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.