Last week, I went to a restaurant where the servers didn’t wear uniforms. In addition, there was no consistency in the street clothes they wore. One waitress was in jeans and a pink T-shirt, another was clad in all black, and the hostess sported a glamorous floor-length dress. It was a bustling place, and I got confused about which of the people hustling through the restaurant were actually employees and which were customers. It drove home the importance of employee uniforms and dress codes in marketing a business.
Your employees’ appearance plays a big role in your business brand. Employees are the “face” of your business for your customers, so it’s important their attire reflects and enhances your brand.
- Reduces confusion: As my restaurant experience exemplifies, when customers can easily spot employees to provide help or answer questions, they’re more likely to be satisfied with their experience at your business. That makes them happier customers more likely to come back—and recommend your business to others.
- Builds brand awareness: Uniforms serve as a silent marketing tool, promoting your business to anyone who sees them. For example, if your employees visit customers’ homes to provide services, such as lawn care, uniforms serve as an advertisement to neighbors who happen to see them.
- Morale/team building: Following a uniform policy or dress code reminds employees they’re all on the same team. It also puts them in the frame of mind to represent your business, reminding them when they’re on the job, they need to embody your business’s values.
- Creates uniformity: Dress codes and uniforms convey to customers they will receive the same level of quality and service no matter who they interact with at your business, and no matter which location of your business they visit.
- What roles do employees play? Uniforms or dress codes must be appropriate for different roles within your business. A salesperson who calls on B2B clients in their offices must dress differently than a technician who visits those offices to service copier equipment. Your uniform or dress code should allow employees to perform their duties comfortably and safely.
- What style of dress best conveys your business brand? Is your brand efficient? Chic? “Alternative”? Conservative? Natural? Your brand and your target customers’ expectations will dictate what your uniforms should look like. For example, if you own an accounting firm that serves Fortune 1000 clients, T-shirts and jeans would never be appropriate attire. On the other hand, that might be the perfect uniform for wait staff at a trendy gastropub.
- What type of dress code will improve employee morale? Consider giving employees some input into uniforms and dress codes, especially in creative industries. You don’t want employees to feel forced into a cookie-cutter mold. Look for a middle ground that gives employees a consistent look while still allowing them to display personality.
Include employee dress code or uniform information in your employee handbook. The more detail and examples you can provide, the better. Be concrete and specific. Terms like “professional” or “stylish” may not mean the same thing to you as they do to your employees. (For example, distressed jeans are currently very stylish, but rarely look professional.) Also include rules for hairstyles, facial hair and general grooming. It’s a good idea to include visual illustrations of “do’s and don’ts.” Some styles of dress commonly prohibited even in casual workplaces include hats or baseball caps, ripped or dirty clothing, revealing or athletic clothing, T-shirts with slogans or pictures on them, and sandals.
Consider creating different dress codes or uniforms for different times of year, such as hot weather. You can also have different dress codes or uniforms for different job functions, such as customer-facing employees or back-office staff.
Be sure your dress codes don’t discriminate against employees on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, age, appearance, size or other factors. Learn more about discrimination and dress codes at the EEOC website.
To get employees to support and comply with your uniform or dress code policy, emphasize that the goal is not to quash individuality, but to enhance your business brand and image while promoting teamwork. Once your employees understand the value of the dress code as a marketing tool, they’re more likely to embrace it.