Style vs. Salary: Does Your Appearance Impact Your Career?

Style vs Salary: Does how you look impact How Much You Make?

Does how you look influence how much you make?

In June of 2016, Business Insider reported that JPMorgan Chase and Co. had circulated an internal memo expanding “business casual dress firmwide.” According to the memo, the change from business formal—suit jackets and ties—to a less buttoned-up appearance at the world’s fifth-largest bank reflected “how the way [JP Morgan works] is changing.”

As explained in the Business Insider article:

The move [came] after CEO Jamie Dimon returned from Silicon Valley, where he met with companies working on financial technology, cybersecurity, and social media. Dimon’s observations led him to conclude that JPMorgan’s dress code was significantly out of date.

The tech boom has, indeed, ushered in a new, more-relaxed era of professional appearance; in some cities and industries, it’s now significantly more likely to see hoodies and flip-flops in the office than it is to see suits and ties. And with 40 percent of Millennials having at least one tattoo, body art like ink and piercings are also becoming much more prevalent and visible at work.

But what type of businesses allow employees to adopt a style more akin to Mark Zuckerberg than Warren Buffet? Are there parts of the country where workers dress more formally and parts where they dress more casually? And what impact does how you look at work have on your salary?

With these questions in mind, PayScale surveyed 34,200 employees between November 2016 and January 2017, asking them if their company has an explicit dress code or appearance guidelines, what the dress code is, and what types of hairstyles, facial hair and/or body art are discouraged (formally or informally) in their workplace.

How Common Is the Explicit Dress Code?

According to our data, roughly half of U.S. employees have an explicit dress code at their place of work.

About 49 percent of our respondents said their company has an explicit dress code policy; this number includes workers who are required to wear a uniform to work. About 19 percent said that while there’s no explicit dress code at their place of work, there is strong pressure to look or dress a certain way. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they can look however they want at work, within reason.

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Whether there’s an explicit, formal dress code in place or not, more than 42 percent of respondents reported their company encouraged a business casual appearance (no jeans, sneakers, flip flops, etc.). Roughly 6 percent of respondents said their company encouraged business formal attire (tie, suit and jacket for men; pant- or skirt suit for women). Thirty-four percent reported their company allowed them to dress as they wished (casual: anything goes, within reason), and 18 percent of respondents said their company requires that they wear uniforms to work.

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Does Dress Code Vary by State?

If you’ve always imagined west coasters are more relaxed about what they wear to the office, our data confirms your suspicion. In general, the farther west you head in the continental United States, the more likely your company is to have a casual dress code. Workers in the Rocky Mountain States and on the West Coast are most likely to report their company has a casual dress code, meaning their employees can wear anything they want to work, within reason. Conversely, workers in Southeastern states were least likely to report casual dress codes at their places of work; workers in these same states were most likely to report that they were required to wear uniforms for their jobs.

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Respondents in the government-work-heavy District of Columbia reported by far the highest likelihood that they observed a business formal dress code at their place of employment: more than 16 percent of workers in our nation’s capital wear suits to work. Neighbor Virginia and financial capital New York are next most likely, each with roughly 9 percent of workers reporting a business formal dress code at their place of work.

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Does Professional Appearance Impact Salary?

Among our findings, we learned that while we can all aspire to the Silicon Valley casual look, if you want to make the big bucks, you’re likely going to be wearing an outfit that leans a bit more on the dressy side. There are always exceptions, of course.

Whether your dress code is officially enforced or not, the more formally you dress for work, the more money you’re likely to make. Our survey showed that workers of companies that have a business formal dress code have the highest median salary, at $57,800. Workers of companies that have a business casual dress code had the second-highest median salary, at $53,700, and workers who had a casual dress code had the third-highest, at $50,300. Respondents who said they wore specific work uniforms reported the lowest median salary by far: $38,300.

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When broken down by the income-level of workers, we found that a business casual dress code dominated every level of income, with the exception of the lowest bracket; workers who made less than $20,000 a year were far more likely to wear specific work uniforms at their jobs. We also discovered the higher the income bracket, the more likely those respondents work at a company with a formal dress code.

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How Dress Codes Change by Industry

If you’d rather wear jeans and a T-shirt than a suit to work, our report can help you steer clear of industries where workers are most likely to report a business formal dress code. Respondents to our survey reported a high rate of business formal dress codes in some financial services (e.g. Portfolio Management, Commercial Banking), though Funeral Homes and Funeral Services easily topped the list at a whopping 78 percent. A business casual dress code was also reported often by workers in some other financial services (e.g. Offices of Certified Public Accountants, Credit Unions), insurances services and IT.

When it comes to industries that most commonly encourage a casual dress code, breweries come in number one at 93 percent. Dream job, anyone? Many of the other industries that most commonly have a casual dress code are related to manufacturing and internet services, including electronic shopping, internet publishing, and motion picture and video production. Lastly, industries with workers who most commonly report that they have specific work uniforms tend to be related to health and medical services, with workers in the veterinary services industry coming in number one overall, at 78 percent.

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How Dress Codes Change by Job Group

Security guards topped the list of jobs that require uniforms, at 85 percent. Not surprisingly, many of the other jobs with a high percentage of workers wearing company uniforms are related to automobile services (diesel mechanics, auto mechanics), repair or maintenance services (HVAC service technicians, housekeeping cleaner), and medical services (sterile processing technician, surgical technologist).

Notably, none of the 10 jobs most likely to require uniforms break a median salary of $50,000. The highest median salary on the list is that of HVAC service technicians, at $45,600.

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When it comes to dressing however you want at work, 90 percent of nannies say they fall into this category, the highest percentage in our survey. After nannies, generally, the highest percentage of workers who report that they can dress however they want are most often in jobs related to art, technology, and engineering. Along with liberal dress codes, the tech workers on our list typically report high median salaries. Good work, if you can get it!

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How Dress Codes Change by Generation

If you’re trying to predict the most common dress code of the future, our data indicates things are likely to get more and more casual; though Gen Y (Millennials), Gen X and Baby Boomers are roughly equally likely to wear uniforms to work, in general, the younger you are, the more likely you are to have a casual dress code at your place of work. The highest percentage of workers reporting a casual dress code were Millennials, at 37 percent.

Millennials, workers born between 1982 and 2002, were also the least likely to report a business formal dress code at work, at just under 5 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, Baby Boomers, workers born between 1946 and 1964, were most likely to report a business formal dress code (6.5 percent) or business casual dress code (46 percent), and least likely to report a casual dress code, at just under 30 percent.

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What Types of Body Art Are Most Likely to Be Frowned upon at Work?

If you’re considering a new tattoo, dying your hair bright blue, or inserting a giant wooden plug into your earlobe, be aware: the vast majority of our survey respondents reported that visible tattoos, unconventional hair coloring, and unusual ear piercings were discouraged in their workplace.

But the body art most likely to be discouraged at work? Facial piercings, including nose rings. More than 81 percent of our respondents said facial piercings were formally or informally discouraged at their place of work. So if you’re looking for a new job, you might want to hold off on that labret/chin piercing for now.

Facial hair, on the other hand, was the most accepted of the options we provided, with only 17 percent of respondents saying it was discouraged at their place of work.

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Tell Us What You Think

Does your company enforce a strict dress code, or are you able to look how you want to at work? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.


In this analysis, PayScale examined the dress codes in the workplace of U.S. workers. Surveyees were asked the following questions between November 2016 to January 2017:

“Does your company have an explicit dress code or appearance guidelines?” (Data collected from 30,700 employees)

  • Yes, we have company uniforms
  • Yes, there are well-defined standards our dress and appearance must meet
  • No, but there is strong pressure to look or dress a certain way
  • No, I can look however I want (within reason)

“Which of the following are discouraged (formally or informally) in your workplace?” (Data collected from 16,700 employees)

  • Facial hair
  • Certain hair styles
  • Unconventional hair coloring
  • Visible tattoos
  • Unusual ear piercings (gauges, orbital, conch, etc.)
  • Facial piercings (nose, eye, labret, etc.)

“Which of the following best describes your company dress code?” (Data collected from 34,200 employees)

  • Business formal (tie + jacket for men, pant- or skirt-suits for women)
  • We have specific work uniforms
  • Casual (The Zuckerberg – anything goes within reason)
  • Business casual (no jeans, sneakers, flip flops, etc.)

Furthermore, PayScale analyzed the responses regarding workplace attire in relationship to the following variables:

  • Industry
  • Major job group
  • U.S. state
  • Income bracket


Industry – This is the industry of the respondent as classified in the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). NAICS is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy (

Median Pay – The median pay is the national median (50th percentile) annual total cash compensation. Half the people doing the job earn more than the median, while half earn less.

Major Job Group – The Major Job Group is the highest level of the O*NET-SOC Taxonomy ( that encompasses the respondents occupation. Major Job Groups are the most general groupings of related occupations. All jobs are classified into one of the 23 Major Groups.

Income Bracket – This refers to the bracket of annual total cash compensation, including base annual salary or hourly wage, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions, and other forms of cash earnings, as applicable. It does not include equity (stock) compensation, cash value of retirement benefits, or value of other non-cash benefits (e.g., healthcare).