In this current heatwave that we’re enjoying/enduring (dependent on your view on warm weather!), my thoughts have turned once again to the subject of dress codes.

I’ve blogged previously on such a topic, and my personal reasons why I believe office dress codes are both archaic and actually counteractive to productivity. However, today I’d like to explore our obsession with dress codes not only within the office, but also outside of it.

Strictly business

On Monday this week I spoke at an industry event. No criticism of the event – it was well run and had a high number of both speakers and audience members. The dress code, however, was strictly business. And that, in my experience, is pretty typical of most business events, meetings, and conferences.

The question I would ask is: why? Why do we mandate such formal attire on such occasions? Precisely what is it that we think that we’re achieving?

Visibly wilting

At Monday’s event, in a warm, barely air conditioned hotel, the audience was visibly wilting. And who could blame them. Outside, the dashboard on my car proclaimed the current temperature to be thirty six degrees. Hardly the type of conditions you want to be forcing yourself into a suit under.

It has to be said, that ladies have it far easier than the gentlemen when it comes to business attire in warm weather. We are fortunate to have the option of a short sleeved or sleeveless dress, while on most occasions they will have no alternative but to put on the ubiquitous jacket and tie.

What’s the benefit?

But to what end? What benefit do we actually see by insisting on such rigorous standards of dress? Let’s assume that our objectives of such an event are something along the lines of growing audience numbers, capturing their attention, encouraging them to network and build relationships, and promoting our own business entity.

Well, in weather like that we’re enjoying at the moment I doubt very much that a formal business code is going to grow your audience numbers. One could argue that insisting on such standards of dress might even serve to reduce your audience numbers, as people are put off by spending the day in clothing which is so incompatible with combatting the heat.

Sweat patches pooling

As for capturing their attention? – well, it’s very difficult to keep your focus for a full day when your tie is uncomfortable around your neck and you can feel sweat patches pooling under the sleeves of your jacket. I have always strongly maintained that all of us perform best when we are comfortable.

When it comes to encouraging people to network then again, you need to provide conditions which are conducive to this. Hot and uncomfortable, I’m far more likely to be heading straight for the nearest exit than spending time making small talk with my peers.

Take the opportunity

And on the subject of the promotion of our business, we actually have an opportunity here, if we’re not afraid to take it. Pretty much every large scale business event out there (with the exception of some of the tech events, which seem far more switched on in this particular area) mandates formal business attire. Why? Tradition? Fear of non-conformity? Some weird belief that if we allowed people to come along in shorts and T shirts then the whole credibility of our event would collapse immediately?

When you think about it, there really is no good reason. Trust people to be adults. Trust them to make the right choices which allow them to portray themselves as a smart and professional individual, yet still remain comfortable. Professionalism and wearing denim are not mutually exclusive. Let’s not be afraid to say that – and let’s take that opportunity to immediately show everyone who attends our event that we are unafraid to be different. We are unafraid not to conform… because we believe that, by not conforming, we might just be able to deliver something amazing.