The Pros and Cons of Corporate Dress Codes

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location Lougheed House


Raise your hand if you have had to abide by a dress code? Was it during your school years? Perhaps it was while working retail or serving job? How about during a stint in corporate Calgary? All three? Me too. The recent waves made by United Airlines on Sunday denying boarding to “Pass Travellers” wearing leggings have people in a tizzy. For it? Against it? Haven’t heard of it?

The highlights of the story from New York Times are that the United Airline gate attendant in Denver denied boarding to three female passengers. The first was a child. The parent’s put a dress overtop - packed in their carryon - and away they went. The next two young teen female guests were also United Airline “Pass Travellers”. The gate attendant advised that they were not fit to travel as part of the “Pass Travellers” dress code. According to the airline, “Pass Travellers,” are encouraged to dress in mind that they are representing the brand. The teens did not have anything to change into on hand to quickly board so they had to wait for the next flight.

In the same New York Times article it was noted by another passenger in the departures gate, Ms. Watts – now a new Twitter star -, noted that the male parent of the young child who had to put on that dress overtop was wearing shorts with a hem well above the knee and that passed without comment. United Airlines defends that there is a policy and that the gate attendant used her discretion. My takeaway, regardless of how you feel about leggings – and I’m not a fan of it in non-athletic settings - it’s not a great PR move.

The three denied were young girls. They are not adults and yet they are held to adult women standards. Ick. It appears that an adult man in the same party was not. Double ick.

Gross story aside, I did start thinking about the place of corporate dress codes. Is there a place for them in 2017? I sure hope there is but I may be the minority. Let’s weigh the pros and cons, shall we?

Pro 1: Consistent look that ties with the values of the brand. For example, it wouldn’t seem to fit if you walked into LuLuLemon and saw a bunch of staffers wearing fancy suits. Nor would it make sense to walk into a law office and see everyone in yoga pants and tanks tops. Cha?

Con 1: What happens if you work somewhere that isn’t a gym or law office? There’s a lot of jobs in-between that range.

Pro 2: Customers can identify who works there by the consistent clothing or a nametag. I sometimes get frustrated when I can’t find any sales staff around. I should state that it may just seem like there’s no one around as I don’t know who is working. Oh the help of a uniform.

Con 2: Nametags are kind of a lame accessory, am I right? And you can pin a nametag on most outfits regardless of if it is professional or casual in tone. 

Pro 3: Serve a work task purpose. For instance, those who work in a hospital or tradespeople may need to wear specific garments. They actually need to wear certain clothes to do their jobs safely. I don’t want my welder in heels. I want them safe in steel toe boots and face protection. All cool.

Con 3: Uniforms make sense if it’s actually required. If not a safety or cleanliness thing at your work though, what gives? Why are they often, too, in non-breathable, smell catching synthetic fabric like polyester? Yuck.

Pro 4: Employees are provided guidelines of what is appropriate and what is not. This is especially true in professional services where employees are client facing. Tell me, do you want your investment woman, let’s call her Miriam, wearing jeans and a T shirt as she provides guidance on what your retirement goals are? She may urge you to save more but all you can think about is if the hole in her shirt is intentional or not? Suit please, Miriam.

Con 4: Unless you like wearing a suit, these lists tend to be gender discriminatory and shame women. It can really smell of good old patriarchy.

Enough about what I think; what do you think? Are we over dress codes? Do we want to open things up to whatever goes? Or are you like me – a bit of a dinosaur – and wax nostalgic for a more formal dress, in general, but especially at work?

One thing is for sure. People really love defending their and others leggings.