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Fashion police: Is it time to revisit your dress code?

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in Your Office Coach

Question: “I am the CEO of a small community bank. We have a dress code that has not been updated for several years. Many of our female employees have asked if we could relax the dress code requirement that hose must be worn with pants or long skirts. I don't want to be needlessly old-fashioned or out-of-step with the rest of the world, but I’m not sure if this is appropriate. How should we go about reviewing our dress code policy?”  —Not a Fashionista

Maire's Answer: While dress codes often are helpful, they also can be an employee relations nightmare.  The best way to create a reasonable and effective policy is to involve employees in the process. This helps to reduce resistance and ensures that you consider their point of view.

•    Select a small group of employees to draft a new dress code. Choose people other employees respect and who understand your business goals.

•    Meet with the group to explain the image that you want your business to have. Establish any guidelines that must be followed. For example, are some garments specifically prohibited?  Is business casual acceptable? Do different jobs require different styles of dress?  

•    Ask the group to get input from its co-workers before drafting the new policy. Have the group present its final recommendations to you for approval.

•    Once you have approved the dress code, involve the group in communicating the new policy to the staff.  

Regarding your specific situation, the change requested by your employees is not unreasonable.  Dress codes should balance an appropriate business image with contemporary trends, and many women today no longer wear hose with every outfit.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

karen martin November 3, 2008 at 11:49 am

I think as long as your clothes are clean, no rips, & not smutty looking you should be acknowledged as a responsible adult & be allowed to wear what you can afford …otherwise if a specific way of dressing is a requirement of the job then the agency which is employing you should give you a specific allotment to dress the way they percieve you should look.

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Rose October 29, 2008 at 3:21 pm

I think that when an employer emposes a dress code on its employees, they should be willing to give you enough money to buy the wardrobe required for the job. Some people don’t have the extra money after paying their bills, mortgages, etc.

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Darlene October 29, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Wow, I am only 40 and I must be REALLY old-fashioned! I have GOT to wear nylons, or socks, or something on my legs and feet. When I see people in “professional” roles with bare legs I subconsciously think less of their commitment to professional business. In my world, you only go without any kind of hosiery (socks, etc.) in the summer in casual situations.

Maybe it’s because my feet are always fish-belly white…

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Kate Narancich October 29, 2008 at 2:21 pm

My only input is that after 30+ years of work, I can honestly say that panty hose are cruel and unusual punishment. HATE them.

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Barb. October 29, 2008 at 1:47 pm

A comment for the income level issue – my boss was a member of the local Altrusa club and they collected business-quality clothing for women and with a referral from a member, I was able to go get several high-quality (some even new – tags and all) pieces to upgrade my wardrobe at no cost. As my weight went down and the pieces no longer fit, I donated them back to Altrusa for other women to use – this could be a resource for women with tight incomes if they could find out who their local Altrusa club members are and get a reference.

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Barb. October 29, 2008 at 1:44 pm

I’m glad you brought that issue up, Maria, I had never even thought about those who may be allergic to the material. Having found a whole new arena in my life – allergies – I get the same way with wool (yuck), even blends of wool. I was given 2 beautiful angora blend sweaters a few years ago and they still hang in my closet. I hate to part with them until I can find someone who will get good use out of them.

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Barb. October 29, 2008 at 1:37 pm

I’m thinking this CEO is a male, since he specifically refers to the request as being from FEMALE employees. I think all male managers should “just once” try putting pantyhose on and then function in them for a few hours!

Actually, I support a revision of antiquated dress codes, as long as the new one takes your industry standard into account. I personally hate going into an office (say a bank or real estate office) and seeing people in jeans and t-shirts (unless for a specific purpose – fund raiser or showing support for a cause) because it makes me feel as though they aren’t professional – and appearances are what we are judged on first.

I don’t even relax my dress code on casual Friday because it is more important to me than that to look professional. I work in an environment that is not unilateral. Office managers often dress more casually than their staff do. Which sends a confusing message to anyone who is coming into the office.

I am out in the public eye a lot while representing my agency and want to make the best impression possible.

When I worked at a newspaper as a proof reader, we weren’t required to dress to a specific code because we were back-office staff, but I was always self-conscious about being out near the front because of my casual attire. Then suddenly the receptionist was out for a week and I had to cover the front desk – my attire immediately reflected my new duties. My boss was impressed with how conscientious I was of how I represented the paper and commented on my change. I never went back to really casual after that. I found ways to mix and match a variety of looks because I was a newly divorced, single mom on a tight budget, with 2 teenagers to raise – yikes!

You should remind your staff that long skirts can show your legs when you sit down, so knee-high stockings may not be sufficient – there is nothing uglier, to me, than to look down and see the tops of someone’s knee-highs glaring at me when they are seated – it looks unprofessional.

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Maria October 29, 2008 at 1:36 pm

I don’t wear them as I am allergic to the material in them and therefore if my employer requested I used them, then I think there would be a litigation matter and there goes an ADA accomodation, the rash I get from wearing stocking is beyond beliefs far enough to the point I can’t walk. As far as I understand the same rule applies as to when an employee must wear a uniform that the employer must either provide or give an allowance. So, if an employer wants to request an employee wear a hose as part of their attire, then I suggest that budget be adjusted to add providing stocking expenses for the employees who are being required to wear them.

Maria

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Teresa October 29, 2008 at 1:23 pm

I personally never wear hose anymore. I hate them. In the summer my legs are bare, in the winter I wear tights. The younger women probably have never worn hose, and many of them also never even wear dresses.
Dress codes should reflect the type of business, I work in government, but also be realistic and take the varying age groups and income levels into account. Employees should be expected to dress professionally, and there’s nothing wrong with specifying a minimum skirt length, but it the dress code is too restictive you will face a constant battle to enforce it and a serious morale issue as well.

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