30 May 2023

Have we ditched the dress code?

| Ross Solly
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dressing down man in underwear at a laptop

The pandemic taught us it’s not just newsreaders* who wear undies at work (*probably). Photo: File.

So, just what are appropriate dress standards in 2023? Do they still matter? And what’s the point anyway?

When Department of Infrastructure Secretary Jim Betts turned up at Senate estimates without a tie and with his sleeves rolled up this week, little could he have known he was about to kick off tie-gate.

Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson seemed put out by Betts’s lapse in what she perceived to be the appropriate dress code.

“I hope you don’t think I’m being impertinent in asking this question,” Senator Henderson began, “I notice you don’t wear a tie to estimates. Is there any particular dress code that applies to your department?”

“No,” a somewhat perplexed Betts replied.

“I ask people to use their skill and judgment.”

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The good Senator pressed on, reminding the public servant there is a dress code for Parliament. But Betts was not totally unprepared. In a classic forehand-down-the-line return of serve, he pointed out to Senator Henderson that her fellow Senators Canavan and Pocock were also not wearing ties during Senate estimates.

Undeterred, Senator Henderson continued: “Perhaps your sleeves are rolled up because of the amount of work you’re doing,” she said, to nervous laughter all around.

Infrastructure Secretary Jim Betts copped a dressing down for dressing down at Senate Estimates. Photo: Screenshot.

So after two years of sitting at work in our pyjamas and tracky daks, have we forgotten how to dress properly, or do we just not care anymore?

I went to a boarding school where we wore ties all day and also to dinner at night. When I started my first job, I also wore a tie. That stopped when I started presenting a radio show, although I can’t remember why.

It used to be that there was a certain expectation if you were working in a job where you were dealing with the public, you should, at the very least, look neat and tidy. I always thought it was a sign of respect to greet people with a button-up shirt, neat trousers and decent shoes. And you would never turn up in scruffy, unpolished shoes. Dirty shoes equal a dirty mind, someone once told me.

I’m not sure I’m in the majority anymore. Some might even think I’m being old-fashioned.

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Today, there seems to be a definite lean towards casual dress, with t-shirts, jeans and trainers even appearing to be quite acceptable in some professional workplaces.

It doesn’t make any difference to a person’s capacity to do their job properly, so why should it matter? Should we care if politicians, health professionals, school teachers and the like suddenly begin turning up to work in ugg boots and ripped jeans?

In her previous life, Senator Henderson was a television presenter, where dress standards were always high. How would we feel if our newsreaders suddenly began presenting the news in t-shirts?

If nothing else, Senator Henderson has fired a warning shot over the bows of our public servants.

Shape up or ship out may well be the message. Will it lead to marching in the streets and people burning their double-breasted suits in protest? Probably not.

Will Jim Betts turn up to Senate estimates again without a tie? Probably not.

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Whatever happened to not judging a book by it’s cover? A person should be judge by the work they do, not the clothes they wear.

Surely a senator has bigger fish to fry than chiding a departmental secretary over his not wearing an anachronistic piece of clothing that should have gone the way of hoop dresses and pantaloons decades ago.

How unbelievably petty of her! However, allowances should be made I guess. After all, she is only a politician.

Balance needed2:17 pm 31 May 23

Nice trousers, nice shirt, nice jacket perhaps, no tie needed.

Good on Jim Betts, this isn’t the 1960s anymore. Why people are caught up on a piece of fabric around the neck rather than that actual work that goes on is absurd.

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