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.

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.