June 9, 2008 — -- To hose or not to hose, that is the question. As the temperature rises, the workplace debate heats up for women.
Not so long ago, pantyhose were marketed to women as a symbol of professionalism and liberation, and were considered part of the workplace dress code.
But women entering the work force today don't even remotely feel that way.
While most businesses don't require women to wear pantyhose to work, Mid American Credit Union in Wichita, Kan., does, even in brutal summer heat.
"My own professional view is, I grew up with women wearing pantyhose, and I just think they look great in them," said Jim Holt, the company's 58-year-old president.
Many of the women employees at Mid American don't necessarily agree with their boss's edict.
"I think it should be a preference," said Kiley Severns.
Another employee, Dana Corbin, said, "To me, they itch."
Sales of pantyhose have dropped every year since the mid-'90s, which is when companies began loosening their dress codes. And between better tanning products and the "Sex and the City" effect -- sexy shoes, hold the hose -- women have been rolling them back.
An unofficial survey found that most large companies, including Coca-Cola, Microsoft and insurance giant AFLAC, do not require women to wear hosiery.
Women in New York also said that virtually no one they know wears pantyhose to work, and if they were required to, there might be an uprising.
"I think there would be a definite lash out by the women," said one New York woman.
Of course, some men do have to wear ties to work, but at Mid American, they aren't required.
"If men don't have to wear a tie, I don't think a woman should be required to wear pantyhose," Corbin said.
So when Kristen Spear joined Mid American about a year ago as the director of human resources, she heard the complaints right away from the younger generation. As a 28-year-old who never wore pantyhose herself, changing the policy became a priority for her.
"I called 17 local financial institutions and polled them to see if they required their women to wear hose, and 75 percent of them did not," Spear said.
Even this didn't persuade Holt. But then he wrote to the bible of the business world, The Wall Street Journal, to settle the controversy. Had dress codes really changed? Is it OK to forgo hose at the office?
According to the Journal, hosiery is now optional in the workplace. So change coming to Mid American.
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