Why ditching dress codes makes sense for start-ups

For many entrepreneurs, their business is a reflection of themselves as people. They live and breathe their venture and this can be seen in every aspect of their business – even in their dress code

Why ditching dress codes makes sense for start-ups

The days of donning a suit and tie as standard are dwindling. Entrepreneurs seek to be their own boss to escape the demands and expectations of others and with self-employment comes the freedom to express individuality. But just how does a dress code represent your business?

Take a look at how some of the greatest entrepreneurs truly represent their business ethos. Sir Richard Branson is often seen sporting corduroy trousers and a jumper whilst Mark Zuckerberg rarely mixes up his jeans and plain t-shirt combo. Zuckerberg noted that, with one decision eliminated from his busy day, he was able to channel his focus into the nitty-gritty of business.

Customers put more faith into the businesses that they can engage with on a personal level and for some, formal attire can be intimidating. Branson stated that few things in life spark more terror in a customer than the prospect of facing a bank manager dressed to the nines across a polished desk. In order to break the barriers between city bankers and customers Branson has eliminated ties from the dress code and swapped the traditional counters for casual seating areas in his Virgin Money banks. The nature of the workplace is changing and whilst some industries still require a professional suited front, there is no denying that the more innovative industries channel creativity at all levels. Many emerging entrepreneurs are choosing to project their company mantras in every aspect of the business.

“The creative industry is growing massively across the UK and that kind of industry has a less strict dress code as it is quite young,” says David Ingram, managing director of Bring Digital, the digital marketing agency. “It hasn’t got that past history that accountancy has where you’ve got to dress really smart. Digital marketing is forging its own reputation and casual dress is part of that.”

Ingram launched Bring Digital in 2012 and from the onset allowed a casual dress code. He did at one point enforce a smart-casual dress code when expanding to a bigger office but scrapped this policy shortly thereafter. “We took the decision to switch back to our old dress code just because we found that we wanted to encourage creativity a bit more, which really we weren’t doing with our dress code.” However, he does advise employees to don a collar and polished shoes when meeting clients.

“In our industry it seems to be a bit more relaxed and that’s the way it’s going. We’ve tried to create an office environment which is really nice and light and people enjoy working in. Dress code is a part of that,” Ingram says.

For Lisa Robinson, managing director of Flare Communications, the PR agency, dress code is dependent on the environment that you work in and very much related to clients. Robinson is from a corporate background and left her smart attire behind when starting her own company 15 years ago. Now, her staff and most of her clients are creative types. “I think it’s much more about the people and the personalities. When you start a business the people are your business,” Robinson says. “When you portray yourself to your target clients it’s very much about the people that are involved and their personalities. It’s not about what you look like; it’s about what you are delivering to the client.”

The creative industries are often more open-minded about tattoos, which have become much more common amongst the younger generation. One in five British people are now inked – including Robinson. She encourages staff to express their individuality and would never ask them to cover their tattoos. “If somebody has a tattoo that is discreetly somewhere and neither in your face nor offensive then I think that is absolutely fine,” Robinson says. Ingram also feels that tattoos are an extension of a person’s personality and creativity. “A massive part of digital marketing is about creativity so we encourage people to show off their creativity, as it were, in tattoos,” he explains.

It’s not just the creative industries ditching the formal attire though. Gary Cattermole, director of The Survey Initiative, an employee research firm, believes that when employees are comfortable in their working environment and apparel they are more productive and are more likely to be satisfied in their job.

There is no dress code at The Survey Initiative and Cattermole himself dresses in what he is comfortable in and encourages staff to follow suit. “The rationale and the thinking behind that is based on some research and evidence that I have read over the years and also from a very personal point of view as a business owner that I personally hate wearing shirts and ties,” admits Cattermole. “It would be wrong of me as a business owner to not act out what I expect other people to do. If I don’t want to wear a shirt and tie, it’s not fair for me to expect them to wear a shirt and tie.”

However, Cattermole strongly believes that work attire depends on the clients that you are working with and dressing accordingly to your client is paramount. He places importance on recognising the client’s dress code and not underdressing when meeting corporate clients. Yet he maintains that entrepreneurs and their staff can express their individuality. He refuses to wear a tie as it’s not in his nature not does it fit with the the ethos of his business.

“We don’t purport to be something that we are not. We’re not corporate; we’re not stuffy consultants,” Cattermole stresses. “We’re a little bit younger than that and more fun and enjoyable to work with. And that’s the image that we portray because that’s who we are. 

Jade Saunders
Jade Saunders

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