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The federal government is less than one week away from a potential shutdown, but some lawmakers have a less consequential policy matter on their minds: dress codes.
On Sept. 17, Axios reported that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer moved to relax the chamber’s dress code. Previously, senators were required to wear formal business attire while on the floor; how they dress is now up to them. The change is said to have been inspired by Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman, who often wears a sweatshirt and shorts in lieu of a suit.
“Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit,” Schumer told Axios.
The change drew backlash from Republicans, 46 of whom signed a letter demanding that Schumer restore the previous dress code rules. And just as Washington is wrestling over dress, private employers appear to be doing the same, according to recent research.
Business casual bounces back. The UK-based job search engine Adzuna has been tracking dress codes included in job listings since 2019.
From March 2019 to March 2022, the share of job postings specifying a “casual” dress code rose from 58% to 70%, while those advertising a “business casual” dress code dropped from 41% to 29%, according to Adzuna. This occurred during a period when many Americans were working from home, with many ditching office attire for casual or athletic wear. Even before the pandemic, some businesses—including financial services firms Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley—loosened their dress codes.
But “business casual,” defined by Adzuna as “slightly more [dressy] than a casual dress code,” saw a resurgence this year—42% of job postings advertised it as of March 2023, up 13 percentage points from last year. The rebound in business casual could be linked to the return-to-office push, as employers seek to be “explicit about what’s expected…without ditching comfort entirely,” Samantha Chan, a PR and content executive with Adzuna, told HR Brew via email.
For HR pros who are rethinking dress code guidance as workers return to the office, it’s worth considering the potential productivity benefits of flexible mandates. One study published last year found that when workers were satisfied with their outfits, they saw a similar boost in productivity as those who planned out their days ahead of time, or those paired with “non-abusive supervisors.”
It’s a fairly easy change to make, considering the potential positive outcomes of relaxing dress codes.
“Changing the dress code is the best perk that costs zero dollars," Travis Lindemoen, founder of HR and hiring company Enjoy Mondays, told Inc.
In time, perhaps more senators will come to see flexible dress codes as a perk, rather than a political football.