Archive for Thursday, September 9, 2004

Employers, schools toughen dress codes

September 9, 2004

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— It's the latest trend in fall fashion: Workers and students who dress down or show too much skin are being told to button up.

Tired of staff members who they see as pushing the limits of professionalism and good taste, a growing number of employers are issuing lengthy dress codes, some with photos to illustrate the dos and don'ts. More schools also are getting stricter about student attire.

M.J. Dean, who's starting his senior year today at the private Cape Cod Academy in Osterville, Mass., discovered new rules at his school when he received the updated student handbook this summer. Among the new guidelines: no pants with side pockets, including popular cargo pants, or T-shirts with writing on them -- and "no tight or excessively loose clothing."

"This very strict new dress code is, quite honestly, ridiculous," said the 17-year-old student body vice president. "You can't really represent yourself the way you'd like."

Likewise, some employees think they should be trusted to use good judgment about their clothes. Joe D'Adamo, associate creative director at Chicago ad agency LKH&S, usually wears jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers to work, and dresses up when he sees clients.

He said a specific dress code would be "irritating" -- but that hasn't stopped some employers.

Effective this week, Target Corp. has a new, 20-page dress code for employees at its Minneapolis headquarters. Men must now wear a sport coat or tie if they leave their usual work area. Women are required to wear a jacket over any sleeveless blouse.

Grooming tips

The staff at G.S. Schwartz & Co., a New York investor and public relations firm, also received a recent e-mail memo asking them to bump up their apparel choices "at least one more notch."

Cape Cod Academy senior M.J. Dean is photographed in front of the
school's sign in Osterville, Mass. The T-shirt and cargo pants he
wears are now no longer allowed under the school's new dress code.

Cape Cod Academy senior M.J. Dean is photographed in front of the school's sign in Osterville, Mass. The T-shirt and cargo pants he wears are now no longer allowed under the school's new dress code.

"For example," the memo read, "we would prefer that properly fitting sweaters be worn with a collared shirt underneath. Certainly, khakis should be neat and clean ...

"Shaving regularly also is a good idea," the memo suggested, "for either sex."

Rachel Honig Peters, a senior vice president at the company, said the e-mail was sent after company officials noticed their clients dressing up more.

Elsewhere, business owners in the service industry say customer complaints are driving them to put tougher dress codes in place.

That was the case for Erika Mangrum, owner of the Iatria Spa and Health Center in Raleigh, N.C. She recalled sending one employee home to change after she came to work wearing a cropped Playboy T-shirt that showed her stomach.

"This is really tough stuff," said Mangrum, who understands how frustrating dress codes can be for employees. Mangrum herself once got in trouble, more than a decade ago, for not wearing panty hose when she worked at a major telecommunications firm.

No choice

Now, she's had to institute a dress code at her own company -- "no shorts, no denim, no flip-flops." And she's wondering if she should add rules about piercings.

"How far can and should a company go? We're wrestling with that," Mangrum said. "And frankly, we don't have an answer."

In the end, Thomas Evans, headmaster at Cape Cod Academy, said he'd rather not have to police student attire. But he said administrators at the K-12 school had little choice after parents of younger students complained about some older students' clothing.

And even Dean, the student body vice president at Cape Cod, acknowledged that a few students at his school dressed inappropriately last year -- "skankily," he said, "if that's a word."

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