How to Create a Retail Dress Code Policy

Customers Often Prefer Employees in Uniform

Retail dress code
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For some retail outlets, a dress code makes sense. Employees in uniform look more professional, and they're easier to tell apart from other shoppers when someone is looking for help.

That said, if you're thinking of implementing a dress policy, you may meet some resistance from your employees, who sometimes see a dress code as an invasion of their right to personal expression. Or, you may find that it interferes with their ability to do their work. So before putting a policy in place, consider a few tips to maximize the chances of success while minimizing possible negative effects.

9 Tips for Creating a Retail Dress Code

When you're introducing a dress code, the type and style of clothing really matters, so you need to take some things into consideration before you spend a lot of money on uniforms. Here are nine basic requirements for your dress code:

It Must Be Comfortable

The top complaint from employees is about the comfort of the uniform. Sure, some are simply complaining about the comfort when what they really want is for the whole idea to go away, but most are expressing genuine concern. In retail, there is a lot of movement: employees are lifting boxes, stocking shelves, moving items, and carrying merchandise for the customers. Your uniform should be accommodating to the work life of the employee.

It Must Be Unisex

Any uniform you choose should work for both men and women. Polo shirts are a common choice, but certain styles sometimes look better on one sex than the other, so you'll need to choose a style carefully. A poorly fitting uniform will affect your employees' confidence and therefore their work performance.

It Must Accommodate Religious, Disability, or Medical Needs

Certain types of clothing can interfere with an individual's religious beliefs or an employee's disability or medical condition. Retailers are allowed to make any rule they want with regards to dress code as long as the policy is not discriminatory and allows for accommodation for the aforementioned considerations in accordance with the law. It's best to run your policy past an attorney to avoid falling afoul of the law.

It Must Not Focus on a Couple of Employees

There may be times when you are tempted to write a dress code policy just because of those one or two employees who drive you crazy with their slovenly appearance. However, there's a good chance your other employees will see right through this and become irritated with the change (and with their co-workers), driving down morale. Try to deal with this issue through other avenues rather than a company-wide dress code.

It Must Not Be Strict

Retailers can make a mistake by making a dress code policy that is too strict. The more strict it is, the more difficult it is to implement. Instead, create a policy with guidelines that are relatively easy for your employees to follow while maintaining a professional look. For example, many retail companies allow their employees to wear jeans, but they may place restrictions on the style of jeans—no holes, patches, sequins, or faded patterns.

It Must Be Specific

Avoid vague terms like "business casual" when defining your dress code, which is open for interpretation and could lead to disagreements between you and your staff. Provide specific guidelines on what you expect, and write it down in a manual that is readily available to everyone.

It Must Include Examples

The best way to help your employees understand what kind of dress you would like to see is to share examples. Include pictures in your written dress code policy so there is no miscommunication or wrong interpretation.

It May Include Grooming

A uniform can be about more than just the shirt or shoes—it can also address hair, makeup, tattoos, and the like. It's OK to limit tattoos and piercings in some retail environments, while being more lenient in others where that type of personal expression adds to the ambiance of the store. Spell these things out in your dress code clearly.

It May Be Costly

Think long term about what benefits your business will get out of a dress code versus how much it will cost. For example, if you provide a uniform shirt with a name embroidered above the pocket of each shirt, they may look great, but as employees leave you're stuck with shirts that can't be worn by other workers. Instead, you might embroider the name on a patch instead so the patch can be removed and the shirt reused.

How to Implement a New Dress Policy 

The most important part of a smooth transition to a new dress code is to ensure that everyone is in on it, from the employees to the customers.

Involve the Employees in the Process

Whenever you sit down to establish the new dress code policy, have your employees participate in creating it. This will lessen the resistance to the change and it will help you uncover potential potholes in the road to implementation.

For example, if the owners want the employees to wear aprons with leather straps but the employees find it cumbersome and uncomfortable, you may have to scrap the idea because it would interfere with the employee's ability to do the job. If you had asked, the employees might have told you that the aprons wouldn't work and you could have saved a lot of money.

Involve the Customers in the Process

Your most important job is to create a good customer experience in the store, so invite some of your best customers to give you their opinion. You will be amazed how well this will work for you. Granted, sometimes you get some off the wall suggestions from the "overly helpful" customers, but the fact that they are included builds a bond with you and them and the word will spread. You may also find that doing so creates buzz that increases customer interest in your store.

Explain the Why Before the What

When you are ready to roll out this new policy, take time to share the "why" before you tell them what the new dress code will be. You don't want it to hurt employee performance, and they deserve to know anyway. No one likes big, surprising changes—especially retail employees.

Other Things to Consider

There are a few other things to keep in mind about your dress code. For example, if you are supplying a uniform, have some rules about caring and maintaining the uniform. Also, if you don't have rules about how the uniform is worn, your employees may do things you don't approve of like having their shirts untucked or rolling up the sleeves. Finally, exempt employees may have separate rules in your state from non-exempt workers based on the laws, so it's a good idea to consult with an attorney before finalizing a policy.