Macy’s lets associates express their style

Photos: Macy’s
Mar 21, 2022

Macy’s has updated its dress code to encourage associates to dress according to their personal styles so they can be better seen as experts for style advice.

Previously, the dress code called for business casual (i.e., no jeans, sneakers), with many departments mandating all-black.

The looser wardrobe guidelines are part of a new brand platform, “Own Your Style,” that seeks to better position Macy’s as an authority on fashion advice and discovery.

“Our colleague’s personal style and self-expression will engage and inspire our customers to express their own personal style,” a Macy’s spokeswoman told WWD.

The dress code will vary based on an employee’s role. The spokeswoman elaborated, “A colleague in our general selling area may dress with a more casual look of their favorite pair of denim paired with fashion sneakers while colleagues in special selling areas — fine jewelry, beauty — will dress in a more elevated look. This may mean a dress, skirt, suit or blazer paired with flashy accessories. We are empowering colleagues to let their personal style shine through.”

The move comes following a period when casualization of America’s wardrobes accelerated during the pandemic.

Macy’s overall “Own Your Style” platform emphasizes digital and social-first experiences, branded content, sequenced storytelling, in-person advice and personalized data-driven recommendations.

At the store level, digital screens will display rotating style tips, including on cross-merchandising outfits. Monthly “Own Your Style” and “Now Trending” sections curated with “must have” products are being added to selling floors.

Online, Macy’s will introduce personalized websites based on customers’ buying history. The “Own Your Style” online experience features a wide range of trend advice, including current takes on the preppy look, relaxed jeans and “no-makeup makeup look.”

The online push also includes a bigger role for Macy’s Style Crew, a group of associates who post shoppable video and photo content to their own social channels and earn commission on click-throughs.

Rich Lennox, Macy’s chief brand officer, said in a statement, “We will help our customers express their personal style through personalized data-driven recommendations and expert advice that will differentiate us in a cluttered marketplace.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of the “Own Your Style” platform’s overall effort to position Macy’s as the go-to place for fashion guidance? Do you see more benefits than risks in Macy’s relaxing its dress code and encouraging associates to dress in their personal style?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Let the young associates be themselves and it will spill over into good service for shoppers."
"If they’re going to do this right, I would suggest training on how to put outfits together in general — you’re a fashion source, not a club."
"My experience in working high-end department stores suggests this is a good idea."

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29 Comments on "Macy’s lets associates express their style"

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Jenn McMillen

People naturally gravitate to others who look like them. The positive effects of this decision could be increased average ticket, more repeat visits if a customer finds someone who they trust for advice, and also increased employee satisfaction and retention.

Jeff Sward

This sounds good on paper, but it remains to be seen how it will actually be executed. A really long time ago there were associates out on the selling floor actually selling product, or at least answering questions. That’s not something I have seen in quite some time. I’ve seen a lot of progress on product presentation, but I have not noticed a beefing up of on-floor personnel who I could turn to for questions and guidance. It would be great to see Macy’s start to live stream from on-floor locations. That would create an obvious focal point for fashion guidance.

Brian Delp
8 months 13 days ago

It’s about time! Aside from showing personal style, this should also improve employee retention and morale as retail faces a staffing shortage. They could take it one step further by offering a clothing allowance to ensure employees are sporting personal style that originated at Macy’s so this expression doesn’t actually drive traffic elsewhere. All black — or the 10 percent color code — was outdated, however it does help with identifying staff, somewhat similar to Target’s red shirt requirement.

Zel Bianco

Associates at Nordstrom have been ahead of this trend for some time and I think it has been a positive step for them and will be for Macy’s as well. Let the young associates be themselves and it will spill over into good service for shoppers.

Neil Saunders

I don’t disagree with the direction or aims of this initiative. However I really don’t see how Macy’s can execute it in-store when so many of them are in an abysmal state. Why would anyone want advice from a shop that can’t even merchandise properly and whose floors so often look like an apocalypse in a teenager’s closet? And how are staff, who are already very hard pressed doing basic shopkeeping tasks, supposed to make time to provide style advice? The whole think is typical of Macy’s disjointed thinking!

Melissa Minkow

I like this idea, but it’s based on the assumption that all their associates have aspirational style. Will Macy’s be including aspects of styling in its associate interviews going forward?

The personalized site pages based on buying history is exciting to me, though. That is certainly the future of e-commerce.

David Naumann

Personalizing the fashion choices for both customers and store associates is a smart strategy for Macy’s. One of the best strategies is the “Own Your Style” personalized website that features a wide range of trend advice. Customizing recommendations to the customers’ profiles, previous purchases and browsing history will make customers feel like Macy’s understands them as unique individuals.

Georganne Bender

I like this idea. The sales floor at the Macy’s stores I have visited are jam packed with racks housing clothing, with a few mannequin platforms peppered in. There is so much to look at that putting together an outfit isn’t always easy. Shoppers need sales associates who can help them coordinate purchases. And in fashion categories those associates should be fashionable.

Shoppers look for associates who have an aesthetic similar to their own. It’s tough to do that when everyone is dressed in black. I also like that the associates will dress appropriately for the department they represent. As a consumer, ripped jeans and t-shirts won’t cut it when I am shopping in upscale departments.

David Spear

Relaxed dress codes have been in vogue for many years and Macy’s “Own Your Style” decision will benefit Macy’s on two primary fronts. First, with associates. This is a huge win for them, giving them a clear choice as to how they want to manage and communicate fashion advice using their own threads as examples. Second, with driving more sales. Happy employees make better brand ambassadors for Macy’s, and when associates feel great about their roles, they put forth extra effort. They go that extra mile to make a shopper’s experience unique and special, which will translate into more sales.

Liza Amlani

Macy’s “Own Your Style” is a smart strategy to empower employees to be their authentic selves while on the shop floor.

Relaxing the dress code and encouraging store staff to show their passion for fashion will get customers to trust them but you have to have the right brand ambassadors on the sales floor. They must be product obsessed otherwise customers will see right through them.

Kevin Graff

Overall, a smart move on Macy’s part. Note that they’ve given parameters for what you can wear depending on your department. It’s hard to find, and to keep, good staff these days so this will certainly help with recruiting and retention. And we all like people that look like we do, so if you happen to find someone dressing like you (or how you would like to do), then this fits. Caution: there will need to be some guard rails in place to reign in “poor” wardrobe choices. After all, we humans like to dance outside the lines quite often.

Gene Detroyer

In my opinion, this is the best marketing thinking Macy’s has done in decades. Make the associates the stars. Show the public what Macy’s people are all about.

The one challenge, of course, is to encourage associates to dress according to their personal styles so they can be better seen as experts for style advice. Not every associate has the sense of style that is appropriate for the department they work in.

Lisa Goller

Celebrating uniqueness vs. uniformity helps Macy’s improve the customer and employee experience. Employees gain freedom of expression and shoppers gain fashion inspiration.

With Own Your Style, Macy’s takes a smart risk by investing in diversity, omnichannel personalization and happy, loyal employees.

Gary Sankary

Within reason, I think this is a really smart move for Macy’s. This will boost employee morale I suspect. It will also boost confidence, especially if they are able to inspire shoppers to purchase outfits/items based on their style. This will be fun to watch as it develops.

Rich Kizer

Allowing staff members to show their style is a brilliant move and I guarantee the customer response will be strong and favorable. Of course there has to be some boundaries but, in my experience, I have always seen associates demonstrate good taste. Years ago when I was in the department store business, we tried this. It was one of the best moves we ever instituted. Seller confidence went through the ceiling, and associates’ presentations created many professional dialogues with customers. AND employee self esteem went through the roof. I think Macy’s will find that as well.

George Anderson

This would make absolute sense if Macy’s was enabling associates to model in-season fashions from its racks. I’d like to see Macy’s outfit associates with “work clothes” with the understanding that the items at the end of each season would either be returned to the company for donation to worthy groups or purchased by team members at a discount. To Neil’s point, this only works if Macy’s cleans up its act in stores.

Shawn Harris
Shawn Harris
Board Advisor, Light Line Delivery
8 months 13 days ago

During our 2022 NRF predictions session Ricardo Belmar, James Tenser, and I called this the “engineered influencers.” We thought this could be a great platform for both retailers and associates. However, as I stated before, I believe that Macy’s has greater structural issues that can not be solved with one, or a collection of, one-off campaigns.

Katie Thomas

Has Macy’s been into their own stores lately? I’m not sure the ones I’ve been to have employees that adhere to a strict dress code as it is. This seems a little bit more like virtue signaling than something that will move the needle.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

I’m totally in favor of associates expressing their style at work! It will improve morale and potentially inspire customers if Macy’s can ever get their store and merchandise operations in order! Staffing is still spotty, and assortment presentation/overall store experience leaves a lot to be desired.

Lucille DeHart

Honestly, I am as tired of Macy’s reinventing itself as I was with Sears and JCPenney’s. This is a marketing gimmick and not a substantial business initiative that will move the business forward. Yes, it is nice to see an associate who mirrors your style (or seek one out on the floor that does), but I don’t know how this creates any level of trust and expertise. It is authentic, but not significant.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

Look, retail is not the military with prescribed uniforms where collar insignia signify one’s rank. However, uniforms help identify those that are part of an organization and those visiting. Having a professionally attired associate with a name tag was desirable to help identify retail associates. Still, in 2022 there is more remarkable casualness and a movement to empower front-line workers. Being casual and less formal does not equal less professionalism. It does indicate greater individuality, authenticity, and empowerment. Such a policy can help attract and keep associates while connecting with a younger customer base. Guidelines remain but with more flexibility. That’s smart!

Bob Phibbs

If their “look” is wrinkled and looks like they came from the gym — like I’ve witnessed — I think this could make things worse. If they’re going to do this right, I would suggest training on how to put outfits together in general — you’re a fashion source, not a club.

Craig Sundstrom

Macy’s has a long hill to climb — uphill, both ways! — to be seen as a fashion leader, so let’s just leave that alone.

As for the dress code issue: yes, there’s some logic to the idea that if one is buying (let’s just be old-fashioned and call it) “better” clothing and wants some advice, having an associate who looks the part will be an easier sell … literally. If you’re buying a book or toaster — assuming Macy’s still sells those — it probably doesn’t make much difference. But there are other factors at work here too: uniformity can help convey an image (hopefully a positive one), facilitate finding assistance (often an issue nowadays … sadly!), avoid personal confrontations…. So like many an experiment, while it may be worth trying, it’s worth having clear objectives as well.

8 months 12 days ago
Large retail has never been perfect. But there was a time when it was, at least, more comprehensible. Back when there weren’t so many choices, ways to shop, you managed with what you were given. Big retailers, too, worked with their ability to be more disciplined (some may say limited) and that worked its way down to how things were presented on the sales floor as well as of the staff. The goods and the workers were, in effect, neat as pins. Now to find any semblance of that in any chain store is like trying to find one of those pins in many haystacks. (Mind you, this was/is never the same in small boutiques, where purveyors should mirror their merchandise.) Meanwhile the reality of superstore retail now, especially in Macy’s, is that there is no more sense of that kind of operational control. If you can barely find workers to barely keep the merchandise from “walking” out of the store (under nefarious circumstances) this allowing them to wear more of what they want seems… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
Mel Kleiman
President, Humetrics
8 months 12 days ago

Macy’s needs to find a new marketing department. Before they change the dress code, they need to change the number and quality of the people on the floor, the training they give them, and the tools they need to do their jobs.

Brad Halverson

Two good things can come from such a move like this.

Employees can be seen showing off their personal fashion and (hopefully) wearing brands sold at Macy’s. Customers get to see confidence in product brands this way.

Customers also get to see these brands on employees in different styles, sizes, colors and shapes. This is a slice of reality.

Ultimately, both are good for the customer experience.

Rachelle King

My experience in working high-end department stores suggests this is a good idea. Having employees amplify flare of their respective departments is always a good eye-catcher and fun conversation starter. Also, it puts employees in a good mood. Retail sales never felt better.