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Dress Code – Can Your Employees’ Appearance Give off the Wrong Vibe?

Is the dress code for auto salespeople becoming too relaxed? 30 years ago, it seemed that everybody wore a suit and tie to work. This was true across many industries. Today, we see more and more employees dressing down, and exhibiting displays of individualism. This trend is not inherently bad or good, but is worth examination.

Many employers in the business world today are leaning toward t-shirt, jeans and sandals over the traditionally conservative (and often stuffy) suit-and-tie attire. This is especially true at high-profile tech companies. Dress codes at companies like Google, Facebook and Apple have garnered attention (and envy) from the rest of us who still might need to wear something less comfortable to work every day.

Companies stand behind these relaxed dress codes based on research showing that employees feel more creative and perform better when not encumbered by stuffy dress clothes. While this paradigm is taking hold across many industries, there is still a question as to how dress code affects customer perception, brand image and sales performance, particularly when applied in the retail environment.  

Employees are Part of Branding

Employees are often considered a dealership’s #1 asset. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that employees are responsible for performing the bulk of the work. Quality of work and overall productivity is directly correlated to employee talents and capabilities. Simply put, you can’t do it without them.

Another reason employees are the #1 asset is that employees are the face of the dealership. Employees are a big part of branding strategy, although this correlation is often over looked. You probably spend a lot of money on advertising, but does the experience in your dealership match the image you are trying to portray?

Employee dress code should solidify branding efforts. It should make it easy for customers to identify dealership employees, and it should set the stage for impeccable customer service. A dress code that is too relaxed can send the wrong message to customers and can create a barrier to success.

This does not necessarily mean that you should revert back to a suit-and-tie dress code. However, dress code should is a uniform and, as such, should be consistent across all employees in a given department, and should match the dealership’s overall branding strategy.

Dress to Customer Expectations

The best way to determine what a dress code should be is to look at the customer base. If you run a dealership in a rural community where your primary customers are ranchers and farmers, it is reasonable to require that your salespeople wear jeans and a button-up plaid shirt.

If you sell luxury cars in the middle of the financial district of a large city where your primary customers are bankers, attorneys and executives, you would likely want a dress code requiring a suit and tie.

Another aspect to consider is piercings, tattoos and hairstyles. If dramatic alterations are common among your customer base, this may not be a big deal. However, if your customer base is generally clean cut with no visible modifications, you may want to impose requirements as to which of these body modifications can be visible while at work.


There is a fine line between fostering creativity among employees and maintaining an appropriate brand image in the eyes of your customers. Unfortunately, the new paradigm of relaxed dress codes does not always apply in the world of retail. The trick is to find a balance. Somewhere there is a middle ground where employee comfort and customer satisfaction meet, and both are satisfied.

Ken Strong
Ken Strong
Retail automotive veteran and writer for

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