Your company's dress code policy says a lot about its culture. The type of company you aim to be is reflected in how you want your employees to dress and present themselves. More traditional industries tend to stick to a formal dress code, especially for employees who meet with clients on a regular basis. Many newer companies, especially in the tech and creative industries, expect workers to don casual attire — wearing a suit could even raise some eyebrows.

Dress Code

If you're attempting to update your company's culture, a shift in the dress code can be part of that change. But before you institute a formal policy, think about why it's needed and understand how you can use your dress code to motivate, rather than punish, employees at your organization. For middle market companies, one of the ways to appeal to prospective employees and keep your best talent is by supporting a relaxed dress code.

The Evolution of Workplace Attire

Why is choosing a dress code more complicated today? Believe it or not, it's because of a marketing campaign.

Suits used to be the norm for both men and women who worked in office jobs. The idea of Casual Fridays began as a marketing ploy in Hawaii in the 1960s, when the garment industry there promoted "Aloha Fridays" in an effort to sell more Hawaiian shirts as office-appropriate attire. The idea came to the mainland U.S. in the '90s, thanks to a combination of the tech startup scene and Levi Strauss & Co. selling Dockers khakis. Allowing employees to dress down once a week was incorporated as a perk and morale booster in many organizations.

Today, business casual (nice slacks and a button-front shirt or blouse) has given way to casual in many offices. Companies not only allow employees to wear jeans on a daily basis, but even advertise this as a perk when attracting new talent.

How Necessary Is a Policy?

If human resources or management is considering implementing a formal dress code policy as opposed to just expecting workers to follow an unwritten expectation, first think about how your employees currently dress.

If everyone is appropriately attired and good about policing themselves, you can either put a policy quietly in place or avoid having one altogether. Employee morale depends on you showing your people that you trust them; a needless and sudden switch to a hard-and-fast rule might insult them. On the other hand, you should create or update a formal policy when you have a number of employees who aren't dressing to your company's standards.

Think About What Works Best for Your Company

When considering your company's dress code, think about the type of work you do and the kinds of clients you serve. Are you in a traditional industry? Would allowing casual dress turn off potential clients? If so, then it may be best to stick to suits. A compromise would be to allow employees to dress down on Fridays, or to require suits only on days they'll meet with clients or prospects.

If you're in an industry where the standard is casual dress, a dress code policy demanding business attire could make your company look out of touch. You might struggle to attract talent because potential hires will expect a more laid-back culture and view it as a general perk to working in your field.

How to Handle Rule Breakers

Employees of any organization may knowingly or unknowingly violate the dress code. If this happens, start by having a conversation with them. There might be a good reason, like financial hardship, and a simple reminder that rock band T-shirts and ripped jeans are inappropriate workplace attire could do the trick. If they simply don't care to follow the rules, however, then tell them that their overall presentation is part of doing their job well. If they continue violating your policies, the conversation can then escalate to a more serious one about their overall performance.

Have you implemented or enforced a dress code? How did it go? Tell us by commenting below.

Sophia Bera, CFP, is an NCMM contributor and a financial planner, writer, speaker and entrepreneur who has been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, Yahoo Finance, Money Magazine and more. While her primary focus is on millennials and money, she is passionate about helping companies attract and retain next-generation talent. Follow her on Twitter or sign up for the free Gen Y Planning newsletter.