Just what constitutes appropriate work wear?


I’m quite fond of clothes – they keep you warm and cover the bits that some deem naughty and others find interesting, allowing us to maintain a little bit of mystery or dignity as we see fit.

penelope whitson work adviceFor many, there’s a minor difference between how we clothe our flesh for work and play, although what you don for work does of course depend entirely on where you ply your trade. My work wardrobe has gone from jeans and trainers through to pencil skirts and bank account-draining dry-clean only items. My dad’s wardrobe hasn’t changed at all – he’s still the epitome of farming style in denim shorts and John Bull boots. Dog optional.

However, for those who work in offices, with the rise of casual Friday and the tie-less working week, what to wear to work has become a lethal minefield with the potential for bits of flesh to explode out of clothes and into your line of sight at any moment.

Sure, we can argue that as long as we do our jobs, does it matter what we’re wearing? Y’all debated something similar in another blog on tattoos. However, if your job involves interacting with others, you do need to take their delicate sensibilities into consideration. As a paying customer would you want to discuss Gran’s cremation with a funeral home director who’s wearing stubbies and t-shirt reading ‘Generation Fuck You’?

A chum in HR recently had to tell a new and quite young employee that her outfits, while no doubt appropriate for some occasions, such as Friday night bar trawling in the Viaduct, were not appropriate for the office. While I am all for freedom of expression, if you are a receptionist for a corporate firm then maybe miniskirts and ankle boots aren’t quite what’s called for.

Sadly, being told what to wear can go too far in the other direction, as demonstrated by this article. Apparently, some Australian companies have gone so far as to hire style consultants to help Gen Yers who don’t dress to company standards –  although I don’t think wearing inappropriate clothing is the exclusive domain of Gen Y.

This does rather beg the question, ‘What is appropriate’? If, as the article states, women are told they need to wear skirts and make-up to look professional, aren’t they actually just being told they need to look ‘feminine’? What’s wrong with trousers? Does make-up really make you look more professional and if so, why aren’t more men wearing it in the office?

And keeping it equal – I think men get a bit screwed over in summer time. Their options include almost exactly what’s on offer in winter. Shoes, socks, trousers, shirt. No knee-length shorts for those hot and sultry days when women get to prance around with bare legs and skirts. Men must suffer the horror that is sweaty socks all year round.

Have you ever been asked to buck up your wardrobe? Or tone it down? Is what you wear to work closer to a three-piece suit or a bathing suit?