Work clothes are hard work
Fashion in the work place.
I’ve been following for some months now the fashion columns in The Wall Street Journal about clothes that are appropriate for the workplace.
And, to sum up the advice: Nothing new here.
The attire recommended for office work is conservative. For the employee who wants to be taken seriously, dress seriously. For women, that means that if you want to get hired, get a raise, get promoted and get ahead, don’t wear flashy clothes more appropriate for the evening than for day.
- Don’t wear dresses that are too tight.
- Don’t expose too much cleavage or too much leg.
- Pants suits are safer, but be careful of color. Pastel colors? Maybe. Red? No — too threatening. Shows you’re trying too hard.
- Beware of showing your toes. Don’t wear open-toe shoes. Don’t even think about wearing flip-flops.
- Not too much jewelry. Certainly no hoop earrings.
I read last summer that the City of Tulsa was thinking of adopting a dress code for City employees: no spaghetti straps, no low riders, no spandex, no sleeveless shirts, no halter tops, no mini skirts, no clothing with graphics, no house slippers and more.
The last I heard, this policy had run aground because of employee opposition.
Panty hose is an issue unto itself. A company in Kansas City attracted national press attention when women protested the dress code requiring panty hose. This brouhaha was followed by the male employees, who protested wearing ties.
All of this is interesting to me because it reminds me of the author who said, “It has always been thus.”
On the one hand, it demonstrates that we have a sense of time and place (and I suppose the money to pay for costuming) when we wear appropriate clothes for play, for work and for social events. We have our costumes for sports, for church and for special parties. We wear different colors and textures for the different seasons.
But we’re always pushing the envelope, aren’t we? It didn’t start with casual Friday, which was, of course, a major camel’s nose under the tent when it comes to workplace costumes.
In the ’70s, women’s evening pants became fashionable. Remember them? Full, flowing and dressy. They were followed in short order by tailored pants suits. Not even pants and different tops, just pants suits. We wanted to wear them to work.
I was working at The University of Tulsa at the time and as I remember it, our request had to make its way all the way to the president of the university. The answer came down: Yes, we could wear pants suits to work. But only one day a week.
It would never have occurred to us to abandon our panty hose, though, no matter what we wore. Mini dresses were the fashion, but always with stockings of some kind. The rule of thumb for many of us was that if the hem of your mini dress reached your fingertips, it was long enough.
A few years ago, I met a tough principal of a tough Kansas City school who enforced dress codes for his teachers.
One rule was that the women teachers had to wear undergarments. Some protested. The protest went to court. The judge asked him, “Why do you want dress codes?” The principal answered, “For the same reason I stand up when you enter the courtroom, Your Honor — to show respect for you and for this court. Appropriate dress shows respect for the students, the other teachers and for the workplace of education.”
“Case dismissed,” the judge said.