The Dress Code Dilemma

You Pick Wednesday

You wake up in the morning and think to yourself, “What am I going to wear to work?”

So many aspects need to be taken into account.

What am I doing today?

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And, of course, what is your job’s dress code?

I’ve worked in places that have very lax dress codes and some that are more strict.  A well-written dress code is not something all companies have so sometimes employees are left to their own devices.  For example, where I currently work our dress code reads:

Decisions regarding appropriateness of professional dress are made at the discretion of individual administrative officers. These officers have the responsibility for communicating these decisions to supervisors. Supervisors should convey these guidelines to their employees and regularly disseminate information, as necessary, related to department dress standards.

Which basically means that each department supervisor or manager can come up with what works for his or her division.

Recently a reader contacted me with a dilemma regarding work dress codes and coworkers.

What happens when you’re wearing something that is not technically prohibited by the dress code but you have co-workers who take it upon themselves to point out something you may or may not be doing wrong in terms of wardrobe at work?

My thoughts?  Those other employees may be interpreting the dress code differently than you.  So, say to them, “Gee, I never really thought of this as a violation.  Do you think the dress code says something different?”

If it’s just a conversation between coworkers and never goes any further you can probably get away with a shrug and a statement to the effect of “Hmm, I guess I never interpreted the dress code that way.”

However, if the comment makes it’s way to a supervisor then you’re probably going to have to relegate that outfit or item to weekend wear regardless of what the dress code actually says.

But, it never hurts to ask your supervisor directly if other coworkers say something to you.   Maybe offer to help update the dress code policy to make it more clear?

What are your thoughts?  Have you ever dealt with something like this? 

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17 replies on “The Dress Code Dilemma

  1. kelsey

    our dress code is kinda strict in my opinion-we can’t wear crops to work or capris, no sleeveless. I wore crops on my first day and got told by like 34 people i couldn’t wear them…

  2. Maggie

    I actually had to deal with this yesterday, with the guy who reports to me. My company is pretty conservative when it comes to dress code. He thought that dress jeans = business dress. They do … on Fridays. And only at our office, which is an exception (our company does not do Jeans Days across the entire system). Anyway, it was awkward for me but he’s not wearing jeans today.

  3. Jamie

    That’s great advice. I often take a clue from the boss when it comes to work wardrobe. Our company is super lax – some of our less fashionable dudes wear jean shorts and sneakers to the office. (Yes, you read that right – dudes). My boss asked myself and a coworker to dress nicely – slacks, no jeans, etc – but our boss always wears jeans to the office himself, so I tend to work both in, and he hasn’t said anything yet. I just make sure that my clothes are covering and nicer, and a pair of heels always dresses them up!

    1. Erin @ Loop Looks Post author

      The idea to take your cues from how your boss dresses is a great one. That’s sometimes how I figure out what is and isn’t appropriate as well. But it can be difficult when the boss sends mixed messages!

  4. kilax

    What is your stance on people wearing tights and a sweater that does not cover their butt? YES I SEE THIS FROM THE SAME PERSON EVERY DAY THEY ARE IN THE OFFICE.

    No one has ever said anything to me about dress code, and I keep my mouth shut about other people. But I do notice.

    1. Suburban Style Challenge

      Are the tights thick enough so that they don’t show anything through? Or are they thin in areas and showing stuff that shouldn’t be shown? If the latter, you could pull the person aside and say, “hey, I don’t know if you know this, but the material your bottoms are made of are a little thin, and the harsh lighting here makes it so you can see your panties. You might want to throw a skirt on if your top isn’t going to cover your tush, or maybe get some thicker leggings.”

    2. Erin @ Loop Looks Post author

      It’s really difficult when you think something is inappropriate and there is no apparent dress code policy and the people in charge don’t seem to mind. On one hand, it lets you get away with more. On the other hand, it means you are subjected to fashion violations such as leggings as pants on a regular basis.

  5. Suburban Style Challenge

    I think if someone has a serious issue with the way a coworker dresses, it needs to be taken up with that person’s direct boss first. The boss can then express the concerns to the employee and doesn’t have to involve any one else in the company (i.e. the complainer). That keeps the drama down.

    And if the problem persists, then the complaint can be escalated to HR.

    Our dresscode at work is super lax. People wear jeans, sneakers, and sweatshirts here on a daily basis. I try to dress nicer. I feel better about myself, and I work better when I feel better. Shorts used to be allowed here, and I wore them once with tights underneath, in the fall. I was told they were too short and the tights didn’t matter. I was dressed professionally and fully covered. Meanwhile, down the hall, a coworker sat in her cubicle in sweatpants and flip flops that looked like they spent 6 years in the showers of a college dorm. But SHE was dress code compliant. It’s frustrating when the mixed messages come from the dress code itself.

    1. Erin @ Loop Looks Post author

      I completely agree that the issues come in when one person is dressed unprofessionally but is still somehow compliant with the dress code! Seems to me that at that point the dress code needs to be reevaluated.

  6. Katie of Alaskan Weredork

    wow, that is a very non specific dress code you have! Hopefully your supervisors are good about communication about what is acceptable and not.

    I’ve worked with just about every variation of dress code there is, from none to uniforms to super restricted and on and on. I always covered myself by asking my superior what was acceptable and what wasn’t and if worse came to worse, I tried to error on the conservative side. The few times that I’ve been the boss I’ve always tried to be as specific as possible, it leaves no room for sweats and flipflops to sneak their way in! (Heh, I feel silly say this since I never wear wore appropriate clothes on my blog but it’s nice to get to dress for myself now, I’d been in the work force since I was fifteen and my wardrobe was always at the whim of the dress code.)

    One thing that I like about your style is that it’s work appropriate for most of us, but still so very fun and stylish, you don’t fall into the trap of wearing black pants and button-ups every day.

  7. Alyssa @ Don't Look Down

    My workplace does not have a dress code, but is very casual. One of my former coworkers wore slacks with tennis shoes and a race technical shirt, hooded sweatshirt optional, almost everyday. I wear jeans to work a couple times a week, but try to look presentable. My boss has been known to wear a Hawaiin shirt to work so I don’t worry too much about how I look. If I have customers visiting, I always try to dress nicer.

    1. Erin @ Loop Looks Post author

      I have yet to work anywhere that had a casual dress code so it’s so interesting to hear from people who do! Do you think it’s easier or more difficult when the dress code is not defined?

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