In the 20th century, most people wore some type of uniform to work. For professionals and executives, those uniforms consisted of tailored suits and neckties and business dresses and suits. For factory workers and service personnel, those uniforms could range from polo shirts to overhauls. During the final decades of the 20th century, the “Casual Friday” trend began, eventually leading to another trend called “casual everyday” and a fashion style called  “business casual.” According to Gallup, only 11 percent of men wear a necktie to work today. Surprisingly, that’s up from 7 percent in 2002.

One of the best perks of a small business is an atmosphere more relaxed and friendly than a large institution or corporation. However, people interpret the term “business casual” in several ways. It’s a good idea to have clear definitions and guidelines set in place describing what is and isn’t appropriate to wear to work.

And, of course, every business is unique. A company’s personality and the industry it is in—and the customer it serves—will provide the context in which a company’s dress guideline or code should be developed.

There’s a fine line between allowing employees to express their individuality and maintaining a professional atmosphere within your office. Those against a formal policy believe that if you treat employees like adults and ask them to dress professionally, then nine times out of 10 they will. But what about when someone doesn’t share your taste—or simply doesn’t care? A written policy can help you navigate the gray areas.

Tips for developing dress and fashion guidelines for your small business

1. Tailor by job duties.

Different departments will have different requirements. Someone who’s in front of clients all day should dress differently than someone who works on the warehouse floor. Make sure your policy explains what is expected of everyone at every position.

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2. Avoid distractions.

In some settings, offensive tattoos, short skirts and low-cut tops can be a distraction in an office or retail store. Make sure employees understand the difference in dressing for work versus a night out with friends.

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3. Address problems immediately.

If an employee violates the policy, discuss it right away. You have to treat everyone the same to avoid the perception of playing favorites—or worse, discriminating. Talking with employees about how they’re dressed is awkward but necessary to protect your brand and image.

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Photos: Thinkstock

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