The military is a very good example of an organization that uses uniforms to mean something such as rank and affiliation. In this respect, the uniform is symbolical-others see it and associate that person with the military branch and government that the wearer of the uniform represents.
In the same fashion, uniforms have become a non-verbal means of communication. You see a student from a private school and you immediately know that he or she belongs to the private school whose colors he or she wears. The same goes for skilled workers and professionals. You see someone walking in a scrub suit and you know that he or she works in the healthcare industry.
In the corporate world, however, uniforms are a thing of the past. Social conformation has given way to individuality and self-expression. Very few companies require their employees to wear uniforms, and only a number of these require their employees to wear complete uniforms. Some only ask their employees to wear a company issued t-shirt of polo shirt, but they can wear their own pants. What companies, particularly major corporations and federal government agencies, have now is the dress code.
Simply put, a dress code is an unwritten agreement of how you should dress in the workplace. In the corporate world, there are essentially two types of dress codes: business formal and business casual. Business casual entails the employee to wear formal clothing such as three-piece suits, slacks, long-sleeved shorts, and neckties. People in managerial and executive positions usually adhere to this type of dress code to exude power and authority.
Business casual, on the other hand, is hard to define. It is about wearing clothes that make you feel comfortable, yet professional looking at the same time. It is the dress code followed by most professional employees who are not in the position of power. It is also the dress code adopted by companies engaged in information technology-think Silicon Valley-and firms in the advertising industry.
When imposing a dress code in your firm, there are several things you have to consider. Do your employees need to be in contact with the public most of the time? If yes, then perhaps it would be better to ask them to wear formal attire so that they will always look presentable and authoritative. But if your employees are often on their own doing what they are supposed to do, then a smart casual dress code will be better. People tend to be more productive when they are comfortable. You can just ask them to wear something formal when the need arises--say when a conservative client comes in.
If you are still unsure as to what dress code to adopt, then it's time to consult your employees on the issue. Ask them what dress code works for them and the company they represent. If you hired good employees, then you will have no difficulty arriving at the definition of acceptable and presentable clothing for the office.