Detailed dress code now antiquated
Wednesday, December 07, 2016 8:40 AM
The visible piercings, including a nose ring, didn’t necessarily disqualify a woman who came in for a job interview a couple years ago. However, the flip-flops on her feet moved her application to the bottom of the pile.
Our company in recent years has allowed piercings and tattoos, if done tastefully since our people deal with the public. Often times this body art is a reflection of a personality and, in some cases, could identify a bit of individuality or creativity, which are important to our type of business.
Clothing is also a reflection of a personality, but it can change depending on the circumstances. Since autonomy is fundamental to the nature of our business, good decision-making is also important. Wearing flip-flops to a job interview usually isn’t a good decision.
Deciding that a pair of flip-flops isn’t appropriate footwear for a job interview is easy. Making decisions on the appropriateness of other clothing on the job aren’t so easy.
Society has changed greatly over the past couple decades. Today, grandmothers may wear athletic warm-up suits to gatherings and young adults may wear pajamas to stores. Ties and other formal clothes aren’t regularly a part of work environments any more.
That makes it difficult to have a dress code. Style constantly changes, meaning what is unacceptable one year may become more acceptable the next. Expectations have also transformed as many environments don’t have the same, or any, rules. Even church, which used to be the most formal setting, now has attendees wearing jeans, shorts and other casual wear.
Many community newspapers don’t have a dress code. Some object to a blanket policy, contending that they don’t want to stifle the individuality of their staff people. After all, the most important thing is the quality of the newspaper, not the appearance of the workers.
Others, though, worry about community interactions, especially for advertising salespeople and reporters. Salespeople dressed sloppily, or even offensively, could upset clients while reporters should blend in to get the story, not overshadow the story.
Many community newspapers have general, vague policies, such as dress appropriately for the event they are attending. Others have a few specific items that are banned, such as jeans, low cut shorts, visible tattoos, facial piercings, bare shoulders or midriffs and flip-flops.
A veteran newsman said his company quit writing down a dress code because it was broken so often. Of course, when he started 50 years ago, all women wore dresses and men wore ties.
A very few community newspapers have specific, written dress codes. One newspaper’s lengthy policy can be boiled down to one sentence: Radical departures from conventional dress or personal grooming and hygiene standards are not permitted.
Of course, standards continue to evolve and they vary, even within the community, so this general guideline is subject to much interpretation and may not be any better than no policy.
One community newspaper has a detailed policy that lists specific prohibitions. The policy leads off with the statement: Your behavior and appearance send clear messages about how you feel about yourself, your responsibilities and your company. In turn, our customers form impressions about our company from you — impressions of reliability, consistency, proficiency and courtesy.
That lead-in to the policy is excellent. Appearance does matter.
However, getting the specifics right is another issue. Customers come into our office sporting a wide range of styles, from working farm to tourist casual. Some business owners are formal, such as suit and tie, while others flaunt extensive tattoos and piercings.
That’s why the interviewee with the nose piercing and flip-flops wasn’t necessarily eliminated — just moved to the bottom of the pile. If she would have wowed us with her capabilities, consideration of this applicant could have moved up the order.
Of course, a discussion on her choice of flip-flops would have come up if she became a serious candidate. And, if she was clueless about why we asked the question, her application would have gone back down to the bottom of the pile.
There’s a difference between ignorance about the conventions of society and pushing the boundaries with a well-thought, purposeful decision. The clueless person will probably never understand while the knowingly unconventional person will understand why some people won’t hire her, but also understands she could become a perfect fit for someone else.
Rules are needed, but strict adherence to them may not provide the context needed to allow growth for a company. People in authority will still have to rule on an individual basis at times even if it makes their jobs more difficult.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in trying to figure out the conundrum of what constitutes appropriate dress.