Should We Kill the Office Dress Code?

Like many people my age, since I left school I haven’t had to wear a uniform. Now that I work as a writer for a startup, barring the inception of some Orwellian megastate, I probably won’t ever have to again.

Nor have I ever been subject to a dress code more stringent than ‘be relatively clean’. Even when I worked in fashion retail during my college years, though heels were officially part of the dress code this was never enforced. The general understanding was that people who have to stand all day shouldn’t be subject to slow, tottering torture. That fact that I’m 6’1” helped my case somewhat too.

But uniforms and dress codes have been hitting headlines recently, giving rise to lots of discussion about what sartorial demands employers may and may not make of their employees. Nicola Thorp, a temp worker for PWC was recently sent home for refusing to wear high heels. She publicised this fact and the agency she worked for backed down, giving women the same rights to wear flat shoes as their male counterparts. How progressive!

A few days later, there was another furore that apparently merited the suffix ‘-gate’ – sweatergate – in which a weather forecaster on KTLA-TV was handed a cardigan live on air to cover up her bare shoulders. Though she said afterwards that it was a joke, it nevertheless provided enough kindling to set the Twittersphere alight.

These are just two small recent examples from a substantial back catalogue of dress code ‘-gates’. And it’s not hard to see why this is causing problems, given the point that we’re at in the history of work.

When business bajillionaires give keynote speeches in hoodies and jeans, it throws the traditional idea of a corporate-sanctioned, rules-control-the-fun Casual Friday into sharp relief, where companies say ‘be yourself, but not too much’.

We are living at a shifting point in attitudes, not only in terms of what constitutes ‘work clothes’, but what constitutes a workplace, and what makes up the work itself. Even our notions of success are in flux, as we start to question the idea that a person has to be just one thing. Essentially, we’re looking at a renaissance of renaissance values.

When business bajillionaires give keynote speeches in hoodies and jeans, it throws the traditional idea of a corporate-sanctioned, rules-control-the-fun Casual Friday into sharp relief, where companies say ‘be yourself, but not too much’.

Now, instead of using a dress code as a convenient means of exerting implicit control over employees, companies are trying to encourage people to express their individuality through the clothes they wear. And I say this is a good thing, as long as it’s not a one-size-fits-all, “we are all individuals” type of self expression.

The only problem here for us ‘office workers’ is how to define that delineation between work and life, and if indeed this is something that we should strive for. Do you need different clothes for different parts of life? Maybe. But maybe if your job is a crucial part of your perception of who you are, you don’t.

I’m not saying there’s no place for a sharp suit, or indeed for a uniform. It should just be a case that you can wear whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable, most productive and most yourself. Everybody wins!

Carrie M. King

Carrie M. King

Carrie M. King is the Editor of the Journal by Jobspotting. Hailing originally from smack-bang in the middle of Ireland, she moved to Berlin in 2014 to join the gang at Jobspotting. Carrie previously worked in journalism and literature. If you want to share thoughts or ideas, get in touch: carrie@jobspotting.com

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