Why gendered dress codes are outdated

by | Oct 13, 2017

The traditional gendered dress codes at work leave us with no equality, no culture and no choice

The world has almost adapted to women wearing trouser (pant) suits. Yet the notion of men wearing skirts throws us into a spin as we still adhere to biases around gendered dress codes. 

We have all heard that it takes a lifetime to change a first impression. This means that in the workplace, a smart appearance has always been vital to maintain a successful career. But by determining what is smart, dress codes are catering for only one type of worker. Isn't it time for change?

In a time when start-ups are beginning to replace old stalwarts of the business world, and companies are increasingly trying to seem more youthful, many companies are beginning to relax their dress codes. Employees are increasingly valued for their contribution to the workplace rather than for how they look. However, regardless of how cool a business tries to seem, its employees are still expected to follow gendered dress codes, based on traditional Western-European culture. While women have the choice of trousers or skirts, blouses or blazers, men still have the same options as always, limited to variations on a suit.

Gendered dress codes

No equality between genders

The significance of a woman wearing a suit has been thoroughly dissected. Wearing trouser-suits is seen to help signify that she is powerful and serious, and thus on the same level as her male peers. In contrast, it is often suggested that a dominant woman should wear skirts instead, to indicate that she is more feminine and thus has a softer and more approachable side.

For men, they do not have this choice. They wear suits. Men are discouraged in our society from seeming feminine, or having any personality traits that are deemed to be suitable only for women. This can be seen in their dress codes as they are prohibited from wearing items such as skirts, which are only for females. They are not able to decide that they feel like wearing a blouse or a different style of shoe which would go better with a skirt. If a man were to wear a skirt to work, it would be seen as a joke. However, this should be treated as a serious topic.

For some men, the ability to wear a skirt in the workplace is simply about choice.They want the choice to wear something cooler in summer, or to add some variety to their wardrobe.  This summer we saw protests in different parts of Europe from men and even school boys during heatwaves. However for many people the rigid gendered dress codes disrespect their culture and inhibit their way of life.

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No provision for other cultures

In many ways the strict dress codes of the office can be seen as another reminder leftover from the colonial world. The suit is a European invention that has been in fashion for four hundred years but in much of the world it is less popular. In China, the men traditionally wore a Changsan, or a long robe of sorts. Within the Arab world, men would traditionally wear a Thawb (although this is just one name for one variation of the garment), which would be a type of tunic reaching their ankles. In some places in North-West Africa many men might wear a Kaftan. Scottish men wear kilts.

It was during the colonial era that the suit became more distinguishing. It was a marker that separated the foreigners from the natives and it can be seen as another example of the white Europeans enforcing their culture onto others. Surely in the global world that we now live in, people should be able to dress appropriately for their own culture, and be accepted as equals, rather than continuing to bend for the imposed western culture.

No choice - Men and skirts

The gendered dress codes in place signify a narrow mindedness in the work place which once again overlooks anyone who does not fit into a certain box. This box not only neglects women and overlooks people of colour, but it completely ignores people in the trans-community. It assumes that everyone feels either male or female and does not allow for anyone to feel that their gender is fluid, androgynous or changeable.

In a time when people in the trans community are still persecuted and ridiculed globally for their identity, it is time for the workplace to accept that not being a cis-male does not make you a less able worker. When we live in a globally-connected world that works amongst all cultures, we need to stop alienating cultures that differ from that of white Europeans. At a point where women account for half of the workforce, we need to see that the difference between wearing a skirt or trousers does not alter a woman’s personality or power status. Nor should a man be prohibited from wearing a skirt like his female colleagues if that is what he fancies that day. The perception of someone’s ability in the workplace should not be dictated by what they are wearing, whether that is trousers, a skirt, or something else entirely.

What do you think about men wearing skirts to the office?

 

If you think your company is struggling with unconscious bias, try our Workshop to help develop awareness and success

 

 

Emma Frazer Editor
Emma Frazer is a feminist, footballer and Latin America aficionado. She works as a freelancer in Barcelona. Emma is the social media manager and editor for 3Plus International.

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