Why Are There Rules About Grooming And Clothing?


Everywhere you go there are rules. Rules on when to cross at the lights, how fast to drive your car, how to play a game, what to do and not do on a first date, how late you can stay out playing in the street, what you can and can’t wear to work. It goes on and on and on.

Most of us conform fairly willingly to rules because they are designed to keep us safe, give us an idea of what to expect, tell us what we can and can’t get away with, and how best to fit in. But what about those people who don’t conform to rules, don’t understand the rules, or just flagrantly ignore the rules the rest of us have agreed to go along with. Are these people just asking for trouble? Should we lock them up or exclude them from playing the games we play? How much time or effort should we take to educate them on the rules the rest of us have agreed to live by, and at what point, (if any), do we just distance ourselves from them entirely?

Rules generally but not always, exist because extensive experience has shown that if followed, the overall result for the majority of people will be a positive one. So in the case of the workplace, if the rules state that a woman’s skirt can be too short, flip-flops are banned, or hair has to be tied back or worn in a net, they would be based on a desired corporate image or safety and health issues. Being a rule buster and wearing your long hair while working with machinery would be an infraction that might not only cost you your job, but your very life at the worst, or severe injury at the best. So why is it then that some people will know the job requirements prior to employment or at their orientation, sign-on and accept those conditions and then later rebel and say they only want to assert their independence and freedom of choice and buck the rules? That’s a head scratcher.

Take the guy whose fly is undone. Wouldn’t you assume that’s a clothing malfunction and if you told the person they would quickly zip it up and maybe be slightly embarrassed but be oh so grateful that they didn’t walk around the entire day like that? That’s a safe bet. However take the woman whose showing a lot of cleavage. Is it equally obvious that if you tell her that she’s exposing too much that she’ll quickly button her top further up or cover up in some way? It’s a little trickier. You might be afraid she’d ask why you were looking in the first place. But would you get asked by the guy why you were looking at his crotch in the first place? Doubtful.

Whatever the rules pertaining to clothing are where you work, there is a definite reason behind those rules which have been brought about because they are in the general interest of everyone, but especially the company. Maybe the company wants all their employees to be easily recognized as in the case where uniforms are worn. Or perhaps a name tag signifies an employee but the dress code is more casual such as at a restaurant where staff have to wear black tops and bottoms but they get to wear pants or skirts, t-shirts or blouses as they wish. You might even find more restrictive rules such as steel-toed boots, hard hats and protective goggles are mandatory.

One way to get along on the job is to choose not to be controversial and wear the clothing that the employer has required or requested without challenging things and finding out what you can get away with. If you were asked to wear something you aren’t comfortable with, such as a skimpy dress and low-cut top say in a bar, you’ve got to then take a position and speak to the Management about it in a professional way and if you can’t get them to change, you might make the decision to walk away from the job itself in order to protect your dignity and not put yourself in a situation you aren’t comfortable with. It just wouldn’t be worth it to many people.

A good idea here if you have some issue with an existing dress code, is to ask to speak openly to your Supervisor, HR, Union Steward or Management itself and ask in a non-confrontational way why the rules are what they are and present an alternative that might be acceptable. In an organization I worked in many years ago, the rules for women were that pantyhose were mandatory at all times for the women. Many grumbled, and eventually one person brought it up privately with the Executive Director. The rule was relaxed because it wasn’t really based on anything except the Executive Director’s personal preference and many of the women were very grateful for the change. Not only was it brought up, but how it was presented was respectful and didn’t put anyone in a position where they would be cornered and attacked.

So what do you think?

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