Don’t be cruel. Dress your staff in a chic uniform

Amanda Woodard


written on August 3, 2017

Do your staff love or loathe their uniforms? Attitude to company attire can have an impact on productivity.

For most people, mention the word ‘uniform’ and it conjures up hated images of schoolwear. So the idea of wearing a uniform to work still fills many with dread, especially if they are badly designed and unflattering.

But several organisations that require their staff to be clearly identifiable to the public, are beginning to realise that spending time and money on creating a stylish uniform makes good economic sense.

Last month at the Paris Couture Week fashion shows for Fall/Winter 2017, Hainan Airlines sent its new uniforms designed by Laurence Xu down the catwalk. The airline’s signature pale grey tones are mixed with beautiful blue and white prints featuring clouds, sea and mountains for the women, and exquisite tailored suits, jackets and coats for both male and female employees, which have certainly raised the bar in the industry.

It’s not the first time that designers have unleashed their creative talent on company uniforms. Pucci collaborated with Braniff Airlines in the 1960s and Air France teamed up with Dior in the 1980s. But over the last few years this trend has branched out into other industries. In Australia, leading designers, Ginger and Smart have worked with Telstra on their employee uniforms and brother and sister team, Camilla and Marc launched attire for St George Bank staff.

Not only are customer-facing staff representatives of the brand, but how they feel about themselves in the uniform has an impact on productivity, according to Pamela Jabbour, founder and CEO of Total Image Group, which designs, sources and manufactures leading edge uniforms in Australia.

“We live in a society where the clothing you wear represents your values, beliefs and purpose and helps others identify with you,” says Jabbour.

If people aren’t happy or proud of what they are wearing, the impact will play out in their approach to work. “Team members will wake up each day and be reminded when getting dressed who they work for and what that represents.”

Stan Herman from the Council of Fashion Designers in America, believes that the most important thing [with a fashion/brand partnership] is likability. “If a corporation walks around in a uniform they don’t like, they become a grumpy corporation.”

Jabbour agrees and suggests that anyone who is in charge of people policy in their organisations where uniforms are a requirement, needs to ask: Are staff excited and motivated to put on their uniform? And does it resonate with what the company stands for?

Uniform psychology

In a Forbes article, Dr Karen Pine, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and fashion psychologist was quoted as saying: “When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment. A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s ‘professional work attire’ or ‘relaxing weekend wear’, so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning.”

Solidarity or resentment?

Research from Rutgers University suggests that employees who wear uniforms develop a sense of solidarity with co-workers, creating an environment in which teamwork is enhanced and performance improves. Uniforms remove a hierarchical system because there are no defining elements that indicate one employee is ranked higher than another.

But equally there can be a push back from employees who don’t want to wear uniforms and might resent a dress code mandate.

This resentment can show up in the form of decreased employee performance. Employees who feel uniforms remove choice and personality may feel they are just a face in the crowd and that there’s no way to distinguish themselves to management. This can result in an increase in apathy and a decline in productivity.

Tips and tricks for a stand-out uniform

  • Identity need. Understanding your company requirements, who is wearing the uniform, why, when it’s required and within what budget. The clearer the brief the more fit for purpose the product and service.
  • Consider colour, fabric and fit: Talk to the experts and ask for suggestions on the latest fabrics and fits that have been tried and tested in your industry. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel as uniforms need to be fit for purpose and practice. If it works for others it will work for your team. The colour scheme within a uniform can make or break the design and take it from great to terrible very quickly.  
  • Range planning – the whole range should tell the story from top to toe. Will staff need a winter wear option? What trousers are they expected to wear? Is there a requirement for a cap or beanie? There’s no point creating a fabulous shirt only to have it covered up by a hot pink jumper which is off brand.
  • The devil is in the detail: Ensure there’s a company uniform policy outlining dress standards. Should the shirt be worn tucked in our out? What type and colour of shoe are acceptable? What is the jewellery policy? Unfortunately, common sense isn’t always common.

Tips courtesy of Pamela Jabbour, founder and CEO of Total Image Group.

Photo copyright owned by Hainan Airlines


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