Those Reviled Perfectly Legal Employee Dress Codes


But what about those time-warp-happy employers who ban their female staff from wearing pants? The directive to put on hose and a dress skirt every day may be hopelessly retro, but Adams said, it's legal.

While few and far between, Adams explained, "those sorts of dress codes have been challenged and upheld" in the U.S. court system. Trying to sue them away "would be a significant uphill battle," he added.

Still, that doesn't make oppressive dress codes right. Nor are they necessarily smart on the employer's part.

"It's a bigger question of employee retention and happiness," Adams said. "Are people going to make the choice of wanting to work there and wanting to stay there if they have that policy?"

Workplace expert Alexandra Levit agrees.

"For most employers, this level of micromanagement is going to come across a bit condescending and unnecessary," said Levit, who's host of JobSTART101, a free online course that prepares college students and recent grads for the workforce.

"If your employee is seated in a cubicle most of the day, does it really matter whether she is wearing a dark blazer or a colorful cardigan that allows her to express her individuality?" Levit explained. "A dress code should prevent employees from offending others with their attire, not turn them into automatons."

That said, defying the office dress code or bemoaning it to your manager obviously isn't the smartest move in today's job market. You may hate wearing the monkey suit, but there are legions of qualified workers waiting in the employment wings who will be all too happy to walk in your shoes, no matter how uncomfortable they are.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance writer and former cubicle dweller. Her books include My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. Follow her at @anti9to5guide.

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