Summer is Here and Dress Codes Suffer

by Michael Haberman on June 25, 2008 · 0 comments


In just the past two days I have seen three articles on dress codes, including this one from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and heard one radio essay on the subject. It must be summer! And as the heat rises skirts get shorter, waistlines lower, sleeves disappear, boobs appear and so do toes. As “casual” has taken over work places it has also taken over attitudes. Neatness suffers and in some cases so has hygiene.

Personally I am a fan of casual dress. I am a blue jeans wearer. I have them on as I write this. But that is because my day is being spent in the office. If I am going out to a client then I dress appropriate to the client. If we are having visitors in the office then we dress appropriate to the visitor. We use common sense.

I think one of the reasons I have seen this spate of articles on dress code is that this time of the year means an influx of NEW workers to the workplace, either recent graduates or summer workers. And they often do not have that COMMON SENSE about what is appropriate to the workplace. So what is the employer to do? Well the answer is you need to have a dress code that takes into consideration what is appropriate for your workplace. Who are your clients or customers? What is the nature of the work? Are there safety considerations? Hygiene considerations?

I am not here to tell you what you should wear that is for you to decide, but there are several things you should consider.
  1. Make sure your dress code does not single out one “protected” catagory soley on the basis of that status. Business necessity must be the standard.
  2. Make sure that differences between male and female dress are based on business needs, but allow for the differences. Banning skirts for both men and women is not a common sense dress code even though it is evenhandedly applied.
  3. Understand the culture of your organization.
  4. Pay attention to customer feedback.

One thing that every article has had in common is that the dress code needs to be communicated and it needs to be done IN PERSON AND VERBALLY. Posting a memo or having it in the handbook is not sufficient. Treat your new employees correctly and let them know up front what is expected. If you have someone who is “violating” the dress code address it immediately. SAY SOMETHING TO THEM. That advice goes for hygiene issues. Avoidance just leads to more problems. If you have been ducking it up to this point GROW A BACKBONE.

Anyone have some input on dress code? I have found in the past it causes some conversation.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

J. Copenhaver June 25, 2008 at 11:25 pm

Common sense is not all that common; regardless of the age, gender, or other cognitive ability of the individual at hand. Good policies that are not communicated, highlighted and held up to a standard are not “good” at all. If it is important enough to write it in the employee manual, a quick mention of it in orientation is necessary. If it is a safety issue, it is critical. If it makes people uncomfortable, it is a requirement to discuss directly with the employee. Yes, a backbone is indeed helpful in the wonderful world of HR!

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Cathy Missildine-Martin, SPHR June 27, 2008 at 8:01 am

I was recently asked by a client if they could include jewelry and tattoos as off limits in their policy. I also see more companies getting very specific about what is casual and waht is acceptable.

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Anonymous June 27, 2008 at 10:13 am

Cindy Stephens –
Today we began our departmental “drop by” meetings to highlight the dress code. The group knew I would come by this morning and to suprise me they were wearing flip flops, muscle shirts, low cut tops and more. It was funny but was a great example of how professionalism goes out the window when dress is at its most casual.

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