Dress code; a flexible option or rigid requirement?

Jul 11 2016

Darren Best

screen shot high heels office dress code It’s not the 1900s, and women can wear what they want, right? Well, of course, office expectations vary from company to company. But that’s what we’re talking about here. What’s the general rule when it comes to office dress code? We’re in a time when your gender is as much fluid as the coffee you drink. And equality is at the forefront of our minds and our everyday. A time where archaic rules just don’t fit into our way of life. The lines between work and home are blurring, and remote working is becoming a common practice. All of this combined creates an ambiguous cocktail of office dress boundaries, more confusing than the details of the Referendum.

Why dress to a code?

A dress code had always been in place to demonstrate how a company wants to be represented by their staff. And for customer-facing businesses, specific jobs would require an appropriate dress for certain interactions. But codes prohibiting or grooming how a certain gender or sex can dress are against equality, and should be unlawful by discrimination. However, UK employment law stipulates that different codes can be made for men and women, so long as there’s an “equivalent level of smartness”. The issue is the reasons for the requirements. If the code is set because “high heels make women look sexy”, then this is against the law. But, what is the reasoning for a woman to have to wear high heels over normal flat shoes in the first place? Simply; there is none. Men do it every day, and flats for both sexes would fit the equivalent level of smartness requirements, wouldn’t it? Codes tend to use ambiguous wording, such as ‘appropriate’ or ‘professional’. It’s as if those who write them don’t even know what they mean. Leaving it open to interpretation for the rest of us. And interpretation is what may lead to problems as people become more liberal with their professional image choices. How you dress should be an expression of yourself, not your company's expression. Professor Susan Scafidi, of the Fashion Law Institute says "we are moving into an era where personal expression is going to trump the desire to create a corporate identity."  Forward-thinking companies should look into relaxing their office dress code policies or throwing them out altogether.

Strictest dress code

Tehran, the capital of Iran, operates one of the strictest dress codes in the world. With 7000 morality officers tasked with policing the way both women and men are dressed. They are on the lookout for men with certain haircuts, or flashy jewellery and women with loose hijabs and tight-fitting clothing. Sharia law dictates that women should be covered in all public places. And they will be arrested if not strictly followed. For instance, 2.9 million women received a warning for dress code offences between 2013 and 2014. And now, a movement has been born out of the strict regime being enforced in Tehran. My Stealthy Freedom, is a platform that encourages women to take photos and selfies of themselves without their hijabs. In this act of defiance, their Facebook page has reached over a million followers. Despite the government attempting to shut it down on numerous occasions. A woman was even arrested two months ago for posting a picture of herself without hijab on Instagram. Reflecting on the extremes that some women are dealing with in parts of the world, office dress codes here in the UK need not be so regimented. Companies could use policy as a way to improve worker's lives rather than prohibit them. Feature image credit to: Shutterstock/ Antonio Guillem

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