Should your workplace have any say in what you wear?

Zoya Patel 7 May 2021 47
Duck tie

Men have far fewer options regarding what’s considered workplace-appropriate clothing … but can still get it wrong. Photo: Sara Kurfeß/Unsplash.

As the days get cooler and shorter, some might be welcoming the return to winter fashions – the chance to bundle up in coats and jumpers, warm boots and scarves to protect you against the Canberra chill.

Indeed, it’s probably good timing for the HR team at the Department of Home Affairs, who were in the news last week after details of their proposed ban on staff wearing sleeveless tops when working went public.

At least with the colder weather, employees are likely to dress warmly and the archaic principles that drove the call for a dress code can be muffled for a few more months until the seasons turn and the desire to reveal more flesh reappears.

Am I alone in thinking that the idea of a workplace dress code that goes beyond ‘please dress professionally’ is bizarre in this day and age?

At the point at which someone has passed the hurdles of applying for a job, interviewing, and being deemed suitable, isn’t it safe to assume they’ll understand the need to wear suitable work clothes? And assuming an individual does show up in thoroughly inappropriate clothes to work, isn’t that something that can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis?

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When it comes down to it, the real question is, what do we deem ‘appropriate’ in the first place?

The Home Affairs dress code debacle got so much attention because it seems especially puritan to take offence at an employee’s bare shoulders (and based on mainstream fashion, it seems likely this particular request was aimed at women, who are usually the primary target for clothes policing).

I once worked in an organisation that sent around a reminder from HR when warmer weather began, reminding us all to dress modestly and ensure skirts were below our knees and our shoulders were covered (clearly aimed at female employees). Another workplace made a point of telling me that on casual Fridays, I needed to make sure my jeans didn’t have any rips in them, especially up my thighs, and also not to wear short shorts. I had to wonder if my male colleagues had the same points impressed on them.

The flip side to this is that men have far fewer options regarding what’s considered workplace-appropriate clothing. My male friends who have a flair for fashion are often frustrated by the expectation that they wear navy, black or grey trousers and a buttoned shirt every day. The gendered norms do flow both ways, with frustration felt on both sides.

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I understand the need to dress up to a particular standard in some workplaces. But even so, at its very core, how we dress shouldn’t actually have any bearing on how we work or how we’re perceived to perform.

I’ve always loved working with colleagues who have their own sense of style and brighten the office with their ensembles each day. Equally, I respect the colleagues who wear the same standard outfit daily – black pants, plain coloured top, and a jumper/cardigan – because really, not everyone has the time or energy to embrace fashion, and it really has nothing to do with getting their work done.

Most workplaces operate under a code of conduct, usually one that stipulates a shared value of respect. If someone was dressing in a way that was deemed inappropriate, out of respect to them, and respecting the impact it might have on their colleagues, a private and empathetic conversation should be enough to uncross any wires and ensure everyone is happy.

Mandating that everyone has to adhere to a code of dress that’s dreamed up by a handful of people and then applied across the organisation is just unnecessary and unlikely ever to meet the needs of individual circumstances across the organisation.

Am I right in thinking workplace dress codes are fussy and outdated? Or is it naive to think common sense can prevail?

What's Your Opinion?

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47 Responses to Should your workplace have any say in what you wear?
Kate Shipway Kate Shipway 11:26 am 01 May 21

I mean ... I back the common sense stance but then I remember what kaelee used to wear Courtney Pitson

pdpd pdpd 1:31 am 01 May 21

“Who wears short shorts….”?

    OLydia OLydia 12:40 pm 03 May 21

    I worked with a young lady who used to wear short shorts to work. One winter’s day she wore short shorts with fishnet stockings. I made a general comment about her clothing. She interpreted it as me asking if she felt cold, and that no she was quite warm because she had a fever. I was very confused by the comment specifically and the young lady in general.

Sean Harvey Sean Harvey 7:53 pm 30 Apr 21

Up to a point, yes. Where it becomes more important for some leaders to make sure their staff dress to their standard levels rather than being able to do their jobs, then no.

Penny Hemsworth Penny Hemsworth 8:47 am 30 Apr 21

Not a fan of 'black' but that's what they want🤨

Dimitri Yianou Dimitri Yianou 8:57 pm 29 Apr 21

He’s hands look hulky

Zakzook Chico Zakzook Chico 7:07 pm 29 Apr 21

"Zoya Patel says common sense should be enough." Well, there is no such thing as common sense! What makes sense to some may not be the case to others.


Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 4:15 pm 29 Apr 21

...Let cancel all values and sense till we arrive again at destruction and the dark ages. More "progressive" thinking i assume??..

Shane Nayler Shane Nayler 12:20 pm 29 Apr 21

Customer facing? Sure - as the face of a business.

Back office work? No... do clothes do anything for productivity?

    Johnny Grey Johnny Grey 1:15 pm 30 Apr 21

    When I was in a customer facing job in govt many years ago, I chose to not wear a tie with a shirt as it seemed to give the wrong impression to many customers.

    I checked with the boss and he assured me that the dress code did not require a tie.

    Despite this, I was told by some staffer that I should wear a tie -- Every Week for about 5 years.

Julie Maynard Julie Maynard 11:58 am 29 Apr 21

My common sense is most likely different to others. Dress for the type of job and workplace culture.

Daniel Duncan Daniel Duncan 11:49 am 29 Apr 21

How is this sexist? When HR is basically run by women and men were business shirts. Men can't were sleeve less tops (in an professional/PS office setting)

Lauren Montagnese Lauren Montagnese 11:13 am 29 Apr 21

Dress codes because common sense isn’t common 😂

Evan Soper Evan Soper 10:51 am 29 Apr 21

Anybody spending 30 seconds reading about how the human race chooses to behave at the moment should know not to use the phrase "common sense".

Samuel Gordon-Stewart Samuel Gordon-Stewart 10:35 am 29 Apr 21

I have enjoyed working in places for the last decade or so where the dress code is effectively “be clothed and also be wearing enclosed footwear”. The freedom to wear a Russian police jacket or an Israeli Air Force jacket to work and not have a meeting with HR about it is a wonderful thing. And it brightens the day of my colleagues with some banter about the peculiar choice of outfit.

Monty Ki Monty Ki 10:00 am 29 Apr 21

Yes, especially if there are OHS considerations. My hubby is a landscaper. He needs appropriate clothing for his work, work boots etc and as a representative of his boss's business. Some jobs, like mine as a therapist, have more flexibility for self-expression, but I still need to adhere to a presentation of professional conduct, as well as practical movement. For me, I wear all black and colourful accessories. Office jobs can also have more flexibility, and this needs to be discussed in each work place.

Karan Campbell-Davis Karan Campbell-Davis 9:41 am 29 Apr 21

'Common sense' ain't that common!! 🙄

Martin Bradley Martin Bradley 8:45 am 29 Apr 21

Aren’t dress codes generally more restrictive for men rather than less? It seems that men generally have a scale from full suit and tie, down to losing the tie and/or losing the jacket and that’s about it. Depends on the workplace obviously. Tradies have to wear particular gear, many places have uniforms, some retail shops or ultra relaxed office environments are just casual gear. But it seems that women generally have more options and more leeway in the office environment. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think it paints a picture of women being unfairly targeted by dress codes compared to men. I’d love to not have to wear full pants and long sleeves etc in summer. Especially when the office temperature is sometimes set too high to make other people more comfortable, but I’m sweating at my desk and unable to remove any clothing while they can easily add some.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:46 am 29 Apr 21

    Not all women work in an office.

    Martin Bradley Martin Bradley 7:36 pm 29 Apr 21

    I mentioned different types of workplaces and dress requirements in my post. So not sure what you’re saying

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:18 pm 29 Apr 21

    Martin Bradley Sorry misread it.

Penelope Rose Penelope Rose 8:38 am 29 Apr 21

Yes, dress appropriately and professionally. Don't dress for a fishing trip or a night out on the town unless that's the actual job. My Dad would always comment if any of my siblings or I looked shabby/not appropriate when we first started working. That sense of pride in our appearance has stayed with me.

Kel Spnce Kel Spnce 8:37 am 29 Apr 21

Obviously common sense isn't very common hence the need for dress codes to be implemented

    Kel Spnce Kel Spnce 8:56 am 29 Apr 21

    Brendan Taylor heck no!!! Noone needs to see that!

    Brendan Taylor Brendan Taylor 8:57 am 29 Apr 21

    Kel Spnce but but country dress code 🤷🏻‍♂️

Lauryn Roberts Lauryn Roberts 8:13 am 29 Apr 21

...this is why uniforms exist... 😂

Frank Curran Frank Curran 8:07 am 29 Apr 21

Certainly, depending what their core business is

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