The Controversial Dress Code at Work – A Love-Hate Dilemma

The controversial dress code at work - A love-hate dilemma
The controversial dress code at work - A love-hate dilemma

The controversial dress code at work – A love-hate dilemma

Poor Newsweek. They’ve just been snared in the trap that makes most companies nervous. Newsweek employees just leaked a new internal dress code manual and the press is having a field day. We could replace “Newsweek” with virtually any company name but here’s the gist of the new policy: “Denim jeans, sweat suits, low-rise pants, sneakers, sandals, flip-flops, halter tops, camisoles, baseball caps, sweat suits, t-shirts, tank tops, micro mini-skirts, shorts, or anything else that is deemed unprofessional or excessively distracting are inappropriate business attire and should not be worn to work.”

On social media platforms comments on the leak range from “…adults working in a professional environment should dress professionally” to “I think dress codes for adults are just stupid…” There is no dress code that will make everybody happy but they are important. Let’s take a closer look.

#1 The intent is positive. You, as an employee, may feel that a dress code is restricting. I have heard, “My company says they are open to diversity yet they want us all to dress alike.” Actually, your company IS open to diversity so they want to avoid anybody or anything from offending someone else. It is not only things we say can that can be offensive; so can the things we wear. We work for globally diverse companies and many things can be offensive to various cultures. For example, some people don’t want to see undergarments of any kind, cleavage, often-unkempt toes, etc.

As for casual attire (sweatpants, baseball caps), wear those at night and on weekends all you want. Work is called work for a reason. It is the place that compensates us to work in THEIR environment, abiding by their values, rules, policies, and helping them build THEIR brand. If certain elements of your company’s brand are the color of the paint on the walls and how people dress, that is their decision. You may elect to not work there if the requirements are not comfortable for you.

#2 Dress code challenges are NOT gender or generation-specific. As a manager, I have had to have dress code conversations with men and women baby boomers (born 1946-1964), Gen X-ers (born 1965-1976) and Millennials (born 1977-1992). Within each generation there is a wide continuum of conservative to liberal attitudes and as many interpretations of the type of dress that is appropriate enough or professional enough. I’m sure there are some senior executives who are equally challenged with the new dress code.

#3 More clothing choices are appropriate and professional than are inappropriate and unprofessional. There is a very wide range of clothes that are acceptable, while still letting individuals express their creativity and uniqueness. Just look around you. There are colors, fabrics, combinations, styles, and accessories that bring out a sense of individuality while still providing appropriate dress for work. A wardrobe can be low-cost, second-hand, or vintage and still be very acceptable.

#4 Your attire doesn’t make you less cool, less creative, less important, or less interesting, anyway. First impressions are truly lasting, so why be labeled before you even show your talents? Like those required at some grade schools and high
schools, I often wish we wore a uniform at work so we would be judged (and compensated!) on how we meet or, better, exceed, our job requirements. Period.

In today’s new era of work, I believe the number one career word “choices.” We are all empowered to make choices, that is, when we have choices. You can choose to work for a technology start-up that says, “Wear whatever you want.” Or you can work for a company with a brand that requires a certain level of dress standard. Or you can start your own business and wear whatever you want!

What is your opinion? We want to hear it! We look forward to your comments!


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