Dress Code for Work, Yay or Nay?

The dreamy workplace and being able to earn our income is the thing that drives us to work right, freakz? And, the thought that you will be able to look cool and buy a drink or two on Social Night after office hours seems appealing for some of us. But, behind this enticing imagination, the thing that is rarely talked about is the requirements that we should put up in the name of professionalism. In this edition, we would like to discuss the dress code requirements in the workplace. We looked back to recent case in London where one female receptionist has been sent home because she wore flat shoes instead of high heels to her workplace. Do you think it’s fair? Let’s look into another case that we found.

FN is a woman who used to work as a flight attendant in one of the international airlines. She told us that she was happy to be a flight attendant because that was her dream since she was little. On her first day into the company, the company asked her to comply to their grooming standards, which entails a lot of nitty-gritty about how she should put her make-up, do her hair, and even choosing the colours of her eye-liner and lipstick. In addition to that, there is a standard for Body Mass Index (BMI) to be fulfilled every time she was deployed. She had to wore her uniform with sandals or short-heeled sandals during her flight duty, be it a short flight or long haul. She realized that the company's requirements to these standards is because the company believes that their unique selling points is ‘their stewardesses’. FN mentioned that this reasoning was based on the survey conducted by the company. Despite the company's strict regulation on dress code, FN made sense all the outfit hassle and was fairly happy to be part of the company and worked with them for years. 

In contrary with FN’s experience, a female staff in one of the city's department stores often must comply to a certain kind of uniform dress code. You can observe them anywhere wearing the same kind of outfit: high heels and skirts above their knees...oh, and has to apply a complete make up and hairdo, too. Their job? To serve the customers, which often involves them to tidy-up messy piles of clothes in higher or lower rack, and they do this while wearing their tight skirt above their knees and stockings. I bet no one can argue that they felt comfortable to wear the uniform, because let’s be honest, this seems impractical, right? Vogue Magazine mentions that the work requirement to ask women to use heels and revealing clothes seems like a draconian rule, but it still happening in 2017. Recent report for petitions on using high heels in UK on 2017 argues that there is a significant impact to women’s well-being and physical health.

So, should we ban dress code in the workplace? That’s a tough question, but one thing for sure there is a risk of perpetuating sexism at the workplace which caused great inconvenience for women. For example, Ms. Campion, one of the participants in UK study on high heels said that she felt extremely uncomfortable to wear clothes that sexualized her appearance and sexuality, while her male colleague’s dress to look smart and none of them was enhancing their sexuality for the sake of the airline’s brand (House of Commons UK 2017:13). There is great risk that dress code in the workplace reinforces gender stereotypes, be it the requirement to use revealing clothes, or not-too revealing clothes.

In the end, dress code at work is quite problematic, and it might carry a risk of discrimination for women. Therefore, employers might put forward a careful consideration when they are asking their staff to comply to certain standards. The FN’s case shows that some women don’t mind with the regulations, while at the other side of the table some DO mind. The key is about balance regulation that goes beyond the interest of companies. For example, the company can still promote their brands, but with balanced and equal requirements for their staffs (female, male, transgenders), in fulfilling certain dress codes.