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 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.