Mark Zuckerberg

Could outdated dress codes be holding the UK’s tech industry back?

The casual dress codes synonymous with Silicon Valley were originally constructed from hippy idealism to discourage employees from seeing themselves as workers. A cool reward or perhaps a cynical tactic to help erase the boundaries between life and work via a wardrobe suitable for both environments.

The dress down idea is believed to help employees feel more comfortable and therefore work longer hours. It’s also regarded by some organisations as a necessary tactic for including a new generation of 18-34-year olds, labelled the Millennials, who have grown up seeing C-level tech giants in jeans and T-shirts taking over the digital world. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is rarely seen out of a T-shirt despite his lofty corporate level.

The UK’s tech industry is a leading European employer worth £6.8 billion in 2016. The country has around 1.64 million tech jobs with funding to support further growth of this digital economy. A recent dress code survey produced by Style Compare in the UK, found that 29% of IT workers sampled had considered exploring a new role due to the type of strict dress code their employer imposed. Almost half (45%) of all the respondents said they’d work just as well without the enforcement of a dress code.

In this survey, 28% were Millennials, who’s sartorial desires are being recognised elsewhere outside of the UK in order to attract new talent into businesses. The University of Virginia recently publicised a “more casual ‘come-as-you-are’ dress code” for their recent job fair to encourage greater student inclusion. Even Goldman Sachs with a long history of smart dress, relaxed their corporate dress code for technology and engineering staff and have allowed “totally casual” clothes in an attempt to remain level with the tech giants.

The Silicon Valley suit was described by the NY Times as being “T-shirts and jeans that actually fit”.  Even the UK government’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has advised that employers communicate with the staff to find a dress code that works best for both parties. Sound advice from a government body recognising that there is a generation entering the workforce that doesn’t want to dress like a politician.

Interviewees described the dress code of their employer in the following way, survey conducted by OnePoll for Style Compare July 2017. 

Dress code Description Women Men
Business Strict business dress code: Dark suits, ties for men. Smart business wear for women. Grooming guidance given as part of dress code. 7.04% 10.16%
Relaxed business Smart dress code, but flexible. Suits and ties recommended, but not mandatory. No jeans. 32.84% 29.04%
Smart casual Smart casual dress code: Smart jeans permitted, casual shoes, knitwear permitted. 19.79% 18.45%
Casual Casual dress code: No items of clothing specified, but ripped jeans, trainers, sportswear not permitted. 13.20% 13.02%
No dress code Anything goes. Employees explicitly told they can wear what they want. 15.10% 17.45%
Undefined No guidance on what to wear at all. 12.02% 11.87%

Photograph by Alessio Jacona

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Rowan follows developments in Tech legislation and is copywriter for a number of FinTech start-ups focussing on the new age of banking. When unplugged, his attention deficit on the day to day lead to the creation of a surfing blog.

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