On the Runway: What is ‘Appropriate’ Work Dress? Readers Respond

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On the Runway: What is ‘Appropriate’ Work Dress? Readers Respond

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Vanessa Friedman

Vanessa Friedman

ON THE RUNWAY

The National Assembly of France decided last week, like earlier decisions in the House of Commons in Britain and the House of Representatives in the United States, that it was time to rethink an unspoken dress code, and officially announced that members would be free to choose whether or not to wear a suit and tie while in the chamber.

Men in the France Unbowed party had been refusing to wear neckties — to bow to what others deemed “appropriate” — with their leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, declaring on the radio station Europe 1 that “Our clothing is proper.”

Prompted by the debate over sleeveless clothing for women in the House of Representatives in Washington, we asked readers how they defined “appropriate” clothing for a business setting — and received almost 250 responses in comments on the article and on Facebook. The number indicates the difficulty of pinning down an answer, but here are some of the most considered responses.

Alan: “Appropriate dress depends on the profession and the location. I am an engineer and ‘appropriate’ dress is different in the Midwest and East than it is here on the West Coast. I have a couple ties left that I very occasionally wear to weddings and funerals. In the past going to business meetings on the East Coast in the Levis and golf shirts I wear out here would get me criticism; I would be disrespecting their customs.”

Diane Carlson: “Outdated nonsense. I work with F’500 companies and people wear what they like: sleeveless, sneakers, jeans, suits, anything goes as long as it’s pulled together and fits the culture. This outdated no-sleeves rule is like something from the early 1900s.”

John SF, CA: “Proper décor on the floor of the House and/or the Senate should be expected. There has been so much history on the floor of the House; there should continue to be the show of respect for the honorable legislators that preceded this lousy bunch. Next thing will be shorts and tank tops from this motley crew that don’t seem to have any common decency toward each other or the public they serve.”

Tracy Sacramento, CA: “I don’t object to women wearing sleeveless dresses in professional settings but I guess because I only watch a little TV news I usually find it noteworthy that the vast majority of women are wearing something sleeveless while the men are all in jackets and ties — someone is uncomfortable climate wise I have to think. Why do women’s dress expectations now include bare arms but men’s still do not (I’m not asking about fairness just curious about the difference)? Do we think that will ever change?”

with age comes wisdom california:

“Appropriate:

1. Clean and neat

2. Blends with the style everyone else is wearing

3. Jeans okay.

4. No flip-flops.”

Lesley Potts: “The school district I work for implemented a dress code after a teacher turned up for a meeting in shorts, flip-flops and a tank top, upsetting the superintendent. They went totally the other way and now sleeveless anything isn’t allowed for women and they even got into sandals and what percentage of foot could be visible. No denim, period. It’s relaxed a little since that superintendent left, but the sleeveless thing … this is Georgia y’all and it’s as hot as Hades half the year.”

Sara Jevo: “‘Appropriate’ = put together. The individual should determine it. I can’t count the number of times a day I see guys in the worst-fitting suits ever. That to me looks unprofessional. Just because dress code requires a certain ‘go to’ doesn’t mean that’s the best way to dress in a professional environment. Sometimes certain people can pull off a casual look wayyyy better (and look on point) than just conforming to a certain standard.”

Gerard Farrell: “Dumbest I ever had to contend with was twice-a-week neckties. Pick any two days. I got called into my boss’s office once and he had his calendar marked: it was a Friday, I’d only worn a tie once that week and I wasn’t that day. I offered to wear one three days the next week, and he said he didn’t think I was taking the rule seriously. I told him he was right and asked if I could go back to work because I was on deadline.”

Erin Elliott: “What I told my supervisee’s (some of the language is from the actual dress code paragraph posted by the employer): no jeans, no sweats, no clothes that would be more appropriate on the beach or in the gym. No logo T-shirts unless they are company logo. I don’t want to see your upper thigh, your back, excess cleavage, your belly, or any part of your underwear. If you stand in front of the mirror flat-footed, raise your arms, and your belly is exposed, then your shirt is too short. You are here to look professional, not cute, and if you can do both that’s great.”

Joseph Barnett: “I once commented to a job applicant to look around at the offices she was applying to and to dress in the culture of the office. When men are expected to tie slip knots around their necks in professional offices, a dress code is part of the job.”

Mare Jeffries: “Maybe you should be allowed to wear what the first lady wears.”

Barbara Price: “I worked for a county agency for many years. At first it was professional only, as dept. heads were attorneys. Then went to ‘casual Fridays’ then casual every day, but with all kinds of restrictions and dos and don’ts. So many there was a pictorial display! But wasn’t clear and very contradictory. For instance, NO low cut BACKS! But no mention of fronts, why?? Finally management threw in the towel, allowed both men and women to order department logo polo shirts, that could be worn with Levis or pants and tennis shoes 5 days a week! But, for those who wanted to dress up, they had to deal with the very complex dress code. So, a lot of us bought the shirts and got to be comfortable.”

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