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Monday, November 12, 2007

Dress Codes

I wore new pants to work on Friday. They were black and very business appropriate. I paired them with a nice jacket and heels. I was very professional. Except that the pants were made out of some sort of stretchy cloth and I felt like I was wearing pajama bottoms, even though I didn't look like I was.

So, I was appropriately dressed and extremely comfortable. Ahh, the wonders of business casual. It made me think about dress codes, which was ironic because I got an e-mail from a Public Relations Firm about a Business Week case study on dress code.

Would you fire someone who repeatedly violated the dress code, but otherwise was an exemplary employee?

If you watch the video at the site, Jennifer Maxwell Parkinson, "The Dress Code Whisperer" (I did not make that title up, it's at the site)recommends hiring an image consultant.

That sounds good, in theory, but can seem to open up a whole host of worms. What if the employee is a member of a protected class? Yikes. You need to be sure it is a dress code issue and not a culture/age issue.

I do think it's critical that you have a clear dress code and stick to it. It's beyond difficult to get managers to enforce it. Anybody have any suggestions on how to enforce dress codes at your office?


Anonymous said...

I think the critical first steps are that the dress code must be in writing and it must be thorough. The dress code must be uniformly (pardon the pun!) enforced. Next, the upper level managers should set a good example. Too many employers skip one or more of these steps and are then surpised when it's difficult to enforce the dress code.

It's like building a house. If the foundation is poor, the house will fall down.

HR Wench said...

I have found that continued violations of the dress code usually stem from one or two things

1. The inability (or extreme avoidance) of managers to have constructive conversations with their employees about their behavior.


2. Stupid and unreasonable dress code policies (i.e. you must wear close toed shoes with no heels unless wearing stockings and the stockings must be opaque, not sheer....blah blah blah worthless waste of time unless it relates to safety).

Outside of that, if a top performer continually violates the dress code it's time for a "what is really going on here?" type conversation between the manager, employee and either an HR rep or senior manager. It needs to be made clear to the person that they may be working themselves out of a job with this blatant disregard for the rules.

If they persist - get rid of them through progressive discipline as they are most likely an a-hole and making life miserable for other employees anyways. The dress code thing is probably just the tip of the iceberg.


Ask a Manager said...

Pants that look professional but feel like you're wearing pajamas? I must obtain these for myself. May we ask for more information on these wondrous-sounding pants?

Evil HR Lady said...

I got the pants at Kohl's, but they are maternity pants so you may not want them.

Ask a Manager said...

Damn. I will continue my quest for deceptively comfortable pants elsewhere...

Evil HR Lady said...

You can always get pregnant...

Ask a Manager said...

I may resort to that if I can't find something more comfortable soon. My dream is to go to work in head-to-toe fleece.

Evil HR Lady said...

Finding comfortable professional pants is never fun. And can we please have some pockets? In pants and skirts. Sometimes I'd like to lock my office when I leave for meetings, but don't want to take my purse.

apu said...

Detailing, detailing!

I've seen dress code policies that simply say stuff like "business/ smart casuals". The definitions can be really wide and vary from one person to another, leaving room for arguments..

tabitharuth said...

Congratulations on the maternity pants! Since you didn't actually say you were pregnant I thought I better just mention the pants. :)

Evil HR Lady said...

Safe bet, as I could get all melty and say, "I'm just gaining weight!" Thanks for pointing it out to everyone.

But no, a new little evil one will be arriving in late May.

Just another HR lady... said...

Interesting discussion, I have always hated dealing with dress code issues, seems like a colossal waste of valuable time, but I know at times it has to be done.

Picture HR Manager having to spend time sitting down and explaining several times to (apparently clueless) employee as to why flip-flops are not acceptable in a corporate environment. Do I have better things to do than explain why beachwear is not appropriate in the workplace? Um...yes, yes I do. :-)

Problem solved at my current workplace...we have no dress code. Portion of the company is a creative environment where employees don't see clients (i.e. let employees wear whatever they want as long as we can access their brainpower), and portion of the company is manufacturing where the employees wear smocks.

We've discussed a dress code a few times, but as we have never had any kind of issue with employee dress, it just gets dropped off the table.

Congrats on the new little evil one!

Anonymous said...

I have the very easiest of answers to this problem.

Lets all go back to wearing suits and ties and the ladys equivilant. People did if for literally, thousands of years before the change. No one ever died from wearing a tie to the office and looking like a businessman or woman.

I still wear a suit and tie everyday. I have started to fly without a tie( very hot here most of the year)and I do not wear a suit and a tie on Friday, if I dont have any outside appt. If I do , suit and tie.

Would not kill me to go back to wearing a tie on Friday.

I was once a manager at a top tier insurance carrier. Some lame o came up with this casual day thing for month. Myself and the other managers spent our time, instead of earning for the company and oursleves, policing peoples appearacne. Terrible.

3 Things I wont miss about the 1990s are the Clintons, Self Apprisals, and Casual Day.

Furhter, you must thing I am a real idiot if you want me to believe that "casual dress" is an employee beenfit.

Concerned Insurance Person.

Anonymous said...

How should a male supervisor approach a woman who is dressed inappropriately (i.e. wearing revealing clothing that is more appropriate in a bar) and making men and women uncomfortable?

BTW, anyone whos thinks dress codes are not necessary should teach teenagers. Some of the girls take special pleasure in seeing how uncomfortable they can make their male teachers (think zipper dress that zips from the top and the bottoam on a 16 year-old in the front row).

Chinook (still don't have a google account)

AJH said...

Can I just point out that the business suit is a fairly modern invention dating back to the 1700's at the earliest (and those included knickerbockers). The "corporate suit" look is a late 19th century fashion invention. Fashion history isn't just about the pretty cloths, there are really social and political reasons for changes in men's and women's clothes - you should study it sometime.

ON the topic of dress codes - I'm a little ashamed to admit that in one of my very first jobs, I frequantly played with the dress code rules. My co-worker and I were very, very good at our job (since we were sentient humans with brains doing a job that drunken monkeys could have done)but we were bored so we tested how far we could push the dress code. A skirt that was a hair too short or a sweater that was a tad tight. We were called into our bosses office once or twice, but he could never fully articulate what, exactly, was wrong with our outfits.

I don't push the boundaries any more, but at least 3 times a week either my roommate or I will ask the other if an outfit is appropriate for work. It's not that I wish for clearer rules, but I wish for better options in the stores for my just barely above entry level salary and the ample chest I inherited from both grandmothers. Sometimes what looks professional on a flat chested girl, looks obscenly suggestive on me (for instance button down shirts).

CJ said...

I discovered a clothing line called Weekenders. Pure comfort, easy care, pack in little space for travel and look sharp. I get loads of compliments whenever I wear things from their line. I love them!

You can find a rep online.

HR Wench said...

If a male manager has a female employee dressed inappropriately I will always step in and talk to the employee for them (I am a female HR manager). Some may say this is enabling but I think it just works better. The woman knows I mean business and is more afraid of me than she is of her male manager, the male manager doesn't have to worry about how to word things/turning red/being accused of "looking" in the first place, and the female employee doesn't have to worry about feeling uncomfortable with her boss from then on. It just works.