Kelly: Dammit, Meredith, where are your panties?
Meredith: It’s casual Friday. Happy?- The Office
Dress codes in the office have changed a lot over the years. Historians say it was in the 1960s that the rules for what to wear began to disintegrate. But there are still some employers that are very set in their ways and always expect a certain uniform in the workplace which not everyone is aware of or wants to believe, especially when it is 85 degrees outside. Can you imagine being sent home from work on a hot summer day because you weren’t wearing pantyhose? Well, this has actually happened. We talked to some people who were sent from work because of their outfit.
What is appropriate in an office has changed a lot since those glamorous Mad Men days. The concept of business casual didn’t really exist back then. There was dressed for work and then dressing for work if you worked in a lumber yard. There are still some industries (law, finance) that are very strict and old-fashioned requiring suits for men and nylons with skirts for women with no open-toed shoes.
Violations of those dress codes are clear. The problems seem to start with the more laid back, lenient dress codes. Casual Fridays can be a real mind field for some people. That episode of The Office where Meredith wore a bathing suit because it was casual Friday comes to mind. “There’s a difference between casual and sloppy,” says Sally Morrison, associate manager of Career Partners 3, a job search and career coaching firm. “It’s surprising to me what some people think is appropriate. “I think that when you allow casual dress, some people start to be more casual in the way they approach their work,” says Morrison. “I’m not saying people have to keep their jackets on all day long, but there’s a level of professionalism that comes with wearing the appropriate attire. It garners more respect. If you are dealing with clients, I think this is very important.”
Here are some real stories of dress code confusion resulting in employees being sent home.
The Skort Incident
Samantha Villegas, President of SaVi PRI, told The Grindstone about being sent home from her first job.
“It was 1993 and I was 23 working at a boutique PR agency. I was wearing a plaid skort and a sweater with socks and healed loafers (I know, but they were very “in” at the time). I thought it was okay because it was all very tailored and neat, and I was not planning to see any clients (we worked in a small, seven-person office of all women). The skort was pleated and reached mid-thigh like a mini. At the time, I weighed about 125 pounds (at 5’2″) and was very fit. My boss, a woman, sent me home. She thought the skort was too short. I was mortified, and cried the whole way home and back. I seriously considered not returning to work but I did. That episode stuck with me my whole career. Ever since I have been very traditional and very conservative in the way I dress for work and I find myself critical of other women who border on the sexy or too casual.”
That awkward thing called pregnancy
Ora Shtull, Executive Coach and author of the soon-to-be-released The Glass Elevator: A Guide to Leadership Presence for Women on the Rise told The Grindstone:
“My first job (many years back, in the early 90s) right out of business school was at a cosmetics company that valued fashionable attire. I attended a corporate conference in Arizona in the early stages of pregnancy. I was at that awkward stage when I no longer could fit into my chic suits but was far from ready for maternity clothes. I showed up at the first event in an A-line jean dress with large colorful buttons, which was actually fashionable at the time. My male boss took one look at me and said, “Can you please go change your clothes?” But, I simply couldn’t! Needless to say, things went downhill from there.”