Cover Up?

How’s the decision by the French government on banning veils in public places going? According to the BBC, a woman wearing a veil has today been detained by police in France who insist she was held not because of her veil but for taking part in an unauthorised protest against the ban. I’m not a big fan of banning stuff and I wonder how the French authorities are going to manage this?

I’m not a huge fan of dress codes at all mind you (no jokes about t-shirts or my forthcoming smart shorts project thank you), and I’m pleased that the customer I’m currently spending a lot of time with working on an internal comms plan, doesn’t have one. According to the recently published XpertHR 2011 dress codes survey, they’re in a minority. 72% of organisations which responded to the survey have “dress code regulations or guidelines, or operate a policy on dress or appearance at work.”

Yes or No?

Those employers without a code say they:

“Do not have one because employees dress appropriately without guidelines. Exactly half say that it is not necessary as the organisation has a culture that it describes as “relaxed” and not conducive to having a code telling employees what to wear.”

Those who do have one say they do for a number of reasons, including (in declining order of popularity):

  • to preserve the external image of the company
  • for health and safety reasons
  • to reinforce the internal culture
  • for practical reasons
  • to maintain hygiene
  • to distinguish or identify employees

I love the “reinforce the internal culture” point. I can’t help but read it as “we don’t trust you”.

Is it worth it?

Maybe this sounds harsh, but for me a dress code smacks of HR and head office (where 74% of these guidelines are set according to XpertHR) not having anything better to do. I hope that'[s not the case. And it’s notable that 53% of the employers surveyed said their code provokes complaints from employees and 33% say that too much energy is spent policing it. There’s an easy answer to that last point. Don’t have one.

What are you wearing today?

photo c/o Jacques Delarue

survey data c/o XpertHR

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

14 thoughts on “Cover Up?”

  1. Very good post, Doug, and thanks so much for linking through to the XpertHR research.

    If it’s OK with you, I’d just like to add some links through to this survey on the XpertHR site (although you need to be an XpertHR subscriber to access them in full):

    This “forthcoming smart shorts project” you allude to sounds intriguing! It might be relevant to point out at this juncture that the XpertHR survey also covered employers’ rules on shorts, believe it or not!

    More than seven-tenths (72.5%) of those surveyed do not allow male employees to wear shorts in the workplace ( But only two-thirds (65.5%) operate a similar prohibition on shorts for female employees (

    It will be very interesting indeed to see if your “smart shorts project” is successful in redressing this balance!



    1. Michael thanks so much for the links – I was having trouble extracting them from the website (my technical inability is legendary). Keep your eye out for smart shorts 2011 🙂

  2. We don’t have a dress code. Some days I will turn up to the office in jeans, other days in a suit. It depends on what I have to do that day. Likewise I trust if my team are interviewing, they will dress appropriately and differently to when they would be spending a day with their client groups.

    That said, I do think that different organisations and different cultures have different needs…..a warehouse operation or oil refinery for example. Not to mention the thousands of retail and service employees that wear a uniform never mind a dress code.

    When you get down to it, the number of people that REALLY have a choice are pretty limited…

    1. Hi Neil. Your first paragraph sums it up nicely for me. Specifically “it depends on what I have to do that day.” and “I trust….”

      There’s having a choice and exercising your brain in executing that choice – and being plain told what to do. And even those among us that need telling, well do we really need a formal code for that? 🙁

  3. Many of the arguments surrounding the imposition of a formal dress-code are mirrored in schools across the country, where what you wear, and your ability to express yourself are often very important indeed, to both pupils and teachers. Conversely, a sensitive adoption of an appropriate dress-code is a blessed relief for those who don’t want to have to choose a different outfit every day, or enjoy feeling part of a bigger team by wearing a uniform, or similar clothing.

    Like it or not, what we wear defines us as much as any other signifier, and a little help and/or prompting are accepted as a good thing.

    Today I am mostly wearing blue Dockers, a white cotton shirt and Merrell shoes.

    1. Hi Stephen, I’m all for a little help (yeah yeah I know – a lot!) and I like the way you put it – a sensitive adoption. And may I say you look dead smart today!

  4. Today, Doug, I am wearing a shirt thin jumper (because I couldn’t be arsed to iron my shirt), jeans and smart shoes.

    Having spent 5 years dressed up like a corporate monkey for a High Street bank I have revelled in the opportunity not feel like I’m being hung every morning.

    That said Client meetings will always see me in a suit and I won’t ever wear t-shirts to work. I pushed my own personal boundaries last Friday by wearing flip-flops. I did this because a: its dress down Friday and b: Its Exmouth and its the law to wear flip-flops down here. The result, I had by best day that week.

    My opinion is your appearance can have a dramatic impact on your attitude in work. There was a case in one of HSBC’s Scottish call centres where football shirts were banned because a Rangers fan had a fight with a Celtic fan on the floor – an extreme example but interesting none-the-less. The rule in Swansea call centre I worked in was, No Bums, No Boobs and No Tums (clearly a rule levied more at the female staff then male).

    It is, I’m sure, harder for larger companies to allow ‘personal choice’ as there will inevitably be one bad apple and a few sheep that will follow and proceed with inappropriate clothing.

    1. Good work on the thin jumper, but don’t kid yourself they all know why you’re wearing it 🙂 Thanks for your great stories they help paint an interesting picture. And yes – there will be bad apples – and that doesn’t mean they can’t be encouraged and managed rather than the majority being corralled. Flip flops are the law in Exmouth eh – you learn something new every day.

      Cheers – Doug

  5. Treat people like adults and that’s mostly what you’ll get – not surprising then to see what happens when you treat them like children…

    Here’s a thought…. another reason dress codes are put in place is so management don’t have to challenge individuals on the appropriateness of their attire. If we avoid holding people accountable on this simple aspect of work then what other areas are we avoiding accountability or by not giving our trust?

    1. Nice move David – I hadn’t thought about the accountability connection. It’s an interesting symptom, I mean good point. It strikes me that a lot of folk, too many, just want to avoid conflict of any kind at any cost. So they end up crafting policy after policy which they believe means they have to say nowt about anything. And the opposite of honesty is silence.

  6. Ooh, I have mixed feelings on this one. I really do believe it depends on the reason for having a dress code – are the intentions meaningful and beneficial and expressed clearly to employees? Or are they historic and in need of an update in line with the times? And of course, we can bring in the debate about uniform. Personally, as an ex-army girl (albeit only a weekend warrior!) I was proud to look smart and recognisable – it was about respect for myself and my ‘organisation’, and I felt part of a team with a common purpose. Good post Doug.

    1. ten-shun! Welcome aboard soldier. This post has sparked some very interesting conversation, I am grateful to you and all the others who have pitched in too. Mixed feelings are great. For me this place – this blog – is at its best when we have open respectful disagreement 🙂

  7. How timely, I’ve just come out of an employee forum meeting where a request has been made to bring in a dress code policy before the Summer. I work in a multi-cultural workplace where we hire people for their language capabilities. So I need to build a policy that takes in account all their cultural, and religious beliefs; whilst maintaining the business view that we are laidback and casual in our dress sense! What fun!! Bring out the measuring tape 🙂

    1. Wow that is quite a challenge. Two words spring to mind. Light and respectful. Good luck and do let us know how you get on!

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