A Salute to the Corporate Uniform
With a serious dress code, even casual clothes can boost your company's image
Q: My company is thinking about ordering uniforms for our staff
administration. Is this a good idea? Where can we find vendors?
--K.K., Laguna Niguel, CA
A: Dressing employees in uniforms, typically khaki pants and a polo
shirt with the company logo on it, is a fast-growing trend that has
grown out of the early-'90s policy of "casual dress day." Giving the
staff one day a week or month to come to work in short-sleeved shirts
and casual pants
started as a perk designed to encourage team spirit and a more friendly
atmosphere at work.
Unfortunately, casual day became casual everyday at many workplaces
lacked a well-defined dress code. "One person's casual is another
unkempt," says Mary Lou Andre, president of Organization by Design, a
Needham (Mass.) corporate-image consulting firm. "People are using
an excuse to dress sloppily or provocatively, with some young female
employees taking their cues from 'Ally McBeal.' We've gotten several
recently from companies that want to talk about going with uniforms."
GM's Saturn car dealerships, with everyone from top executives to
technicians on a first-name basis and garbed in white company shirts and
dark pants, started the trend toward casual company uniforms, says
Victoria Seitz, a fashion consultant, author, and marketing professor
Bernardino, Calif. "Companies want to communicate instant credibility by
putting their employees in matching clothing. It's also a way to build
brand image, like the mustard jacket at Century 21 or the
black-and-white stripes at Foot Locker," she says.
Done right, company uniforms can publicize your logo and help your
employees represent the company positively. A uniform makes it a lot
easier for the customer to pick out a company rep. For employees,
there's no agonizing about what to wear to work, and their clothing
costs usually fall, though most companies pass along the cost of
uniforms to the employees, Seitz says. But don't just pass out the
company T-shirts and slacks and then stop there. "You have to follow up
with policies about how the uniform will be worn, such as requiring
appropriate belts, shoes, socks, hairstyles, and makeup. If your
employees don't keep the uniform clean and pressed, or their posture is
poor, or they're not making eye contact with the customers, then they'll
be killing the opportunity to communicate credibility with the
uniforms," Seitz says.
It's not easy to find uniforms that look good on employees of
ages and sizes, Andre says. "Make sure you've got plus sizes and
cuts for women and men. A young woman who's a size four wearing a men's
denim shirt will be drowning in it -- and she'll be drowning your
logo, too," she says. And if the uniforms don't fit right or aren't
attractive, employees will resent wearing them. Many clothing companies
specialize in corporate and industrial uniforms, and most require a
minimum order, Seitz says. A small company that needs only a dozen
uniforms will probably have to go to a retail outlet to have the
For more information, Andre's Web site, www.dressingwell.com, offers
articles on corporate and retail image, wardrobe tips, and a fashion
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