Do we need a dress code at work?

So UBS has finally revamped its much-criticized dress code.  The WSJ reports that the new version is a much more  sober version than the hilarious original dress code.

“Men will be required to wear a dark-colored suit, a white shirt and a red tie, and women a female equivalent of this,” Mr. Kern said. The dress code is still under review, he added.

This sounds much more reasonable than that original dress code (the English translation of which is here), which is full of gems.  There is the blatant sexism, such as in directives regarding hair coloring.

For men, it says :

Colored hair or bits prove unconvincing when the artificial color contrast with excessively the target age of your skin. Similarly, a gray beard or white, can clash with the color of your hair retouched.

For women, on the other hand,

A suitable hairstyle is essential to please others and itself and also contributes to determining your well-being. Studies have shown that hair neat and stylish and impeccable cut dramatically increase Capital sympathy and allow individuals to set their personalities.


.• If you have a color, you must ensure that your roots are always impeccable.

Pic: Flickr/Matt512

Pic: Flickr/Matt512

The directives for women are of course, the most detailed, talking about everything from what color nail polish you should use to how your eye glasses frame should match your jewelry (no, seriously).  Other gems include:

• Wear underwear flesh-colored below white blouses. In addition, we recommend thepossible, not to conceal the neck. Traces make-up on collars are bad effect.

• In general, a blouse is worn with a jacket. When it very hot, and after confirmation of your supervisor,you can not wear that shirt with the pants or skirt.  (I am trying to imagine how this conversation with the supervisor will go.)

• Never wear shoes that are too small for you:there’s nothing worse than a twisted smile.

Men probably have it easier.  There is the lecture about how your tie should depend on your waistline.  ” A thin node provides a rate disproportionate in an individual corpulent.”  But read the full document, if you haven’t already.  It is hilarious in the extreme.

UBS is not the only company with such a detailed dress code, although it is probably a little more extreme than others.  But I’ve heard of other banks with such “rules”.  One of R’s former employers (also a bank) had a dress code which said, among other things, “Women should always wear underwear”.  (No, there was nothing specified about men.)

At some point, even the most well-intentioned dress code starts to become sexist and micromanaging, not to mention insulting everyone’s intelligence.  You wonder who spends so much time composing and approving these things.

All of which brings me to the point – do we really need such explicit dress codes?  Does it really reflect on the employer if an individual turns up to work in tight shoes, or with a small tie knot, or with powder on her shirt collar?

Granted, employers do not want employees dressed in mini skirts or shorts, and new college graduates may not always understand the difference between “Business casual” and “Business formal”.  But this can be easily addressed at the interview stage itself, or during orientation.  Surely, if you trust someone with shouldering their work responsibilities in your company and interacting with clients etc, you should trust them to dress appropriately?

So why do companies come up with these manuals?  Is it a control issue, or is there really an explosion of badly dressed people at work?

I am also curious about the situation in India.  Time was when women used to wear either sarees or salwars, and men used to wear a shirt, and sometimes a tie.  I’m sure things have changed now.  Do the new crop of companies have explicit, written dress codes?  Are these companies where only Western wear is allowed? (No salwars, sarees)?  What would be the rationale for such rules, if any?


11 thoughts on “Do we need a dress code at work?

  1. “Women should always wear underwear“. (No, there was nothing specified about men.)

    I’m positive companies in kilt-wearing countries have that rule for men too.

    • I still cannot figure out why an employer would think they can entrust their employee with multi-million dollar client transactions (we are talking about a Swiss bank here) but believe it needs to remind them to wear their underwear. Are they hiring out of kindergarten, by any chance?

    • If you are referring to that one-day crash, that turned out to be due to algorithmic trading. But yes, the one thing you cause the financial industry, in their Brooks Brothers and Hickey Freeman suits, is of being less than impeccably dressed.

    • No, you are putting words in my mouth 🙂 Having said that, at current interest rates, putting your money in a piggy bank doesn’t seem such a bad idea 🙂

  2. My comment is a little off-track but I will say it. Sometimes it is not necessary to have a workplace at all. No seriously, especially for the ones who can manage their work from home better than at an “office.” It benefits everyone, it saves company so much of resources, saves the employee so much of time and energy. And in our times, these are invaluable commodities. But it depends on the whims of companies if they allow such luxury or no. I for one would be happy not bothered being about what to wear each morning and actually focus on my writing.

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