Thanks to the priorities of the leader of the Free World, dress codes are big news today. According to reports there is a new dress code in force in the White House. Men are supposed to be smart – that means ties. Women are supposed to, well, dress like a woman.
I am guessing that means heels, dresses and the like. I’m not sure why that’s essential for their jobs. Maybe it’s to ensure that parts of them are easier to grab.
Dress codes have been news in the UK recently too, following a case where a female was sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels, as specified in her employer’s dress policy.
Dress codes bother me.
I get that if you are in a customer-facing role, where uniform and image are important, then you will want to issue some guidance. But almost everyone has one. Most companies have such a document, even for employees where it doesn’t matter a jot what they wear.
At my last company, I deleted our policy without telling anybody to see if anyone noticed. They didn’t. I suspect someone will, the next time an employee turns up for the 9-5 wearing someone else’s definition of non-acceptable clothing and rather than have a conversation with them adult to adult, they will want to wave a piece of paper instead.
I dislike dress codes for lots of reasons.
I dislike the very idea that you need to tell someone old enough to hold down a job and pay taxes what they can and cannot put on when they get out of bed in the morning.
Maybe I just dislike them because I am not very good at following them. I don’t really get on very well with formal clothing. I find suits and the like stifling. I’m at my best self when I am pacing around, walking outside, sitting on my sofa and talking out loud. None of these things work all that well with a pair of heels, or other “womanly” clothing.
But the thing I dislike most of all about dress codes is that they have, in most jobs, absolutely nothing at all to do with how someone performs at work.
Don’t judge people on what they wear, judge them on what they do. This is what we should care about – not the height of someones heels.
Entirely agree with this. Two problems though are customer expectations and perceptions of customer expectations. For lawyers, that means suit and tie for client meetings, because some clients place weight on such things.
Any professional will or should make careful choices about their appearance, not least because of all the evidence of how much visual impressions matter. Thus I have chosen to attend a pitch meeting with a tech client in the clothes I cycle in (no visible lycra, in case you’re worried).
A good dress code will not be a code as such but guidance. Suit and tie is easiest if you don’t know the client because it is rarely perceived as ‘wrong’
However, the perception of customer expectation can be pernicious. As recently as the 90’s, female colleagues in my then firm were strongly discouraged from wearing trousers. And today one hears horror stories of broking houses ripping off the front pocket on a (junior) man’s shirt on the basis that no proper shirt would have such a thing. This, and asking a woman to wear high heels, should be called out as bullying.