Service With A Style

Our parents might have taught us not to judge others by their appearances, but an institution’s dress code has far-reaching effects on the institution’s success.

There are a lot of workplace issues that can turn into HR landmines. So it should come as no surprise that dress codes are a common and potentially explosive point of contention in the modern workplace.

Things such as dental insurance and a 401K match affect how an employee lives, but a dress code cuts right to the core of who a person is.

At the end of the day, a dress code is another way of communicating with employees, members, and the marketplace one that carries just as much sway as any marketing campaign or recruiting strategy. On one hand, the credit union needs to display an appropriate, professional image to its membership something that reflects both the company’s mission and shared culture. On the other hand, people like to express themselves and craft an identity using all the tools at their disposal, including their personal appearance.

Regardless of whether the look is Wall Street or Occupy Wall Street, a credit union needs a strategy to fully exploit the value of its dress code while mitigating potential downsides. So, what are you saying with your company dress code?

Business Formal

What Is It?

Old school. This is Don Draper from Mad Men. This is The Devil Wears Prada. For the gentlemen, suits are standard, as are ties. A blazer with dress pants can be appropriate, as can the occasional sweater with a shirt and tie. For the ladies, the standards are almost identical, with business suits or skirt-and-blouse combinations at the top of the list. Both men and women should think power colors such as black, navy, dark brown or dark gray for footwear. Jewelry and makeup should also be conservative and worn only by the ladies.

What Does It Accomplish?

Business formal conveys professionalism, expertise, and trustworthiness. As such, it has historically been the default setting for white-collar corporate America.

Sylvie di Giusto, author of The Image of Leadership, offers this rule of thumb: The more you deal with a client’s money, the more traditional and conservative you should be dressed. Credit unions looking to communicate the message that serious, professional individuals are keeping watch over member accounts should consider business professional.

Business Casual

What Is It?

The most common answer to this question is confusing. Business casual tries to appeal to as many people as possible. But without deliberate and frequent guidance, it can also lead to vague, sweeping generalizations i.e., a guy in a tie next to a girl in a polo shirt next to a guy in a sweater vest.

Although this category is more flexible than business formal, there are still some base rules. For men, shirts should have collars. All kinds of long pants are acceptable khakis, etc. except jeans. Women can follow the same standards and may also wear skirts and dresses with hems above the knees. Shoes should again be conservative power colors, but there is a little more flexibility regarding style, including sandals and heels. No flip-flops.

What Does It Accomplish?

What started as casual Friday spread to other days of the work week as people figured out they could get just as much if not more accomplished in Dockers and a sweater as they did while wearing a three-piece suit. In addition to creating a more relaxed atmosphere in the workplace, a business casual dress code can also help break down barriers between staff and members, as large differences in dress could unintentionally intimidate or suggest differences in social status. If pursuing a business casual dress code, offer an itemized do and do not list so HR can unequivocally apply the standards to everyone.

Casual (Relaxed)

What Is It?

Be yourself. No seriously, be yourself. The only items usually designated inappropriate under these informal guidelines are workout clothes, beachwear, sleepwear, and clothing with offensive words or images. T-shirts, tanks tops, blue jeans, shorts, flip-flops, sundresses, and the like are all okay.

What Does It Accomplish?

If business casual is a measured step away from the constraints of business professional, casual dress is outright rebellion. This dress code often goes hand in hand with workplaces or environments where the emphasis is on getting the work done not how a person looks when doing it.

This approach can work well for startups and coffee shops, but credit unions need to weigh the benefits of a casual dress code carefully. This model might play well in certain parts of the country and with certain segments of the population, but not all members will be comfortable with a service representative’s mohawk and lip piercing. Likewise, a lack of care in clothing could be misconstrued as a lack of care in other areas.

Casual dress can be a powerful tool for attracting technologists and back-of-house staff members, call centers representatives, or other non-member facing employees, but be careful of potential backlash from others who might not get to follow the same relaxed standards.


What Is It?

A uniform identifies a United States Marine, a firefighter, a McDonald’s employee, and a UPS driver even if those folks are outside the context of their job. Options here include specific formal outfits, color-coded clothing arrangements, or even a company-branded T-shirt worn on top of regular clothes (hey, it works for the Apple store).

What Does It Accomplish?

Sometimes the easiest way to address an issue is to remove it entirely. A uniform negates guesswork and allows employees to focus on their responsibilities. Plus, it reinforces the brand each time anyone sees these individuals.

If provided free of cost by the company, even a complex uniform is not likely to cause too many grumbles. However, watch out for costly options that require employees to spend more personal time and money acquiring and maintaining it than they would other attire. Also, consider offering flexibility in areas such as desk decorations to allow employees to showcase their personalities in other ways.

Sometimes A Dress Code Causes More Issues Than It Solves.

1. A Dress Code Or A Runway Show?


According to the Daily Mail, female employees here must wear Full makeup at all times: base, blusher, full eyes (not too heavy) lipstick, lip liner and gloss. They are also advised to take into account the store display lighting, which has a UBS AG

In 2010, a 43-page dress code policy for this Swiss bank leaked to the Wall Street Journal discouraged trendy glasses for women, dyes to mask grey hair for men, and the consumption of garlic and onion-based dishes.

2. The Fuzzy Issue Of Facial Hair


According to NPR, facial hair was banned for male employees until the 2000s, when mustaches became permitted. It wasn’t until 2012 that beards and goatees were approved. Also tucking hair behind the ears, or pinning or tucking it under a hat to conceal an unacceptable hairstyle is not permitted, according to the company website.

American Apparel

According to New York Magazine, this retailer leaves nothing to chance. Its policy states: Eyebrows must not be over plucked. Full eyebrows are very much encouraged. Please do not dye your eyebrows a different color.

3. If You Show Your Derriere You Won’t Go Up Into The Air

U.S. Airways and Southwest

In 2012, the San Francisco Sentinel reported that a University of New Mexico football player was kicked off a U.S. Airways flight and later arrested for refusing to pull up his pants over his exposed boxers, which the crew said violated the airline’s dress code. The year before, the lead singer of the rock band Green Day was booted from a Southwest flight for the same reason, according to ABC News.

October 13, 2014

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