How Are Nonverbal Signals Sent by Casual Dress in the Workplace?
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How are nonverbal signals sent by casual dress in the workplace?
Business Communication
Apr 11, 2005
How are nonverbal signals sent by casual dress in the workplace?
The phenomenon of casual dress in the business place has come full circle. Many companies are now moving away from casual dress. Many business leaders have come to realize that the nonverbal signals sent by casual dress, conflict with the image the company is attempting to portray. A trend that was seeing more and more companies opting for casual dress, now has companies considering a complete withdraw from this popular business fashion. Companies will need to completely overhaul their dress codes if casual dress is to survive.

The History
The concept of business casual dress began in the early 1990s in Silicon Valley, California. In the beginning, it was a method of getting out of those hot suits in the summer, allowing people to be more comfortable in their work environment. It was expanded to console or placate workers during hard times. “Casual Fridays were introduced, experts say, to improve morale among cynical white-collar folks who saw their coworkers falling like flies during the layoffs of the 1980s and early 1990s. Generally, the casual look was never meant to replace traditional Monday-through-Thursday business attire” (McPherson, p. 134). Business casual was hyped as an employee benefit.

The casual experiment quickly gained popularity. The attitudes toward casual dress began as positive and at its peak in the mid 1990s the business industry reported that 63.7% of all businesses were allowing some form of casual dress (Cotton, Inc., 1997).

Positive Thinking
Whether true or perceived, some businesses and workers have stated a positive outcome to casual dress. “Some of the more commonly touted benefits include improved employee morale, a lack of cost to the employer, increased worker productivity, more open communication between staff and managers, cost savings to employees because casual business wear is less expensive, and improved work quality (Gutierrez & Freese, 1999).

Casual dress was received so well by the employees that most companies thought they had tapped into the morale gold mine. “Take Morgan & Finnegan LLP, a Park Avenue law firm in New York. It started a Casual Friday routine during the summer of 1998. It was so well received the firm decided to allow business casual for the summers of 1999 and 2000. Then, in September of 2000, the firm opted for business casual every day.” (Cotton, Inc., 2001) It was perceived that higher morale would bring higher productivity.

Negative Perceptions
Even though there are positive outcomes to a casual dress program, there are negative perceptions by all those involved; employers, employees and customers. The nonverbal signal sent by employees involved in casual dress programs has had a negative impact on the entire program. “The relaxed dress code regrettably, in my opinion and in the opinion of others, has possibly been taken too far. Many individuals seem less conscious of their image in the workplace. Some employees come into the workplace dressed more for a Saturday outdoor gathering or an evening event rather than for work. Business casual does not mean jeans, tennis shoes, halter-tops, and baseball caps. Some businesses are considering eliminating the casual dress code because employees have been extremely lax or negligent with their apparel.”(Allen, 2003)

Casual dress has an effect on every business where professionals interact with people. “A physicians appearance serves as a powerful, nonverbal symbol that affects communication between doctor and patient. Patients react negatively to jeans, athletic shoes and socks, scrub suits, clogs, prominent ruffles, dangling earrings, and excessive aftershave lotion or perfume.”

Many derogatory perceptions have increasingly been associated with casual dress. People are alleged to be less professional, less of a team player and even more likely to sexually harass the opposite sex. As the popularity in casual dress programs grow, business productivity has fallen. The fear is that the companys image will be affected also. “It is interesting to note that many respondents on both sides of the question linked issues of dress to productivity. Many of those who felt it is not a good idea to have a dress down day commented that a casual dress style would inspire casual or sloppy work. Additionally, there was

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Casual Dress And Business Place. (April 2, 2021). Retrieved from