Sexist Men’s Dress Codes – Why do male dress codes treat men like children?

Mrs May's class of 2016Photo © Zoe Norfolk Photography and used with permission

Mrs May’s Class of 2016 – Notice all the boys are wearing their school uniforms, complete with house ties. The girls, on the other hand, appear to be having an “own clothes day”. I hope that the boy in the bottom left and his friend in the middle didn’t get a detention for daring to wear blue shirts instead of the regulation white! All the boys have school-rules, off-the-collar haircuts too, although Boris Johnson’s may get him into trouble soon if he’s not careful!

Good Luck to the ladies! – but please don’t forget the gentlemen.
I should say that I have no argument at all with the way the women look in the above photograph. They are smart, well-presented and business-like. However, unlike the men, they also look like individuals dressing to reflect their personalities.

Some aspects of sexist dress codes do, indeed, disadvantage women and I fully support recent moves to try to ban compulsory high heels from the workplace and to prevent women being forced to wear revealing or “sexy” clothing against their wishes. What I don’t understand, and what I object to, is why we can’t, at the same time, address the much more widespread and ridiculously formal and uniform male dress codes whose sole aim is to turn men into identical jacketed-and-tied clones. This lack of willingness to discuss men’s dress codes was exemplified in a recent UK government report that spent over 50 pages discussing sexist dress codes without once mentioning the fact that men can be disadvantaged by dress codes too.

The Most Common Office Dress Code
Only a tiny number of dress codes actually force women to wear high heels or makeup, but a much, much greater number of male dress codes force men to wear jackets and ties, with much less formal and specific dress codes for women. Just as an example, the following is a genuine staff dress code from a UK school:

Men: Smart shoes, suit style trousers, shirt, tie and jacket. Jacket to be worn at all times around the school except when teaching.

Women: Not too short, not too low, no denim or flip-flops.

Whichever way you look at it, there is no attempt here to have the same standards of formality and uniformity for men and women. The male members of staff are treated like children and forced to wear school uniform, while the women are treated like adults and allowed to choose for themselves what is appropriate. This is, perhaps, an extreme example, but it is very common indeed for men to have a dress code similar to the above, while women are merely expected to “dress appropriately”. The injunction to “dress appropriately” could easily be applied to men, if employers were willing to treat men as adults.

Instead, far too many employers are still obsessed with keeping men in suits, or jackets, and ties thus reinforcing the gender stereotypes of the formal, uniform, authoritative-looking man and the individual, attractively-but-less-formally dressed woman.

Why do so many male dress codes insist on turning men into suited and tied clones instead of giving them the same freedom of expression as that enjoyed by women?

Time to treat men as adults

Come on, employers everywhere! We have had many decades of struggling towards gender equality in the workplace and things have moved on a long way. In the vast majority of cases, women are now given a great deal of freedom in how they dress for work and are trusted to express themselves appropriately. Men’s dress codes are often still stuck in the 1950s and force men to dress for work in clothes they would rarely, if ever, wear in their everyday, private lives. It is time that men were treated with the same consideration and respect as women and allowed to ditch the uniform. If “dress appropriately” is good enough for the goose, it should also be good enough for the gander.

The Congress dress code may be sexist, but surely it is men who are disadvantaged!

Is it really the women who are the “victims” of the so-called “sexist” Congress dress code?

 

It is astonishing how dress codes are always portrayed as being sexist to the disadvantage of women. With apologies to the gentleman standing with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, I have no idea who he is is: nevertheless he illustrates nicely the outrageous nature of the claim that women are hard done by when it comes to dress codes. The Congress dress code is, indeed, sexist, but it is the men who are the victims.

Apparently, the dress worn by the woman on Michelle’s left is acceptable, because it has sleeves, but Michelle’s dress is not, because it is sleeveless. Congresswomen and reporters are claiming that this is sexist because dresses like that worn by Jill Biden are unbearably hot in the summer. However, compare the comfort of the outfits worn by both these women to that of the men, who are forced to wear not only a shirt (the equivalent of a dress with sleeves), but, in addition, a heavy jacket and a tie. The difference in comfort between the two women is undeniably trivial compared to the difference between either woman and any of the men in the audience. Even if a man were to rebel, take off his jacket and tie and roll up his sleeves, he would still be no better off than a woman in a dress like Jill Biden’s!

Please can we lose the constant political correctness and get some sense of reality in the sexist dress codes debate? Women nearly always have more freedom, flexibility and comfort than men when it comes to what they are allowed to wear at work, whether in Congress or anywhere else. By all means let the women wear sleeveless dresses, but also allow the men to ditch their jackets and ties. Gender equality should by now be sufficiently entrenched to allow men and women the same degree of freedom and comfort in what they wear, whether in Congress or elsewhere.

Sexist dress codes can be uncomfortable for men too.

Dress codes forcing women to wear high heels or makeup are felt by most to be unacceptable, but why do we ignore sexist dress codes that force men to wear uncomfortable jackets and ties?

 

There has been a huge amount of discussion in the media on sexist dress codes. This has been almost entirely focused on issues considered to adversely effect women.s

Few people would deny that forcing women to wear high heels against their wishes is sexist and reprehensible. High heels are probably at the extreme end of uncomfortable dress codes, but the discussion extends beyond this item of clothing. There are those who say that it is sexist to force women to wear skirts or makeup. There are even those who say it is sexist to force women to wear any particular item of clothing or dictate a woman’s appearance in any way. Such dress codes, however, are relatively rare and are becoming less common every day. What is very rarely discussed, is the sexist nature of the much more common office dress code giving women much more flexibility than men to express themselves in relative comfort.

Am I comparing high heels to ties?

Not really. Although both are uncomfortable, high heels are potentially worse. Nevertheless, many men find ties very uncomfortable, especially in the summer, and there is absolutely no reason why they should be forced to wear them. My objection lies with the fact that all media attention focuses on women’s comfort, but men’s discomfort is ignored. Men are expected to “man up” and put up with their restrictive, uniform and uncomfortable dress codes. The most common office dress code runs something like this: “Men must wear smart shoes, trousers, jacket and tie. Women must dress appropriately”. A quick glance around pretty much any office environment will confirm that, for women, “dress appropriately” mean anything that is not indecent, blue denim or flip-flops. In other words, women are treated like adults and allowed to make their own decision about what is suitable, men are treated like children and told exactly what to wear.

What about makeup?

Forcing a woman to wear makeup is forcing her to comply with the sexist, gender-stereotyped image of how a smart, professional businesswoman should look. I fail to see how this differs from forcing a man to wear a tie, except that a tie is also uncomfortable! Forcing a man to wear a necktie serves absolutely no purpose other than making him conform to the sexist, conventional, gender-stereotyped image of how a smart, professional businessman should look. Is this so different to forcing a woman to wear makeup?

What about skirts?

Men and women both have conventional, sexist business uniforms. For men, it is a suit and a tie: for women it is a skirt suit and a smart blouse. Both are sexist and gender-stereotyped. The difference is that very few businesses actually force women to comply with the gender-stereotype, whereas very many employers still force men to do so. Skirts may be impractical, but I have yet to find a practical use for the leash around a man’s neck!

What should we do about it?

Simple. If “dress appropriately” is good enough for women’s dress codes, it should be good enough for men too.

The Tie Fetish

Question: What makes otherwise sane, normal, caring people persist in trying to force men to tie a noose around their necks every day of their working lives?
Answer:  Fetish (Merriam-Webster): an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion.

When the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, allowed Tom Brake MP to speak in the Chamber without wearing a tie, it made news around the world. One MP threatened to refuse to accept interventions from a man not wearing a tie. Another said that the move threatened the future of the UK tie industry! Around the same time, there was a similar move in the French Assemblée Nationale, as well as a minor rebellion in the House of Lords. The vast majority of men have stopped wearing ties in their private lives, except for special occasions when both men and women dress formally: why should they be forced to wear one at work? .

I have nothing against ties per se, but I have long thought that the blind insistence that they are the one and only means by which a man can look smart, is irrational and, frankly, somewhat odd. With the rather obvious exceptions of the wimple and the dog-collar, no other item of clothing today, for either men or women, is treated as an almost religious symbol of piety and virtue in quite the same way as the tie. The mere wearing of a badly tied and dubiously stained tie bestows on its wearer, in the eyes of many, an unassailable aura of probity and sartorial elegance, while its absence plunges the hapless, though comfortable, non-wearer into the abyss of lazy, incompetent ineptitude.

It seems that the tie almost rivals the wimple and dog-collar in the unassailable aura of probity and sanctity it confers on its wearer.

 

 

 

I have been closely following the arguments in the media on this subject and have come to the conclusion that, if we discount the theory that the tie is a substitute religious vestment, the insistence on others wearing one can only be regarded as fetishism. I looked up “fetish” on the Oxford and Merriam-Webster online dictionaries. Being of a charitable nature, I put the definitions involving sartorially-related sexual habits on the back burner for the moment, but, even if we discount these, the following two definitions seem to sum up quite well the irrational, illogical and objectively unjustifiable attitude of the “tie-or-die” brigade.

Fetish (Oxford): An excessive and irrational devotion or commitment to a particular thing.

Fetish (Merriam-Webster): an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion.

The arguments in favour of forcing men to wear ties are always subjective, usually pompous and opinionated, and often downright nonsensical. I have tried to summarise some of the comments I have come across in blogs on the subject, with my response:

“I just think they look nice”
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and, as in the case with Granny here, may succeed in charming others into giving in. That’s fine, but not all men like to be treated like children.

 

 

…and in a similar vein… “I think they are sooooo sexy…”

OK – perhaps even ties have their good points.

 

 

“Today, the tie is largely a workplace accessory, used to neatly demarcate work and leisure time”

Sorry, this is nonsense: if a man needs a tie to tell whether or not he is at work, he has bigger problems than his dress sense. I wonder what on earth the poor women are supposed to do, since they no longer have any compulsory items of work wear to help them decide if they are in the office or at home?

 

The argument that I find the most pathetic, though, is “wearing a tie shows respect for the other person“.
I find the idea that a man has to show respect by tying a leash about his neck almost feudal in its expectation of servility. Must a man also touch his forelock to show respect? Should we still expect women to curtsy and look down demurely at the floor as a token of respect? I am afraid that if your only way of recognising respect involves the other person wearing a tie, psychiatric help may be in order.

If we accept this argument, how on Earth do women manage to show respect? They rarely wear a suit, even more rarely a tie, and would certainly shout “sexism” at the top of their voices if they were forced to dress as uniformly as men.

By all means wear a tie if you want to, but don’t try to force others to do so using the false argument of “showing respect”.

To come back to my original thesis, there is absolutely no logical reason to insist on men wearing ties. Those who do so insist are merely trying to inflict their own tastes and stereotypes on others. The three Wimbledon officials below are all dressed identically except, of course, for the man, who, contrary to all common sense, is obliged to wear a tie while trying to concentrate in the summer sun. There is absolutely no objective reason for this particular bit of sartorial nonsense.
Embed from Getty ImagesThe fact that some folk place so much value on such a meaningless piece of cloth, and judge themselves and others on that basis, is a clear example of a fetish: an excessive and irrational devotion or commitment to a particular thing.

So, by all means complain every time you see a male politician or news presenter in an open-necked shirt. Whine about the good old days of doublet and hose. Remember with nostalgia the days when men were men, and women made the coffee. Don’t think, though, that you have the moral high ground. At the end of the day, insisting that a man wears a tie is no different to insisting that a woman wears a skirt or make-up. Both serve no purpose other than to reinforce preconceived gender stereotypes.

Gender Neutral Dress Codes

Schools should be at the forefront of promoting gender equality, not reinforcing gender stereotyping with their uniform policies or dress codes.

Dress codes have always been a contentious subject and, along with school uniforms, they have caused much controversy recently. In the UK, we had a petition and a debate in Parliament about the issue of compulsory high heels for women. We had schoolboys wearing skirts to school in the summer, as they were not allowed to share the comfort of the girls by wearing shorts. To top it all, we had a ‘rebellion’ in the House of Commons and the House of Lords which resulted in a declaration that ties were no longer an essential part of male business dress.

In the US, we have many reports of “sexist” school dress codes said to disadvantage girls by regulating, for example, skirt length. In the UK, where formal school uniforms are more common, girls generally have more choice than boys, with boys often being forced into long trousers and ties, while girls nearly always have the choice of skirts or trousers and often optional or no ties.

Recently in the the US, we saw the nonsensical accusation that the Senate dress code is reminiscent of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, because it forces women into uncomfortably hot dresses with sleeves. Calling the Senate’s women’s dress codes “sexist” completely ignores the fact that the male dress code is much more restrictive, imposing, as it does, jackets and ties on the men. There can surely be no question that jackets and ties are hotter and more uncomfortable than dresses with sleeves!! We need to see some balance in the debate on dress codes.

What should schools do?

In schools, the whole issue of gendered school uniform is becoming increasingly important with the growing number of transgender and non-binary students.  By both law and common courtesy,  these students have to be treated fairly in schools. While this certainly creates some difficulties for schools, such as the provision of suitable changing and toilet facilities, there is absolutely no need for uniform to be one of these problems.

The solution is so blindingly obvious that it is depressing that it meets with so much reluctance and opposition. Schools should implement gender neutral dress codes or uniforms. Head Teachers should decide the general appearance, but both boys and girls should be able to choose from long trousers, skirts or smart uniform shorts. Other rules like hair length, jewellery and wearing ties should be the same for both sexes.

This is not rocket science and many forward thinking Head Teachers are already implementing such policies. Girls already have most of these choices and the greatest obstacle to gender neutral dress codes or uniforms in the UK is the obsessive insistence on forcing schoolboys into long trousers and ties. Women and girls won the skirt/trouser battle decades ago and both trousers and skirts are now acceptable wear for women. Today, very few schools, and even fewer outdated employers, force women to wear skirts against their wishes. On the other hand, the vast majority of secondary (i.e. “high”) schools still make boys wear ties and forbid them from wearing comfortable shorts in hot weather.

Many schools still have very different uniforms for boys and girls. This may please traditionalists, but reinforces gender stereotyping and makes it difficult for some students who are unhappy with “their sex’s” uniform.

Do gender neutral dress codes imply boys and girls should dress and look the same?

No, gender neutral dress codes do not mean forcing boys and girls (or men and women, for that matter) to look the same, but only giving both sexes equal choice. Currently, in most schools, it is a relatively easy matter for girls to effectively dress as boys, if they wish to do so, as they can put on trousers and wear their hair short. They can do this purely as a matter of choice or comfort without having to resort to ‘coming out’ as non-binary or transgender. Boys, on the other hand, face much more intransigence if they wish to stray from the conventional masculine appearance . If they wish to be comfortable in the summer, they are forced to ‘rebel’ by wearing skirts as they are almost never allowed to wear shorts and they are still almost always forced to wear ties, even if the girls do not need to do so. Some schools, in an astonishing curtailment of self-expression, still force boys to have short hair.

Schools should play their part in breaking the mould for gender stereotypes.

In our society, schools should be models of gender equality and should be doing their utmost to overcome gender stereotypes, not reinforce them. If the suggestion in bold is adopted, we would not see thousands of schoolboys in skirts, although those who wish to wear them would be able to do so more easily. We would, however, see both boys and girls wearing smart, uniform short trousers in the summer, rather than the boys having to resort to wearing skirts to be comfortable. Finally, we would see ties either declared an essential part of the uniform for both sexes, or assigned to the rubbish bin of history for both boys and girls.

Welcome to Sexist Dress Codes

There has been a great deal of publicity given to sexist dress codes over the last few months. Generally the debate concerns dress codes for women, which are claimed to be sexist. Nearly always, the much more widespread discrimination against men is either ignored or added in passing as an afterthought.

You would have been forgiven for thinking that the world was coming to an end when, last June, the Speaker of the UK House of Commons announced that ties were no longer considered compulsory business wear for male Members of Parliament. This piece of sartorial common sense featured prominently in the media, including sometimes prime time television, around the world. They still have to wear jackets, of course, with no similar obligation on their female colleagues. In a similar vein, in the US Congresswomen complained that their “sexist, uncomfortable” dress code was unfair because they have to wear dresses with sleeves. This dress code led to Congress being likened to “The Handmaid’s Tale”. While making much of the discomfort suffered in hot weather by women in dresses with sleeves, little mention is made of the fact that men in Congress are forced to wear not only shirts (the equivalent of dresses with sleeves), but also jackets and ties.

In short, while there is much debate about the evils of forcing women to dress in a gender-stereotyped way, the fact that men are so often forced to go to work in school uniform, looking like suited clones, is overlooked. Women who try to overturn sexist dress codes are praised in the media, while men are expected to “man-up” and live up to the sartorial expectations of others. Forcing men to wear jackets and ties is often described as “maintaining standards”, while forcing women to dress in any sort of gender-stereotyped way is called “sexist”!

My little blog will be an attempt to redress the balance and give just a little publicity to the fact that men’s dress codes are usually more uniform, more formal and less comfortable than those applied to their female colleagues.