Paper of Record Claims Dress Codes Have Been Deep-Sixed

Blogger skeptical

The Office

Suddenly it’s summer! Which means it’s too hot to wear much of anything, except to work, because the bylaws of white-collar employment apparently stipulate that every office must keep temperatures at an tremor-inducing 58 degrees. To make sartorial matters more complicated, according to the New York Times, more and more companies these days are replacing dress codes with the shrug emoji ¯_(ツ)_/¯.

The slippery slope may have started as a gentle incline way back in the 1970s, and become a bit steeper during the Casual Friday movement of the 1990s and the success of the Facebook I.P.O. in 2012 with its hoodie-wearing billionaires. But today, we are speeding down it at breakneck pace, partly thanks to the hot-button conversation around gender equality, and fluidity.

“There has been a dramatic change very recently,” said Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University and founder of the Fashion Law Institute.

She noted that last December the New York City Commission on Human Rights announced new guidelines for the municipal human rights law that expressly prohibited “enforcing dress codes, uniforms, and grooming standards that impose different requirements based on sex or gender.”

As a result, no employer may require men to wear ties unless they also require women to wear ties, or ask that heels be worn unless both sexes have to wear them. And though this applies only to “official” dress codes, the trickle-down effect is inevitable.

I am delighted by but also skeptical of this Trend Piece. “‘Dress is now open to the interpretation of the individual, rather than an institution,’ Professor Scafidi said.” Really?? I mean, yes, these are positive developments, and I would believe you if you told me that at Google no one gives a gigabyte what you wear so long as you do a good job; but what about more conservative regions like the Midwest and the South, and what about in more traditional professions? My mother has been a DC lawyer for over thirty years and she still wears exactly the same kind of thing to work now as she did when I was a kid: jewelry, make up, a skirt suit with stockings and heels. Even in the summer, she would be shocked if I suggested she go bare legged.

What about the younger generation? One thirty-something woman I spoke to who works in finance in Midtown told me that, in her Fortune 100 office, “client-facing roles wear suits,” as do “the most senior people,” but that overall “everyone wears jeans on Friday.” Also, “women now wear more blazers than suits. And I’ve noticed a lot of women wearing slightly more formal leggings.”

Slightly more formal leggings! You’ve come a long way, baby.

At one office I worked in, the CEO did not care for either heels or make up; I famously had to lend her my shoes one afternoon because she had forgotten she had a meeting with donors and had worn hiking sandals the color of Play Doh. The board members — almost all of them older women — chided her constantly over her appearance. And you would have caught them in a Popeyes before you’d catch them not wearing stockings on a weekday. (The stockings thing is real. My grandma, now 103, even used to wear them under her jeans, and for all I know she still does. I think for a long time she felt vaguely guilty about wearing pants, because even as a housewife she felt she had a dress code, so that was how she atoned.)

On the whole I have the feeling that the working world is not changing as quickly as the New York Times seems to believe. But maybe I’m wrong. I reached out to the perfect Jazmine Hughes, who actually works at the New York Times Magazine, and here is what she said:

Dress codes are INDEED passe! When I started, I thought I’d have to rob an Ann Taylor Loft in order to look Times-ian. And I did go to ATL — and pay money! — so it’s been a light overall upgrade to my wardrobe, but I don’t dress like a Cool Young Magazine Editor in a Movie. Today I am wearing a t-shirt, a pizza and beer necklace, and jeans, because I have my period and it’s what got me here today.

Important caveat: I work on 6! At the Magazine, which is way more lax than other desks. But the dudes generally wear nice jeans/slacks and a button down. Some ladies wear skirts and heels, some ladies wear jeans and tees. The best dressed person at the NYT is probably Dean Baquet and I’ll never look better than him so why even bother??

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