Gini Dietrich

#DressLikeAWoman: It’s Time to Abolish Gender-based Dress Codes

By: Gini Dietrich | May 2, 2017 | 

#DressLikeAWoman: It’s Time to Abolish Gender-based Dress CodesIn two weeks and two days, I embark on a four day, 400 mile bike ride across Wisconsin.

To say it’s occupying every spare thought in my brain is putting it mildly.

In preparation, last week alone, I rode 15 hours and 11 minutes.

This means I spend A LOT (a lot) of time in my cycling clothes.

Even when I’m presenting The Content Secret to Closing More Clients bootcamp, only the top of me is professionally dressed.

The bottom?

Well, see the photo above.

I’m very fond of padded shorts and leggings.

It’s one advantage to working from home!

That’s why, when I saw #DressLikeAWoman after he who shall not be named said women should dress like women, I got all riled up.


One would think, in 2017, we wouldn’t be talking about women’s professional appearances.

And yet…

#DressLikeAWoman took off and women posted photos of themselves in their everyday professional attire—most of which didn’t involve sleeveless day dresses and four-inch heels

Not every woman works in an office.

And even those who do are often freezing cold from the thermostat set at a level that keeps only the suited man in the corner office at a comfortable temperature.

Further, some of us live in dresses while others have a closet full of pants.

We all have different personal style…and that’s a good thing!

Women’s Professional Attire a Double-Edged Sword

Women around the globe are being sent home from work for not dressing in a feminine enough manner on the one hand.

Or being told they can’t wear a headscarf.

At the same time, they’re also being criticized by men who claim to be distracted by their feminine attire.

Or other women who feel they are using their looks to get ahead.

We expect women to be fashionable, yet we criticize business women for being too interested in fashion.

We can’t win!

As a woman, if you dress attractively, and a colleague or a client sexually harasses you, you’re often told you should be flattered.

Or you’re told it was your fault for not dressing more conservatively.

If you adopt a more masculine or gender-neutral appearance, you’re often told you come across as being intimidating or aggressive.

Then you’re encouraged to dress and behave more femininely.

Whichever choice you make is potentially the wrong one.

Not to mention the recent research about the detrimental health effects wearing high heels have on women in the workplace.

(Plus, Tieks are the most comfortable and stylish flats around, so why would you wear heels?)

Note that, although the article about Trump’s workplace dress code says that male staffers are also held to high standards, that doesn’t seem to be true across the board.

It’s Time to Abolish Gender-based Dress Codes

There’s an easy way to stop this debate once and for all: #DressLikeAWoman and ditch the gender-specific dress codes.

Instead of having a subjective laundry-list of all the things that are inappropriate to wear in your office, start with the assumption that you’ve hired smart, professional people.

Next, be honest about the work environment.

Are all of your employees public-facing?

If many are working behind-the-scenes, consider having a dress code that reflects that.

Requiring a sales rep, a customer success manager, and an IT technician to adhere to the same dress code doesn’t always make sense.

Instead of having a rigid dress code, consider having a more general policy that is based upon the job the person is doing and its location, not the gender of the employee.

Reconsider the Event Clone Wardrobe

A colleague was drafted to help with her firm’s annual client conference.

She was assigned a role on the trade show floor, providing clients with social media coaching and assistance.

She was also told she had to wear the event button-up shirt with a pair of khaki chinos.

Note that her employer didn’t supply the khakis.

They just assumed everyone had a pair.

My colleague has a closet full of dresses and skirts, almost all with some black in them.

The last thing she’d ever purchase is a pair of khaki trousers.

Yet she was told that she had to do so, no exceptions allowed.

She bought the pants for the event, and donated them to Goodwill afterwards.

But this tussle over her clothes left a long-term negative impression.

What’s funny here is, in a very basic way, the company was trying to have a gender-neutral dress code.

And that’s great!

Is it the Policy…or You?

But, if you are going to force employees to adhere to a rigid dress code for an event, you need to reimburse them for the clothing they have to go out and purchase for that event.

The better solution, however, is to come up with a piece of clothing you have all of your employees wear at the event that can be easily added as part of an outfit they already own.

If your workplace is casual, that could be a hoodie or a fleece vest.

Or more formal, you could supply company-branded sweaters.

If you are spending too much time worrying about and policing your company’s dress code, it’s time to step back and ask yourself why.

What is the real issue in your workplace that’s not being addressed?

Chances are, there’s something a lot more important going on than what women are wearing.

A version of this first appeared in the Huffington Post

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Julia Carcamo

    Hmmm….good one Gini! This one left me thinking. I used to work in a very casual khaki environment. I prefer dresses and (yes I know they’re bad for me) heels. I’m more comfortable that way. Yet, because I seemed “over-dressed” in this particular environment, I did receive many “helpful hints” from the women who were opting for the casual attire. Unfortunately, the comfort started to spiral a little out of control. You would like to assume you’ve hired people with good judgement, but sometimes you need to make some things non-options. Flip flops, for instance, are not proper work attire. Then again, I witnessed a group of men all with their feet up on the conference room table. Think people…this is not your living room. Today, I too work from home and opt for business on top and non-4″ heel-comfort below the camera line!

    • Oh my gosh! When we had an office, I had to ban flip flops. It made me batty to be in a meeting or on a conference call and hear flip flop flip flop past my office.

      Your comment about the feet on the table makes me think of KellyAnne Conway with her shoes off in the Oval Office. Oy.

  • Nancy Davis

    This sort of thing drives me crazy. I dress conservatively, because I am well endowed in the chest area. I don’t like people commenting on that, so I try to hide them. That is my choice. Not everyone needs to (or chooses to) dress like me. I had rigid dress codes when I worked in a law firm. Not every paralegal had to go to client offices, so those girls got to wear jeans. The company understood that not everyone had to dress the same way.

    Right now, in my city, women are being groped by an unknown man. This makes me even more upset because the women in question are out jogging. I walk alone and carry pepper spray. These people are out getting exercise, and this nonsense happens? It is because regardless of age, women are sexualized.

    • What?! I hadn’t heard about this. He’s just jumping out and groping them? Unbelievable.

      I have a friend who said his daughters were sent home with notes from school last week that said they can’t wear anything that shows their shoulders. Because, you guessed it, it doesn’t leave enough to a teenaged boy’s imagination.

      • Nancy Davis

        Yeah. I shared a post about it on my wall this morning. It infuriates me. To your other point, we all wore off the shoulder shirts in high school and never had this problem. Sigh. This is why we can’t have nice things.

        • We ALL wear tank tops. They’re certainly not appropriate for work, but for a high school in the middle of Florida? I would think that’s your only attire.

          • paulakiger

            Oh no – dress codes for girls in Florida are a thing. More later.

          • This makes my head hurt. I suppose we had dress codes in high school, but I don’t remember them being such a big deal.

  • Amy Bailey

    ok, I have to ask about tieks… I usually like an arch in my shoes. None of the photos show the inside of the show. What gives?

    Oh, yea, good column. Now back to the shoes…

  • Amy Bailey

    ok, I have to ask about tieks… I usually like an arch in my shoes. None of the photos show the inside of the shoe. What gives?

    Oh, yea, good column. Now back to the shoes…

    • BAHAHAHAHA! #priorities

    • I have really high arches from years of ballet so flats don’t typically work for me. But these are pretty nice shoes (I mean, at the price, they should be). What I like about them is the blue sole is about an inch of support. So, while there isn’t a traditional arch in the shoe, the sole makes up for it. They take about a week to get used to them and then you won’t want to wear anything else.

  • I was asked to change my leggings despite my top covering all the essential spots (I’m giving a show) – by a woman. I wore business clothes, semi-suits after that. Ironically, one of the executive directors (we managed associations) wore a super racy outfit the next day. Not sure if she was told to change or not since she was an ED. Note that I had spent half the night awake dealing with an out-of-date, beeping smoke alarm so needed something comfy that day.

    • The leggings conversation is a fascinating one to me. There are so many women who judge one another because of leggings. But I stand with you. As long as you have a shirt or sweater covering your butt, they’re fine.

      • It was more of a power move for her I think. They were lucky I don’t wear my riding breeches around 🙂

  • Uhhh, hold up! 400 miles in 4 days?!? You go girl! So many questions! Training. Fuel. Sleep.

    Can’t wait to hear about it! I’m sure you’ll be solving all sorts of world problems out there.

    • Well, we’ll see. I’m SUPER nervous about it. It has rained here every day since the end of March and it’s only in the 40s. So I’ve only had five outdoor rides this season so far. Of course, I’m riding on the trainer, but it’s not the same. So we’ll see.

  • Right behind this, the psychology of the work dress code is a mysterious thing. Firstly as you say women can’t win, any combination of attire puts them into a ‘catch 22’. And secondly, totally agree, why should everyone be subjected to the same dress code, when there are different working conditions? I really believe strict dress codes are an archaic thing, the most refreshing thing an office can do is give their people some autonomy, I bet there’s a study showing the benefits of this to work output as well!

    • I can certainly understand some guidelines because, well, people. But to say women have to wear dress suits, pantyhose, and closed toe shoes (which was the case when I worked for a large agency) is just dumb.