Dress Code

As I sit down to write this blog, we’re in the midst of a Southern Ontario heat wave.  It’s 40+ degrees when you factor in the humidity and I can’t imagine putting anything other than flip flops on.  Seriously, my feet are about to swell and I need to accommodate.

Countless women on their way to work are likely trying to reconcile what their feet are begging for with the latest memo from HR they have received on the Company dress code.  Yeah, we collectively sigh, flip flops probably won’t cut it.  But what about the pretty sandals that have a peek of open toe?   How much toe signifies unprofessionalism?  Why do toes signify unprofessionalism?  Why does HR care about my toes anyway when I sit at my desk for 8 hours a day entering data?  If I don’t wear something comfortable, I’m likely to kick off my shoes under my desk and let my toes run wild and no one will be the wiser anyway.


In HR, one of the hardest things to implement is a fair and consistent Dress Code Policy.  Whether it’s deciding how much toe can be showing, or if a tank top underneath a sheer top is okay, it’s almost impossible not to feel like an old fashioned school marm walking the halls and checking that knee socks are of the appropriate length.  Fashion policing makes me feel old!

Because, it’s rare that someone comes in to work in full and obvious violation of the policy.  I’ve never seen anyone come to work in “daisy duke” jean shorts with cheapy flip flops, baring their midriff in a t-shirt that says “I’m bringing sexy back”.  What I have seen, is women (I could force political correctness here but I’m too hot and my feet are swelling), come in looking very professional but not very in line with the dress code.  And herein lies the problem – what “works” on one person may not work on another.  And since you can’t police the person “Cindy, here’s what you can wear; Mary, here’s what you can wear…” you have to police the clothes.  It’s exhausting.

I understand why dress codes are important but really, I wish we didn’t need them.  Sometimes, and often after I’ve been sent pictures of someone’s intended shoes and asked for HR approval, I wonder if we really do.  Do we really need to tell people what to wear and that it should be professional?  If it doesn’t go without saying, does it go with saying?

I’m not prepared to throw out the dress code policy. I think any policy that speaks to professionalism sends the right message.   However, as workplace demographics, and workplaces themselves, change over time I think it’s worth the effort to re-visit some of the traditional policies and be prepared to make changes (or at the very least, convince ourselves it’s still working).

So let’s discuss it.  And let’s do that with some ice cream.

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