Cracking the Dress Code

Cracking the Dress Code

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Uniform, casual, business casual or professional — any way you put it, most of us have to follow them. To some, a dress code is a conspiracy theory to bring down the fashionably challenged, while others see it as no big deal. While it's just another day at the office for most, it can be absolute torture for others. None the less, you follow it, but why are those clothing policies necessary?

There are obvious circumstances where dress codes are absolutely essential, particularly for safety purposes. It is understood why you can't wear your sling-backs and cocktail dress to a construction site, but many women question policies when it comes to working in an office or other professional setting. The mere existence of a dress code can get any women's pantyhose in a bunch, at least when wearing skirts no more than one inch above the knee.

According to a study reported by Image Talks, LLC, a woman's appearance affects whether she is:

  • hired or passed over
  • taken seriously on the job
  • asked to represent her company in outside meetings
  • considered for raises and promotions

With those facts, it just might be worth putting up that deep plunge v-neck and follow the dress code!

Safety and Hygiene

Steel-toed boots are not exactly considered sexy, but are a must when working in any sort of construction or shop-type job. But wait, you work in an office, far away from cranes and concrete. Why can't you wear those cute open-toed shoes? To this I ask, does anyone remember the McDonald's coffee lawsuit? While it seems reasonable to believe that you aren't going to drop that file cabinet on your toes, it doesn't mean that a drawer might slip off track, or those boxes of copy paper won't tumble over. Accidents happen, even ones that seem common sense, and a business is going to take every measure possible to prevent them and protect their employees.

Not only are open-toed shoes a safety concern, they are a health and hygiene problem as well. It's hard not to slip those suckers off while at your desk, but do you know whose feet or filthy shoes were there before yours? Bacteria and fungus (such as athlete's foot) can breed on all sorts of surfaces, and pieces of small debris can pop up anywhere. It's also fair to say that no one in the office wants to see your half-painted hoofs poking out of your strappy heels, and potential clients and customers can feel just as disgusted.

Speaking of nails, keep the ones on your hands clean and well kept. The policy on no nail polish or artificial nails is rightfully just, particularly in the food industry. Chipped nail polish isn't only tacky, but poses the question, "what happened to those polish chips?" While that dark red polish was seductive last night, or those press-on nails did the trick for the last minute dinner date, it's not as hot when serving food missing that red press-on thumbnail, or shaking a hand with dirty nails.

With summer right around the corner, let's not forget about sleeveless shirts. Most policies allow those "close to shoulder" tops, but many forbid tank tops or anything less than around a two inch strap. It's a nice thought to think that everyone showers daily and applies antiperspirant/deodorant, but let's be realistic here. You might not notice it because it is your own scent, but we all know what B.O. and sweat smells like, and who the likely culprit is. Sleeveless tops also leave the possibility of nasty deodorant clumps, and are severely unsanitary if items are carried under the arm.

For the Business

All right, so you get the health and safety concerns, but you feel like your inner self is being suppressed. You can't have all of your piercings in, jeans are prohibited and you can't wear the clothes that's "your style." Try to understand that businesses don't enforce dress codes to keep you from being who you are, but to have normality and structure. Having a dress code established provides everyone with a clear and understandable policy that applies to everyone across the board, or is department specific.

In a world where image is everything, a company cannot afford to lose customers or potential clients over your desire to wear that tight, nipple-bearing shirt to work. If what you have to wear becomes such a problem where you can't "express who you really are", then it might be time to re-evaluate your career goals, or even move on to a different place of employment that is more fitting for your sense of comfort. Any way you spin it, a business is going to put their best foot forward. It's really no different than how you present yourself and your home when having company over for dinner.

For the Customers

With the cliché "old granny talking about how the young'uns dress now-a-days" put aside, customers do judge a business on its employee's appearance. What might seem harmful to you can very well offend others, and even send them running to the competition. Think about a time when you judged a place of business, or thought twice about a sale based on its employee's appearance. Were their clothes clean? How did they fit? Did the worker look professional and put-together or like they just rolled out of bed after a night at the bar? Odds are, you won't do business with someone who offends you, and neither will your customers.

Five Easy Ways to Make it Work

Now that you are ready to make a change, take these tips from guru image consultant, Ellen York, author of Dressing the Petite Woman (Ellen York Image Institute, 2006), on how to look your best on the job and stick to your company's policy:

  1. Keep your hairstyle updated. Try something that flatters your features and creates "a more professional look" rather than what you think works the best on the go.
  2. Many businesses have policies on perfumes. York says that deodorant should be enough, but if you opt to add a little scent, use sparingly — a small dab on your neck and wrists.
  3. York advises to add new items to your wardrobe, or take away clothing that is no longer appropriate to your job. If you are serious about your career, then you have to break down and buy items that coincide with the code, or box up ones that don't.
  4. "If the neck line is too low, count it out for work." Camisoles or body shaper tanks are great for wearing under certain fabrics—and just because it's under something, you still need to wear a good bra.
  5. If you are allowed to wear jeans on any day or on Casual Fridays, be sure they are clean and unwrinkled. Ripped, torn or severely frayed jeans are not acceptable.

All in all, your company has a business to run – not a runway show – and I'm sorry to tell you, there is no federal law that governs dress codes. Chances are, you dressed to impress when you applied for the job, so why should your standards change once you are employed? Don't be afraid to ask your supervisor or HR department for a copy of the dress code to keep at home, or if you have any questions at all. Ask for examples of particular items that are allowed when seasons change. If anything, following the rules gives you an excuse to go shopping!