Dress Codes, Professional Image or Productivity Inhibitor

Dress Codes

I‘ve been mostly lucky, most compaines dress codes meant that I could come to work in jeans & a t-shirt (OK, this is the UK so there is usually some waterproofs involved too). Occasionally though I’ve had to endure the ‘corporate dress codes’. So this post explores the need for software professionals to be creative and productive versus the need to adhere to a company policy. Being prescriptive regarding dress codes turns your workers into mindless drones, stifles their creativity and as a result makes them less productive. Think about this for a moment, assuming you work in software development, what is the point of a ‘corporate uniform’? These are a few of the reasons I’ve been given when I’ve tried to find out the ‘why’ behind come organisations dress policy.

  • Creates a team atmosphere,
  • Engenders standards of professionalism
  • Creates a corporate image.


Um.. ok, lets look at these one at a time..

Creates a team atmosphere

Do you work in Kwik Fit? Or a branch of the military? Maybe you’re an F1 pit stop crew member, I can see how this works for them. Perhaps there is a sense of camaraderie fostered by the sense of belonging a uniform outfit can bring. Hold on though, we’re assuming you work in software development.. So lets see, your team of analysts, developers and testers (and others) are perhaps all required to wear ‘business casual’ or even a more formal approach to work wear. Why? A sense of unity? Are you going to emblazon your suit jacket with the team logo? Probably not. I’m not convinced that there is any tangible benefit in everyone coming to work in a shirt and tie in respect to creating a team atmosphere. There are far better ways of instilling a team ethic than them all looking the same. 


OK, this one perhaps holds a little more water. Dressing smartly can make you feel good about yourself. But lets look at what professional means a second, am I suddenly more professional because I’ve come to the office in a shirt & tie? Am I better at my job? Am i suddenly going to half the number of defects in the code by arriving in a bowler hat? OK that’s a little flippant but think about it, I’m a professional software developer, everything I do is done to the best of my ability and no amount of dressing up will change my actual technical ability. It might make me feel more professional, and there are some that might argue that feeling more professional makes you more professional. Again I’m not convinced of that argument, it’s a little like saying homeopathic remedies can cure illness, no real proof just a lot of faith. Frankly I find it a little insulting that my client/employer sees my work in a more professional light simply by wearing a tie, and as a result it really makes me question their own capability and judgement.

Creates a corporate image

Similar to the first reason given I think, but subtly different. This is more about the company ‘looking good’ than helping a team to form, which is why this one REALLY gets my goat. As an organisation ask yourself this, are you more concerned with your corporate image than with creating great products? If your answer is the first, please don’t ask me to work for you, you’re probably doomed. If your focus is on the perception you give other organisations over the creation of excellent, innovative, pleasing software you are giving your workforce the message that you care more about ‘style’ over ‘substance’, or ‘form’ than function’.

Policy or Productivity?

The most interesting things about these arguments, is that non of them are related to being more creative. In my experience, the more relaxed and comfortable someone is, the more their creative side emerges. My first programming role involved me learning to juggle for 2 weeks, before I was allowed to write any code. Every time I came across a problem, I picked up the balls, juggled for a few minutes and my mind stopped thinking about the problem and allowed my subconscious to work it out for me. Nine times out of ten, I’d stop juggling after only a few minutes with a new possible solution to my problem. It’s this kind of thinking that I believe helps us to be more effective as software developers and I believe that dress codes are similar. Being relaxed in jeans, trainers & a t-shirt meant I was more comfortable, being more comfortable meant I was able to think more creatively, and being more creative meant I wrote better code or saw better solutions to problems. You may not agree with me, but ask yourself why you have a dress code, does the perceived benefit it brings out way the possible benefits from a team that are allowed to form their own identity, be more comfortable and concentrate on creating great software that brings value to your business. Would your rather have policy than productivity?

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