, and labeling them as workleisure. “They look like khakis, but they feel more like sweatpants,” Nick Rendic, global head of design at Dockers, told the newspaper. The trend goes beyond just pants. Think yoga pants that double as slacks and fancier versions of Birkenstocks and other comfortable footwear that can be found in offices across the country. While many might celebrate a comfier interpretation of workwear, the shift has still left many people confused. Russ Ferguson, a lawyer in Charlotte, explained to The Wall Street Journal that “if our clients go to a more casual dress code, I don’t want to be the guy in the suit.” The shift in norms that COVID has brought to workwear is, while welcome, still a confusing one.

Rethinking the in-office dress code for summer

That’s why now is a good time to rethink your office dress code for this new era and communicate it to your employees. This takes the guesswork out of what will and won’t fly in the new working world we’ve found ourselves in. When it comes to rethinking your office dress code broadly, the thing to remember is that across industries, things have moved in a more casual direction. That said, what’s considered business casual at a tech startup and what’s considered business casual in the banking industry are 2 different things. If you have to update your broader dress code before you can get to your summer dress code in particular, remember that the more information you offer, the better. List out generally accepted attire that the company considers to meet its business casual requirements. Also outline attire that doesn’t make the cut.

Across industries, things have moved in a more casual direction.

Then, consider changing things based on the situation. What’s required for working from home versus meeting clients in person are likely 2 different things. Outline all of the different applications and interpretations of the dress code based on situations from client meetings to company picnics.

What is a summer dress code and why is it important?

Speaking of picnics, summer is finally here! That means increasing temperatures and, often, retreating clothing coverage. The changes that COVID has brought to workwear (essentially a giant step in the direction of casual) naturally apply to any season. But summer has been the trickiest dress code season since well before the pandemic. A summer dress code is 1 that interprets your office’s dress code specifically for the summer season. Few people are going to try to wear sandals to work in the winter, but they might in the summer. Is that acceptable? These are exactly the questions that a summer dress code should answer. Without a summer dress code, confusion can abound. People can show up to work inadvertently dressed inappropriately simply because they’re trying to stay cool. Once you have a summer dress code in place (more on that in a bit), it’s a good practice to announce it and remind people of it annually as the season approaches.

How to manage a summer dress code in the workplace

The first thing to remember about your summer dress code (and dress codes in general) is that people no longer identify with only 2 binary sexes or genders. While dress codes have traditionally broken down appropriate office attire based on 2 sexes, it’s best to avoid that now. This doesn’t mean that you can’t outline what’s an appropriate skirt length or what kinds of ties are acceptable. You can, you just don’t have to sort the rules by sex or gender. Now, onto what your summer dress code should do. First, it should outline what is considered summer. Many companies opt to declare the season as running from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but this can vary depending on your company’s location and environment. Here’s an example of how you could word this: “In addition to the broader dress code that we observe, has a summer dress code as well. We consider summer to be between and .” Next, your summer dress code policy should clarify how final interpretations of appropriate dress are made. Are those decisions left up to managers? An example of a way to word this could be: “Our summer dress code is intended as guidance for what is considered appropriate summer workwear. The examples that the policy provides are just that — examples. Managers and supervisors are responsible for making final decisions about appropriate dress both during the summer and the rest of the year.”

List of examples of appropriate summer dress for the office

Finally, give examples of what is (and isn’t!) considered appropriate dress. Common examples of appropriate summer dress include:

  • Branded company attire
  • T-shirts without graphics
  • Denim pants
  • Capri pants
  • Knee-length dresses and skirts
  • Athletic shoes
  • Dressy sandals

Examples of clothing that is considered inappropriate summer office wear include:

  • Cut-off shorts
  • Sleeveless shirts, halter tops, tank tops
  • Flip flop sandals
  • Leggings
  • Ripped or frayed clothing

Ultimately, it’s about deciding what is and isn’t right for your company. These are simply examples. You’re encouraged to create a summer dress code that works best for your business and the employees who keep it running.

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