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The Dress Code Debate: Are Mandals Affecting Your Performance?


For the northern regions of this country, summer is an especially sacred time: by April, 50-degree weather is impetus for shorts and a t-shirt, whereas Los Angeles folks are still bundled up in the low-to-mid 70s. That said, when summer heat rolls around, it can be especially tempting to take advantage of those fashion mistakes that society will justify in July. If you’re an employee of HP, however, they just became much more than a simple faux pas.

man sitting on a wall overlooking the water wearing white oxford shirt, shorts and sandals

(Photo Credit: Caleb George/

Here’s what’s on the list: for men, no shirts without collars, torn or faded jeans, shorts, headwear, athletic wear, sandals (aka “mandals”) and other open-toed footwear. For women, no short skirts, torn or faded jeans, low-cut dresses, “crazy high heels,” sandals, or excessive jewelry.

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While this dress code might seem crazy to some, it’s important to note that this was instituted for members of HP’s enterprise services group, which deal largely with major corporate clients. There are other parts of HP’s company overall that aren’t affected by the dress code.

Which leads to a broader discussion: should workplaces have dress codes? Do certain divisions within the same office have different standards that apply to them? Is that fair? Is it possible that dress code affects your performance?

Dressing For The Mental Game

It’s hard to say. One study reported on by The Washington Post showed that it wasn’t just what someone was wearing that helping them improve their performance, but the knowledge of what that outfit symbolized. For example, when wearing a white coat that supposedly belonged to a doctor, participants actually improved their performance on a given test.

When other participants were told that white coat was an artist’s coat, not a doctor’s, their scores did not see the same bump.

Focus: How Does Dress Affect Your Work

HP isn’t the first example of a company coming out with rigorous dress codes for employees to adhere to. Even Newsweek published some very strict standards that got fairly immediately backlash from employees. On a smaller scale, the policy decisions, and responses, seem to be largely subjective, based on personal theories rather than empirical evidence.

As this Fast Company article points out, Google has unbelievably lax standards on what employees can wear, and continues to not only be a top performer in the market, but ranked one of the best places to work period.

Rather than managers trying to gauge what the industry is up to in terms of dress code policies for its employees, it should follow HP’s example, and presumably set standards based on what’s going to work best for both employees and clients. While it may make sense for someone regularly giving presentations to have more rigorous guidelines, you may just be making the person running around fixing your computers sweaty and uncomfortable.

Tell Us What You Think!

Does your employer have a strict dress code? Is this author’s view far too emotionally based and progressive — another sign of the declining generation? We want to hear from you. Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter.

Peter Swanson
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