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Shopping in your Closet – the HR Dress Code

April 10, 2012

You know I love the Women of HR, right?  I am one.  And last week I had a post run over at the site wherein I chatted about dress codes, foolishness, and common sense.  Men vs. Women?  More like corporate silliness run amok. (post script – that picture, inviting conference attendees to enter an establishment, was taken at the SHRM Annual Conference (2009) in New Orleans.  Boo yah!)


The Dress Code policy. There are very few managers or HR professionals who haven’t participated in a dress code conversation.

Sadly, in many organizations, when faced with conundrums such as: “How do I tell Sally she needs to wear a bra?” (answer: “Hey Sally, you need to wear a bra.”) or “What are we going to do so that Bob irons his shirts? (answer: “Hey Bob, iron your shirts.”), the easy lazy answer has always been “Let’s write a dress code policy!”

Many years ago, when I was fresh-faced and eager in my new HR career, the organization I worked for felt the need to move from a common-sense (for the most part) one page Dress Code Policy to a FIVE PAGE policy that spelled out everything from the length of one’s skirt to the banning of pants/skirts that had pockets on the back. The enforcement of this policy would have necessitated, more than likely, the hiring of Sister Mary Agnes to join our staff and roam about measuring skirt lengths with her ruler. As it was, we were already a tad foolish, differentiating the proper attire based on what floor of the building you worked on. If you were a female, and your office was on the 2nd floor, you were forbidden from wearing pants. Why? That was the Executive Floor (all-male C-Suite at the time) and, apparently, it had been determined that the gals needed to remember their place in the hierarchy.

Now this was a financial institution with drive-through banking stations in the Midwest and in the winter it was not uncommon to hit (and sustain) temperatures well below zero. And as you may recall from the last time you went to a drive-through banking facility the tellers were f-a-r a-w-a-y from you and you probably could have cared less about what they were wearing. Nevertheless, back in the day, the company I worked for decided that these employees were dressing inappropriately when they wore cardigan sweaters over a nice shirt or blouse. Never mind the fact that they wore the cardigan sweaters because working in those drive-thru facilities was like coming down the wind tunnel at Lambeau Field in the middle of January.

Sorry Joanie; time to ditch the sweater. Common sense is no match for our dress code policy.


The other day while Googling some random HR stuff, I came across the slide deck for a New Employee Orientation circa 2007.

There were a number of slides devoted to what to wear/what not to wear. (Spaghetti strap tops and athletic shoes were out; pressed khakis and blazers were in). I guess it was particularly helpful for this organization to point out that while skirts and dresses were always appropriate for women – “Female executives and their assistants may choose to wear suits.” I wonder what happened when Grace, the lowly mid-level Purchasing Manager decided to wear a suit? Scandalous!

That, of course, was on the Do/Don’t slide for women. And naturally there was a Do/Don’t slide for men. The headers of these two slides:

Men Should Look Nice” and “Women Should Look Pretty.”

I am not kidding.


I think about a new employee sitting in a conference room in 2007 (that’s only 5 years ago!) with other newbies. She was excited to start her new job, perhaps even making a bit more money than in her last gig. She had been through numerous interviews, got a good vibe from her soon-to-be-boss and felt she made the right decision for her career when she accepted the job offer.

And then she learned what this company considers important for the success of its female employees when she’s told She Should Look Pretty.

I wonder how long I would have lasted?

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 15, 2012 5:55 am

    Great article .. now what tie do I wear!!

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