HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
April 16, 2007, Herald Journal

Deciphering the (dress) code

By IVAN RACONTEUR

Dress codes can be both controversial and difficult to understand.

Proponents say they are necessary to promote a professional image.

Opponents question whether it is better to be a well-dressed hack, or a scruffy genius.

More radical types might suggest that dress codes are just one more way for The Man to try to crush the spirit of the workers.

By enforcing dress and grooming codes, employers can squash individuality, thus making it easier to control the proletariat.

As much as I dislike any form of forced conformity, I do support dress codes in certain circumstances.

For example, if I am forking over a year’s salary for a visit to the hospital, I do not expect to find my surgeon clad in ripped jeans and a wife-beater T-shirt.

I expect him to wear some presentable trousers, a nice shirt, and a pristine white coat.

If I wake up from the anesthesia to find someone coming at me with a scalpel, I want reassurance that the knife-wielder has good intentions.

In the unhappy event that I should land in court some day as a participant, rather than a chronicler of the proceedings, I expect my attorney to wear a conservative (and preferably expensive) suit, rather than sandals and a cabana shirt.

Some things should never be allowed anywhere, and this includes Spandex.

Nearly everyone looks bad in Spandex. Stretchy, form-fitting fabrics only work for a very small segment of the population.

It should be illegal to sell these garments in sizes larger than about 2.

Lest anyone jump to the conclusion that I am being unkind, let me make it clear that I suggest this purely in the interest of public safety.

As a case in point, I once worked with a fairly large woman who absolutely loved Spandex.

She must have had a whole closet full of the stuff, in every color and pattern under the sun.

Her co-workers lived in constant fear.

It was not just the fact that her appearance resembled a sack full of doorknobs, and provided more than the requisite amount of information.

There was widespread fear that if the seams ever let go, we would all be killed in the resulting explosion of pent-up flesh.

Another fashion faux pas is baggy, shapeless britches that expose most of a guy’s drawers.

This was never a good look, and fortunately, it seems to be dying out without requiring legislation.

There are circumstances where a particular mode of dress is appropriate, but, one might question whether dress codes make sense for the average office worker.

I have put in my time wearing a choker (necktie) and other business attire, but times have changed, and I like to think we are more enlightened today.

Most people are more productive when they are comfortably dressed, and, for many of us, comfort equals casual.

I am not suggesting that sweat pants and bedroom slippers are appropriate for the office, but other casual clothing may be.

It is difficult to understand why so many people want to ban jeans from the workplace.

In my case, wearing Dockers instead of denims won’t do much to make me a better writer, and I suspect this would apply to artists, designers, and other creative types as well.

Jeans are durable and practical in a wide range of situations.

On any given day, I might be found tiptoeing (carefully) through a pasture, slogging through the mud at a wastewater treatment plant, visiting local businesses, and covering meetings at city hall, and jeans adapt well to all of these situations.

Jeans can look fairly sharp if paired with a nice shirt, and possibly even a sport coat.

Some dress codes dictate the types of shoes that are acceptable, and ban some styles including those with open toes.

This makes sense in a factory setting, and perhaps in certain medical or food service applications, but not in an office.

Most women’s shoes look uncomfortable and impractical, but unless a woman’s job description involves a lot of running, or she is trying out for the place kicker position on the office football team, I can’t see how it makes the slightest difference if her shoes are open or if they are not.

Other topics covered by dress codes include tattoos and facial hair.

Several years ago, I interviewed a woman for a purchasing assistant position.

During the interview, she asked if the company dress code allowed tattoos.

The question surprised me. She had an excellent resume, and was well-qualified for the position.

As far as I was concerned, she could have had horns and a pointy tail as long as she could get the job done. I certainly wasn’t concerned about a tattoo.

I have never understood the no facial hair rule either.

I can’t quite see how being clean-shaven would make me more professional. I believe having chin whiskers actually makes me more productive, because rubbing them gives me inspiration when I am searching for a word.

I do understand why some employers implement dress codes.

Employers are concerned about customers, and, sadly, some customers are just more comfortable when everyone looks the same.

It is unfortunate that the focus for some people is on appearances rather than on results.

If I believed that dressing up would improve my work, I would dig my tux out of mothballs in a minute, but I am just not convinced that this would improve my job performance.

It seems that the job we do should be more important than the way we look while we are doing it.

There are some very slippery scoundrels roaming around in Armani suits, and some solid citizens that look like something that was dragged in by a cat. We need to look beyond the clothes to find the substance of the person.

Forcing cube-dwellers to adopt a certain mode of dress simply to conform to an artificial notion of what is appropriate just doesn’t make sense.

When it comes to dress codes, we would do well to borrow some wisdom from a fashion fad of the 80s and relax.