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Does what you wear to work affect your career?

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After the recent heatwave, union bosses spoke out against restrictive dress codes while Barclays executive chairman John McFarlane revealed that sandals and flip flops would be banned from the office, as well as the humble t-shirt.

But can an exposed toe really scupper an international bank? What, if any, is the real impact of dressing smart casual?

UBS certainly seem to side with the prescriptive approach. In 2011, the bank published an exhaustive guide to workplace attire, tackling everything from underwear to socks in excruciating detail. 

But they may have a point: a study from the US found that undergraduates who wore a doctor’s coat paid more attention than those who didn’t, suggesting clothing can have a significant impact on how we work.

However, the benefits of the collars and cuffs approach may be limited. Sixty per cent of senior managers in the US believe a return to rigid corporate dress codes would result in lower productivity. 

Workers in the UK agree with this sartorial solution; new research from employment experts Totaljobs found 55 per cent of those who currently wear smart casual to work hope to retain the dress code in their future career, outstripping those hoping for a more sharp-suited approach.

Employers want to attract the best and brightest to their business, and as such need to create an environment that’s comfortable for us, their employees.

But not all the responsibility sits with the employer. Considering your own workplace wardrobe? Here’s some top tips:

  • Your choice of colour can boost productivity, from trustworthy blues to powerful reds. 
  • Some studies suggest we associate jeans with unhappiness – probably best avoided!
  • For power dressing, add a blazer – the perfect smart signature to enhance your look. 
  • Accessorise intelligently – as well as a simple but showy statement watch or jewellery item, remember to have a smart notepad and pen ready for on-the-spot ideas.

Your choice of footwear is a great way to make a big statement about how you work. Strong boots, brogues or Doc Martens are bold and characterful choices that connote a cultured yet professional manner. It’s all about what makes you feel comfortable.

Read more about whether a dress code in your office is a good idea:

It comes down to one simple phrase: state of mind. Productivity is not defined by your attire, but corporate culture often can be, and it continues to do so at its peril. 

We should wear what allows us to best reach our potential in the role, not what the prevailing culture defines. At all levels of industry, perspective is paramount; so long as the work gets done, that’s what matters.

Ian Burke is a director at totaljobs.com.

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