My office has a serious dress code interpretation problem. Business casual is taken to mean 1 step above how you would dress to go to Wal-mart at midnight. The dress code was lax and poorly enforced long before I was hired.

My problem is when there is a seriously issue like a skirt so short it leaves nothing to the imagination or “dress sandals” that are really just new flip-flops, I get no support from management. The supervisors say they have better things to do than look at what their staff is wearing, and the big boss prefers the short skirts.

Most of the time when I ask one of them to raise the issue with their staff they say they hadn’t noticed the clothes. Today my boss was talking to an employee whose skirt made me ill it was so short, and he said nothing to her. He is her supervisor and I asked him to speak with her and I can almost guarantee he told her something like, ” when you wear short skirts don’t walk by Sally’s office.” (Okay, that may not be true but it was the vibe I got when I brought it up, like I was ruining his fun)

Do I call corp. HR and ask for help? I feel incompetent that I can’t even handle something like the dress code but this is the most consistent issue in our office.

Are you local HR? It sounds that way to me, so that’s how I will approach the question. We’ve had some previous discussions on dress code here, so read that–especially the comments. My readers are all brilliant, except for a few who I don’t like to single out because I’m not that evil.

My question for you: Who is telling you to enforce the dress code? It’s obviously not your boss, given his penchant for employees with short skirts. (And ladies, please, once you pass 19, men might still think you look hot in that little mini skirt but all the women are thinking, “oh my word, does she have fat thighs or what?” Just a little encouragement to dress modestly.) Is it corporate HR? Since you asked if you should get corporate involved, I’m guessing no.

I’m also guessing your desire to enforce the dress code comes from within. Now, first and foremost, I agree with you. Inappropriate dress should not be allowed at the office. Nice dress sandals, yes. Flip flops, no. Mini skirts or midriff baring blouses, no thank you. (Again, ladies, you do have a muffin top, so stop it with the low rise pants and the short length shirts. You don’t walk around all day holding in your stomach and you haven’t been to the gym in months and quite frankly, it shows.)

So, how to accomplish your goal of a dress code violation free workplace?

1. You can’t just walk into a place and expect people to respect you. You are new. Things have been working “just fine” for a long time, thank you very much. Now, this last statement could be completely false. Things could be a disaster, but your senior management doesn’t think so or they would have already changed things.

2. You need to earn respect and authority. Your manager needs to trust you. The other managers need to trust you. Figure out what their perceived problems are and start there. They don’t see dress code as a problem, so to them enforcing it is annoyance. They undoubtedly see something else as a problem. As I said, start there. Solve that problem and your influence will grow.

3. If short skirts are “favored” you may have bigger issues than actual dress codes. Why would a self-respecting woman dress like that? She’s getting rewarded some way. The reward may not be something she’s cognizant of, but it is there. She’s obviously getting “attention” from the boss. Is she also being rewarded financially or with better assignments? He may not be noticing he’s doing it. She may not notice it. But, if it’s happening, the appropriately dressed people are noticing it.

4. Number 3 opens you up to some huge potential problems. Sexual harassment, age discrimination, not valuing performance but appearance. Keep your eyes and ears open for this type of thing. Create an open door policy for employees to drop by your office. Review performance appraisals with a magnifying glass. Correct these problems, rather than the dress code itself.

5. Make sure you always dress appropriately. Don’t get lazy and put your flip flops on.

6. Don’t ask male managers to speak to female employees about their revealing clothing. You do it. For one reason, your male managers appear to like it. For another reason, it increases your risk of sexual harassment claims.

7. Send out general reminders about dress code. Wait until you’ve been there a while and established a positive reputation before discussing this with individuals.

8. For the “Wal-mart at midnight” looking folks (I’ve been to Wal-mart at 6:30 p.m., I shudder to think of what people wear at midnight), make sure you deal with the men and women equally. Women tend to be much more critical of women in such areas. Don’t you be guilty of gender discrimination.

There are other things, but these are a few ideas to get you going. Good luck!

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8 thoughts on “Dress Codes

  1. Dunno ’bout your Wal-mart, but I’ve been to mine at midnite and past quite often…and the dress code, as it were, is strikingly better than what one would see in the evening.

    For one thing, all those people in sweats and what-not are sound asleep. People too frazzled to dress because of three kids? Out. We’re not up to “business’ standards, but then, compared to the people I’ve seen in this store…we’re still a good 2.5 points higher on a 10 point scale.

  2. A wise person once advised me to pick the cause you want to die for. Is the dress code a cause you want to die for?

  3. Great post, but I don’t quite agree regarding not requiring male supervisors to address dress code violations in female subordinates. As HR, I’d counsel a male manager on what to say and how to say it, but dealing with dress issues is part of the supervisor’s responsibility, regardless of gender.

    1. This is an HR issue and should be addressed by an HR representative. At any point an employee could become embarrassed, upset or offended that the manager is claiming that the way they are dressed is not work appropriate and retaliate by accusing the manager of something that is completely false out of anger. Having a manager address a woman who is wear a skirt that is to high or who has their breasts hanging out of their top should not be addressed by a manager. You are just setting your company up for disaster by doing this.

  4. Personally, and with all respect – I’d say that if the place is so unconcerned about the dress code, I’d get over it. I know that you may be new and it’s different than what you might have been used to at other jobs, but still… Are you *really* being too harsh on people? Is it a creative workplace? If so, I know that the creatives will sooner chain themselves to the keel of a ship than listen to someone nag about their clothes, and ALSO – hardworking people have left over less. I think you should really take the temperature of your workplace, see if it’s truly a threat to the bottom line. If your dislike of the dress is due to religion, then it may be time to find work in a place that fits your standards better.

  5. A couple of items :

    1) Even though our dear friend The Evil HR Lady would have one less thing to worry about…. this is just another example why ” casual” does not work. I always have said to people when they ask me why I am wearing a suit…. “There is nothing casual about our business”.

    2)I suggest you start having them all wear jumpsuits. They can put them on upon arrival in the morning. Blue for boys and pink for the ladies. When Hillary takes control we are all going to be wearing Mao Jackets, so your people will be ahead of the curve.

    Thanks !!

  6. Hmm, the red flag for me here is the examples are all female. So all the women in this office are skanky hos?

    I personally have seen managers implement sexist dress codes and this question made me wonder if the problem is HR for the question above. Why the need to control or censor the staff?

    Every company has a culture, maybe the HR person is the odd one out.


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