Case Study: Dress To Win!

Case Study: Dress To Win!

Workplace evolution has also brought forth significant changes in the attires worn by employees. With the millennial workforce looking forward to a casual working environment, business casuals are fast replacing formal dresses. However, employers are apprehensive that a lenient dress code may reflect poorly on the culture of the organisation, and are hence looking to introduce dress codes for the employees.




“I am comfortable in this dress! What’s wrong with this? I remain focused at work, I have been a consistent performer too... I am simply too upset about being rebuked about my dress...” squealed Ananya. “Moreover, each generation has a different idea about what is acceptable at the workplace…” she shrieked.


Ananya Varma (Ananya), 25, was getting ready to attend a meeting when a senior colleague, Anuradha, walked up to her and said, “Ananya, this dress is inappropriate for a meeting, and more so, at the workplace. Henceforth, please change your way of dressing. Please don’t mind, I am only saying it for your personal good. Your clothes should not be the cause of embarrassment or have a negative impact over the image of the Company.” Though furious and dizzy, Ananya ran to the washroom in order to avoid an argument, and sat there huffing and puffing.



Ananya is a Marketing Executive at Rajini Chemicals and Fertilizers Limited in Hyderabad. Ever since she joined Rajini Chemicals, she has been applauded for her work as she would grasp things at a faster rate. She regularly wears Jeans and tops, mostly sleeveless tops. At times, she would also come to the office with Capris and sleeveless tops. And today, she had to encounter such a comment from Anuradha Bodki, her female colleague. Recounting the comment from Anuradha vis-à-vis the meeting in which she was also a participant, Ananya began to feel breathless in the wash room. Finally, she washed her face and walked into the conference room where the meeting is scheduled.


To her dismay, the door attendant stopped her, and said, “Sorry Ma’am, the Marketing Head does not want to you to attend the meeting as your attire is inappropriate.” She walked away in frustration and went to the canteen to sip a piping cup of coffee. She met another female colleague and narrated what had just happened to her. The colleague replied that she is not clear as to what offended Ananya. She further suggested that Ananya follow what Anuradha had said, since it is better for her survival. This annoyed Ananya even further. She told her colleague that she is offended because, “at my age, I have been taught to express myself. And to say something negative about my sense of dressing is akin to say something negative about me. Why don’t people understand this? For that matter, anyone would be offended when they are rebuked on their dressing.” Her colleague walked away silently.

When she opened the Google webpage and typed, “dress code at workplace,” it yielded more than two lakh search results. She managed to read a few articles, and concluded that while most organisations have “casual’ days at work, the number of employers enforcing a formal dress code is on the rise. In early 2000, 56% of employers allowed casual attire every day, but that number has come down to 37% today. Even professional organisations which once allowed casual dress every day, had now shifted to a formal dress code. Surprisingly, the CEO of one of those organisations publicly stated that, ‘‘when we were casual, the quality of work wasn’t as good.”


This phenomenon of adopting formal dress codes is not universal though, while some firms are strictly enforcing formal dresses, some prominent global firms which insisted on super formals once are shedding it and are asking employees to wear what is comfortable. Thus, employees come to office in shorts too. Employees began feeling that comfortable wear provides relaxation to the body, and thus the mind works hassle free. While this is too idealistic an example, other wellknown international companies too have relaxed their dress codes.


Even sports companies and associations have adopted off-court dress code for its players. Ananya is suffocated with the tightened clause on dress code. She wanted to scream, “For God’s sake, can someone tell me what an ‘appropriate’ dress is?!” But, she mutters, “When I am comfortable, I need not worry. Let me find an organisation that has no dress code and focuses on my work and not my clothes”.


She brashly entered her cabin and drafted a mail to HR requesting for half day’s leave and walked out of the office. She boarded a cab and went to her Aunt, Kusuma Varma’s house, who is a Bank Manager. She burst into tears and explained all that had happened today, and remarked, “Why the hell do companies sell such clothes when they are not to be worn at work? Why do they brand them as casual, semiformals, and formals? Should I wear a sari daily? Would that make me more qualitative than what I am?” She went on...... Kusuma heard her patiently and said, “yes little one, you are right... while there is an increasing preference for Western formals among younger professionals, short clothes and heavy sleeveless clothes as work wear is not a part of the Indian sensibility. Younger women seamlessly switch from ethnic to Western wear, while senior female management in professions with customer interfaces like banking still rely on the sari.” Ananya was visibly annoyed and she yelled, “Should I drape that 6 meters sari to office daily?” Kusuma, unperturbed, continued, “India’s most well-known female bosses wear either the sari or western formals to work. For instance, Chanda Kochhar, the former Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ICICI Bank was usually seen in saris, while Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of the biopharmaceutical firm, Biocon Ltd, is known for tailored formals, worn with scarves.” Ananya wriggled, “okay, I agree. I shall begin to wear saris as you said, but what if they put another rule like the one in Japan? Did you know that women in Japanese front offices are asked not to wear spectacles because they appear intelligent? Are all rules only for women? I hate this ...” Kusuma said, “carving an identity in the contemporary workplace is no longer an easy set task between the binaries of sari versus “Western formals”. The latter is a term, used by Indians alone to denote jackets, shirts, and trousers for women. Menswear does not have this category, even though a majority of Indian men wear “Western formals” to work.


Dr. Prageetha G Raju is Associate Professor-Business Management, Department of Business Management, Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad Centre, a constituent of Symbiosis International (Deemed University). She can be reached on







Analysis By Ravi Mishra: Senior Vice President (HR) for Global Epoxy Business, Aditya Birla Group.





This is a classic case of reflecting the gaps in HR Tprocesses in an organization when we contemplate the boarding, induction, orientation, and socialisation of a fresh recruit. On many occasions, these processes are completed on a transactional basis or on the basis of legacy of merely going through the process of checking the boxes.


Anyone in Ananya’s shoes is bound to get upset since her beliefs and ideas were outright rejected without any discussion or persuasion. On the ill-fated day, Ananya was first rebuked over her attire by Anuradha, her senior colleague. Subsequently, the door attendant, acting at the behest of the marketing head, denied her entry into the meeting room. While it is evident that Ananya has been working in the organisation for at least a few months now, her employer failed to address the issue related to her attire until it reached a point wherein the Marketing Head was forced to instruct the door attendant to deny her participation in the meeting.


As an organisation, Rajini Chemicals & Fertilizers must review the very process of onboarding fresh recruits. Under this dimension, they must clearly spell out office etiquettes, decorum, behaviour, and code of ethics that employees need to adhere. They should also define the norms about dresses such as business formal, formal, and casual for different genders as also the occasions, unless mentioned specifically. It is expected of Ananya to be aware of the organisational culture, and know what to wear and what not to wear at the workplace. If at all she had wished to introduce new norms at the workplace, she must discuss it with her team and seniors.


Being employed in the Chemicals and Fertilizers sector, it is a tad too much for Ananya to expect a dressing culture which is synonymous in a new age economy or western world. Another point in case is Ananya’s arrogant behaviour. To validate her point of view, she has intelligently attempted to understand the other person’s idea and influence or impose his/her thoughts. Even though almost everyone differed with her beliefs, and endorsed organisational practices, Ananya was nevertheless argumentative and unprepared to buy in to their advices. This is a common problem experienced by HR professionals at the workplace while dealing with millennials and Gen Y. The new generation employees are intelligent and impactful when it comes to speed of execution, communication, and presentation. They however err when they become opinionated that the idea and practices of the earlier generations are no longer relevant. Such an attitude creates a problem for them as also the organisations.


B-Schools and Universities have the responsibility of developing and guiding students before they embark on their journey from campus to corporate life. For instance, no one wears sarees in Italy, but Mrs. Sonia Gandhi very rightly does so. Likewise, we can cite examples of Kiran Majumdar Shaw or the first lady chairman of State Bank of India, Ms. Arundhati Bhattacharya.


A more holistic approach for a good organisation is to avoid such incidences in the future. The organisation must therefore share the Code of Ethics and Etiquettes along with the job offer so that employees like Ananya can exercise their choice and think about accepting the job offer. While it is an employee’s personal choice to decide what to wear, it must be done without deviating from the pre-designated policies within the organization.



Analysis By Rohit Hasteer is the Group CHRO for, Prop and






Over the last few decades, workplace attire has undergone a significant change, and when it comes to dressing up, “smart” is now open to myriad interpretations. With the representation of Millennials and Gen Y in the workforce reaching 50%, the lines between what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate are getting blurred. It is therefore crucial for organisations to find that perfect equilibrium. And Ananya’s case is a perfect depiction of this conundrum.


For someone who is often applauded for her work, Ananya is not entirely wrong for feeling offended after she is barred from partaking in a business meeting owing to her attire, and at the same time, getting rebuked by her colleagues. Ananya is unable to understand why her workplace attire should be an area of concern if she is good at her job. However, she needs to be mindful of the fact that every culture has certain haves and have-nots. Since she is in Marketing, she will be required to meet a lot of external clients, and hence needs to be cognizant with respect to their sensitivities too. Ananya’s perceived notion that a negative feedback on her attire is akin to a personal attack is a tad overstretched. A person’s appearance is at times construed to be an indicator of their social status or character. However, in this case, the concern of her manager and colleagues seems to stem more from a business perspective and the image of the company, and is aimed at criticising her physical appearance, or judge her in any handled it with maturity by speaking to her manager to share her point of view, and also understand her manager’s point of view, rather than over-reacting by taking half a day’s leave from work.


Employers across the globe are not wrong if they lay down a structured dress code policy in their organisations. Most often, dress code is seen as an extension of a company’s culture. On many occasions, companies tend to adopt a more formal dress code which can help in creating a professional and positive image in the eyes of clients and customers. Many organisations also feel that a dress code helps in fostering a feeling of oneness cohesion within the team. However, several studies have shown that employees are most productive when they are not bound by a dress code, and when dressed as per their comfort they exude more confidence. Hence, it is wise to re-examine workplace attire in order to create a culture that evolves with time, and yet remains to represent a professional organization.


The necessity for a dress code at the workplace is usually determined by the need for interaction of employees with external clients, but not everyone is in a customer facing role. In fact, every organisation is different, and so are the diverse range of individuals who work there. Hence, it is prudent that the dress code policy be structured keeping the same diversity in mind. Employers today need to trust their people as they are mature enough to take informed decisions about their attire. A sales professional may not dress casually if that could spoil his or her chances with a client. Likewise, it is futile to expect engineers working in the technology domain to wear formals, as it does not impact their work. Today, many companies, especially the start-ups are moving away from documented dress code policies as they feel that work is not defined by attire. Corporates need to have an open frame of mind when it comes to workplace attire because one size fits all may not be the right strategy here.


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