Casual office dress codes at a four year high

Paul Lewis, chief customer officer at Adzuna

Across the UK, companies are increasingly relaxing their dress codes and relating comfort to productivity, according to new research*.

Adzuna analysed over 1m job ads advertised in February 2023, to reveal the regions and sectors most likely to specify a dress code within the job posting, and how this has changed since the pandemic.

February 2023 saw 2,927 UK job ads citing a casual dress code, up from 2,165 pre-pandemic in February 2020. Of the 3,663 jobs specifying a dress code, 79.9% promoted relaxed attire – a four year high – as Brits ditch the high heels and ties in favour of comfy casuals.

Meanwhile, businesses implementing ‘smart casual’ and ‘business casual’ dress codes are dwindling. Only 5.2% of job ads specifying a dress code asked for smart casual in February 2023, down from 9.1% in February 2020. Even fewer ads are calling for business casual at 2.8% in February 2023, down from 4.6% pre-pandemic.

In a sign of increasing polarisation in workplace culture, a growing minority of job ads are asking employees to adhere to a smart or formal dress code, equal to 444 ads in February 2023 (12.1% of ads specifying a dress code) up from 301 (10.5%) pre-pandemic.

Table 1: The evolution of dress codes since the pandemic – UK

Date Job ads referring to a ‘casual’ dress code (proportion) Job ads referring to a ‘smart casual’ dress code (proportion) Job ads referring to a ‘business casual’ dress code (proportion) Job ads referring to a ‘smart/formal’ dress code (proportion) Total UK job ads specifying a dress code
February 2020 2,165 (75.8%) 259 (9.1%) 131 (4.6%) 301 (10.5%) 2,856
February 2021 1,446 (79.7%) 113 (6.2%) 72 (4.0%) 184 (10.1%) 1,815
February 2022 3,146 (76.4%) 284 (6.9%) 120 (2.9%) 569 (13.8%) 4,119
February 2023 2,927 (79.9%) 189 (5.2%) 103 (2.8%) 444 (12.1%) 3,663

Best and worst dressed sectors
Despite the widespread relaxation of dress codes, some sectors remain well heeled. Retail is the smartest sector, with 86.7% of job ads with a dress code asking workers to wear smart or formal attire. Property (35.7%) and Legal (18.2%) follow as the next most formal sectors.

By comparison, Engineering is the most relaxed industry, with 96.4% of job ads with a dress code citing casual attire as acceptable. Teaching (94.6%), Customer Services (94.2%) and IT (92.3%) followed closely behind.

One high profile company that recently announced a more relaxed dress code is HSBC, which has created a more casual uniform of jump suits and jeans for bank branch staff. 

Table 2: Top 5 smartest sectors in the UK – February 2023

Sector Job ads referring to a ‘smart/formal’ dress code (proportion)
Retail  86.7%
Property  35.7%
Legal  18.2%
Sales  8.5%
PR, Advertising & Marketing  7.8%

Table 3: Top 5 most casual sectors in the UK – February 2023

Sector Job ads referring to a ‘casual’ dress code (proportion)
Engineering 96.4%
Teaching 94.6%
Customer Services 94.2%
IT 92.3%
Accounting & Finance 91.1%

Best and worst dressed regions
Looking geographically, workers in the West are smartest, with the West Midlands (25.3%), Wales (22.3%) and the South West (20.4%) all boasting high proportions of job ads with dress codes asking for formal or smart attire.

Scotland is the most casual area of the UK, with 91.9% of job ads with a dress code in the nation deeming casual clothing appropriate. Despite a proliferation of financial & professional services jobs, Londoners are also likely to wear relaxed clothing to the office, with 87.4% of job ads with a dress code specifying casual attire.

Table 4: UK dress codes by region – February 2023

Region Job ads referring to a ‘casual’ dress code (proportion) Job ads referring to a ‘smart casual’ dress code (proportion) Job ads referring to a ‘business casual’ dress code (proportion) Job ads referring to a ‘smart/formal’ dress code (proportion)
Scotland 91.9% 0.3% 4.7% 3.0%
London 87.4% 5.2% 4.7% 2.7%
Northern Ireland 86.7% 0.0% 13.3% 0.0%
East Midlands  81.5% 2.4% 1.7% 14.4%
East 81.4% 6.5% 1.1% 11.0%
North East  79.2% 2.8% 1.4% 16.7%
North West  78.2% 5.6% 2.4% 13.7%
Yorkshire & The Humber 78.1% 9.5% 4.6% 7.8%
Wales 75.5% 1.1% 1.1% 22.3%
South East  75.5% 5.7% 2.4% 16.3%
South West  73.3% 5.3% 0.9% 20.4%
West Midlands  67.2% 6.3% 1.2% 25.3%

Paul Lewis, Chief Customer Officer at job search engine Adzuna, comments: “Old fashioned formal working traditions went out the window with the pandemic, replaced with flexible options tailored to employees’ individual needs. That’s true of everything from working hours, working location, and dress codes. The theory is that allowing staff to tailor work wear to their preferences means they’ll be more comfortable, and more productive. We’ve seen a surge in companies relaxing dress codes and allowing their staff to wear casual clothing. Not only does this fit better around flexible working schedules, but it promotes a more inclusive culture – and can even help to attract staff, particularly Gen Z.”

*Research from Adzuna


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