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.