The Big Dress Code Debacle…

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Dress codes for women in the workplace have recently hit headlines for some really wrong reasons.

What started as report of a female employee at London firm Portico getting sent home for not wearing high heels, escalated into much wider concern for the way society expects all women to look at the office.

If dress code is a swear word at your work place, chances are, you, along with many other women have come under fire at some point for turning up breaking your work’s policy, just by what you’re wearing. You’re being paid to be a professional, and to some degree rules are rules, but, there’s nothing professional about working in a client facing office and getting the wrong type of attention from a male customer, because your blouse is too undone, or you’re wearing that skirt, which is a little too above the knee.

You would think the recent dress code debacle was all about trying to stop such breaches… it seems not.

Employers expecting women to turn up sexily dressed may not always be aware they are putting their employees at risk. Now a parliamentary report has said women who face demands to work in revealing outfits, high heels and too much make-up and feel uncomfortable about it should have a legal framework in place to stop dress code discrimination.

Since I worked in people facing local authority offices just over a decade ago, attitudes to how women should look at work seem to have backflipped; When I was training at the local council we were told not to wear anything with a low neckline, to avoid skirts deemed as miniskirts or that were classed as short, and not to wear anything to the office that we would wear on a night out or to wear too much make-up. Some of us were sent to work in offices that commissioned care for children and vulnerable groups of people, so it was always paramount to wear something conservative.

Even though I was style conscious I always used to play it safe with my black bootcut trousers and a smart tank jumper with a blouse underneath. I didn’t always wear high heels. While a high shoe looks smarter, it’s down to comfort and practicality. I couldn’t have moved big boxes of files or walked to and from the photocopier hundreds of times in heels, for those heavier duty days I preferred flats and no one said anything about my footwear.

Unfortunately, the age of such practicality and sense seems to be over. Most employers care more about the company image than the comfort and preferences of individual employees, some of whom may prefer flats to heels, or prefer to come to work a bit more covered up. Sadly, the big dress code argument is often partly or wholly to blame for many women quitting considerably good jobs.


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