Devil with a Sundress

Knowing what to wear at work can be confusing at times, but I like these ladies’ style. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

Dress codes are like butt cracks. Everyone has one, but the jury is still out on whether employees should be subjected to them. Personally, I cannot decide which I find more annoying, and if I were in any position of real power, I’d have a hard time resolving these conflicting sources of dread. Make all employees wear high-waist pants to cover their butt cracks, the angel on one shoulder would whisper. Oh really? the devil on my other shoulder would say. Sounds a dress code to me. I thought you hated dress codes.

If you work from home, consider yourself lucky. You wear what you want, and you never have to face the dilemma of whether to stare or to avert your eyes when that voluptuous girl from marketing bends over at the water cooler and reveals three inches of fleshy backside, complete with thong. Maybe four inches, not that you’re actually measuring. Or, consider yourself unlucky. Like I said, the jury is still out.

While I have my own personal code of dress that extends beyond the office and above my midriff, I dislike formal dress codes simply because they make no sense to me. There are a few exceptions. Construction workers must wear hard hats and steel toe boots for their safety. I see the merit in that one. Astronauts need space suits to breathe, and actors at haunted houses should be required to look spooky. I get it.

I have no complaints about uniforms, either. At least they take the guesswork out of dressing in the morning. What really confounds me is the murky category of dress commonly referred to as business casual. It’s that purgatory somewhere between pinstriped suits and overalls. Does a cubicle-dwelling customer service rep answer phone calls more efficiently in khakis than in jeans? My practical side wants to know that there is a valid reason for the seemingly random clothing restrictions employers impose on their minions. The common argument is that professional clothing helps maintain a professional demeanor, and I agree that in the first few weeks at a new job, one can feel pretty sharp in his or her newly-purchased career wear. After the newness of the job and the clothes wears off, though, those clothes lose their power to fool anyone.

I have to wonder if the people who create dress codes are pulling random articles of clothing out of hats or actually messing with us. Just ask my summer dresses. For years, these sleeveless beauties enjoyed frequent wear, as they were cool alternatives to pants on 90 degree days when I was not allowed to wear even the dressiest (whatever that means) of capris. Paired with sandals, these dresses were cuter than my humble cubicle deserved. Then, I changed jobs.

I was delighted to learn that my new employer allowed jeans. Better yet, I could wear capris and flip-flops in the summer. Yes, flip-flops. It doesn’t get more casual than that. However, all those cute dresses from the prior summer were forbidden at my new office because they were sleeveless. Plain tee shirts were fine; sleeveless blouses with collars were not. In a world where flip-flops are acceptable but bare shoulders are taboo, it is easy for an employee who has no face-to-face interaction with customers to feel a little discombobulated, especially when her boss fails to address employees’ ever-falling waistbands.

If you’re still not convinced, go talk to my pants. Like most women thirty years my senior, I prefer the waist of my pants to sit at my waist, not below my hip bones. I hope never to be mistaken for a plumber while squatting at the lower drawer of a file cabinet, and I wish my coworkers would take the same precautions.

I dream of an office free of cleavage and strong perfume. I want everyone to retire all items of clothing that have cigarette burns or that have become pilfered from thousands of machine washings. See how crazy I sound? If I were in charge of establishing a dress code, employees would probably find it even more absurd than all others, so why stop there? Instead of neckties, all men would have to wear one shimmery glove like the King of Pop. Women would wear tiaras and candy necklaces. I could have some real fun.

I’d sit back and laugh and laugh, while I waited for my tailor to deliver my new jacket with the special, extra-long sleeves that tie at the back.

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