Photo by Salt Water New England

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Reader question: Where and how should there be dress codes?

Photo by Salt Water New England
A question for the community:
I like to think of myself as a fairly laid back millennial, left leaning and open to people expressing themselves.  But when it comes to air travel I find myself sounding more like someone's grandmother.   Is it just me or are people dressing and behaving worse than ever? 
Which brings me to my question - what do people think about dress codes?   Does dressing with more care make people behave with more care?  Is this why some clubs and professions still have more specific dress codes? 
Where and how should they be used? 

58 comments:

  1. I think it should be up to the airline to set a dress code. Seems unlikely to happen. The same should apply to restaurants, concert halls etc.

    It seems unlikely that any kind of restrictions would help increase business.

    David J. Cooper

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  2. Private clubs or associations, fine. For the general public, who decides and what standards? Are ethnic fashions and religious garb 'allowed'? Probably end up in court....

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  3. I am a frequent flyer and do about 25 to 30 flights per annum. Of those about 22 to 24 are long haul. My view is that the inside of an aircraft cabin is simply a microcosm of life itself. If one's personal behavior and manner of dressing in the plane are below standard they are no doubt the same way outside the cabin. In economy it is not comfortable. But one can still be smart and presentable without overdressing. If one presents oneself 'presentably' one will be received as such. It is worth remembering - one receives the amount of respect one Commands. No more, and no less. Dress and personal appearance included.

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    1. Also a frequent flyer and I agree. The slob show is wearying to look at. But on the other hand, dressing as business casual makes one look much better and one gets somewhat better service, or at least the benefit of the doubt by the staff. This can be helpful when travel plans go awry.

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  4. The casualization of America is about the decline of civility. The dapper tend to be uplifting and engaged, while the sloppy tend to be less respectful, less caring, less interested and less interesting.

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    1. Agreed. The above commenter would likely agree; the “casualization of America” has corollated to its infantilization. People used to dress like their parents. Now they dress like their children.

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    2. Not to mention the “dumbing down “ of too many Americans. My daughters are frequent flyers and board airplanes in what might be described as SWNE approved attire. They are polite as well. As a result, they are frequently upgraded by the staff. Not that one should dress in a certain way just to hopefully get upgraded, but it is a perk at times.

      MaryAnne

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    3. Yes, exactly. I agree wholeheartedly!

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  5. Dressing with more care produces various reactions, depending upon the locale. A gent can walk without a care, when properly attired, into any hotel on the Grand Canal. He might sit in the lobby reading the newspaper for twenty minutes or a half an hour. He will observe others, clad in jeans/dungarees and sneakers, immediately greeted upon entry by staff wondering, “can
    we help you?”

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  6. Steve Job's uniform: jeans, sneakers and a black, long sleeve cotton T shirt.

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    1. Some of us can see through that Silicone Valley dress code. It's saying "I might be a member of the global capitalist class, but hey, I'm wearing jeans and trainers just like you. I'm you're friend, now buy my products".

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    2. Well said, Mad Dog.

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    3. I would say this is a brilliant observation, but I have believed this for some time. OK! It is a brilliant observation.

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    4. And Jobs was famously boorish.

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    5. And that became the corporate uniform at Apple HQ. At presentations, all the senior execs (including Sir Jonny Ives) wore it. All the Apple store staff have to wear the same boring t-shirts with their jeans. You would have thought that Jobs and his team could have come up with something more original. It's another classic example of the dictatorship of the bland.

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    6. Additional irony: Apple sells itself as the champion of the individualist, the non-conformist, etc.

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  7. The idea of dressing appropriately for the setting and occasion must be inculcated in children while young, and it must be carefully explained that the way you present yourself is how people will think of you upon first impression. Vast strides could be made if ALL schools, public, private and parochial, began enforcing "business casual" as the standard. Given schools are supposed to be producing employable citizens, part of the education for such should be dress. There is no place for grunge, slop, offensiveness, or sexual provocation in either a proper learning environment or any respectable workplace. The Daisy Dukes, painted-on leggings, crop-tops, gangsta droop and giant logo wear should be BANNED. And I really don't care WHAT they do in Silicon Valley. Schools should be places where we set societal standards, not play-pens for anything-goes NUTS in the name of "creativity." Fly your freak flag on your own time.

    Also--if ADULTS would stop wearing sloppy, grungy, slutty and ugly styles, maybe the kids would have a better example.

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    1. Bravo! I agree one hundred percent!

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    2. What do you mean by “slutty”?

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    3. What do you mean by “slutty”?

      I would imagine the poster is referring to the Kardashians, Jenners and Hiltons of this world.

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    4. If anyone doesn’t know what is meant
      by “slutty” clothing it just shows
      how much standards of propriety have
      degenerated.

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    5. Agree! It starts in the home by example and reinforced in public places by example and enforcement.

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    6. Clothing which leaves nothing to the imagination

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    7. Clothing designed to automatically call as much attention as possible to the wearer's primary or secondary reproductive anatomy. IOW, provoke arousal.

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  8. Maybe I'm too much of a millennial, but in my opinion, clothes are secondary to manners. If a person dresses casually but says "please" and "thank you" and holds the door open for others (male or female), they are likely to be of good character. And that's what matters most.

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    1. Steve Jobs' casual uniform was clean, pressed and fit properly. He didn't advertise his company on his clothes and there wasn't any offensive displays. I don't think it is as much a question of "casual" as a question of lack of taste and effort. If you look like a sloppy mess people tend to think you are a sloppy mess. Unfortunately, most people don't make the effort to find out if a sloppy mess has good manners or good character.

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    2. I would expect a billionaire CEO to wear quality clothes. The Apple store staff, however, must wear Apple branded t-shirts and they tend to look a sloppy mess in them. It would be just as easy for the company to order collared shirts or polo shirts with the Apple logo on the chest. IMO t-shirts are for the pool and the beach only.

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  9. The real question is, when do they need to be written down?

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  10. I wish there were dress codes everywhere.

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  11. I've long given up on a dress code in public that isn't offensive, I would be grateful if people spent a bit more time on personal hygiene. Take a shower, wash your hair, wear deodorant, and wash your clothes!

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  12. I agree generally with all said here about the benefits of appropriate dress to self and society. I find I am treated respectfully aboard airplanes initially because of my attire, and then for my attitude. Same goes for my business and our employees. Keep it simple, keep it smart. I've yet to encounter a habitual violator of "dress code" and as such we don't have a written one.

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  13. People DO judge you by your appearance. Unfair or not, they do. Why not get on most people's better sides by dressing professionally -- not wearing sneakers, jeans, leggings, tank tops and other casual clothes to work. Casual clothes have their place but the office is not one of them. And if you don't like your children wearing grungy clothes, send them to private schools where uniforms are mandatory.

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    1. This was the key insight of John Molloy and others. People who do dress professionally will have a long term career advantage over those who do not.

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  14. I find the people in first class tend to dress more better for the most part, these people are most likely heading to business appointment upon arrival to there destination. The other part of plane well, they all grew up in a barn in Lazytown! I'm so tired of hoodies, sweatpants, pajama style pants earbuds and smartphones and crying babies and people who bring sandwiches with onions on them! Total cattle car at times!

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    1. People in first class will be more comfortable dressing up in first class because their seats are larger, the leg room is more, and you can be reasonably certain that you'll arrive looking more or less the same way you looked when you left, and that your clothes will not restrict your movement in your seat. Not so in the newly-shrunken seats in economy, or, as you would call it, "the other parts of the plane." While I'm with you on the sandwiches with onions on them, I always find people who complain about crying babies to be really lacking in basic grace. It's not the babies' fault, and until you've been a mother trying to comfort a child on a plane to keep it from offending the other passengers with its natural functions, you're not really the one to comment. I always hope mothers with crying babies sit near me. I won't shame them, and I'll happily weigh in if anyone does.

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    2. Unfortunately, I find just as many flights where the first class section is equally to blame. A well-fitting suit is very comfortable, and an OCBD tucked into some khakis feels no different than a t-shirt and jeans, so I've always been flummoxed at the need to resort immediately to pajamas for comfort. On an overnight international flight to Europe, ok, perhaps it's a little much to expect people to sleep in their suit as was done in the old days, but there's got to be some common ground short of going straight for the velour pajamas and Uggs.

      Ultimately in an airplane or any public conveyance, you're in a cramped environment with a bunch of random people. I require myself to adhere to a jacket-at-minimum policy on a plane or train - it's hardly asking much of myself, and it's about showing respect for others that have to spend hours squeezed much closer to me than they would otherwise want to.

      Elsewhere in life, I suppose it's more situational. As a city dweller, I probably spend a lot of time doing things that seem incongruous with being well dressed - taking the bus a lot, going to slightly dodgy parts of town for a great restaurant, so I freely admit awareness of times when being a formal is a burden. Strolling into a working class pub (the best kind of pub, of course) looking like a toff isn't helpful, but on the other hand it sure is easier, if dressed well, to saunter into a downtown hotel to avail yourself of the facilities.

      While I'm toward the live-and-let-live end of the spectrum in general, I do think it's a bit ridiculous that otherwise polite people, who happily mind countless folkways in everyday life, can become petulant over a small dress code, and that a restaurant must revisit a coat policy, lest they drive themselves out of business. This cuts through all age groups.

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  15. It is absolutely true that people DO judge you by your appearance, and I definitely agree that a sloppy appearance is usually evidence of a sloppy mind. How do you take someone who's pants are down at their knees and their underwear showing seriously?

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  16. We are all preaching to the choir here. Be shaved, showered & barbered up. Coat & tie is standard Battle Dress Uniform for grownups. Enough said.

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  17. I learned early on the connection between how one dresses and how one is perceived and/or treated. While at university a friend and I popped into a shop after a workout in order to order an anniversary gift for her parents. We were watched intently by the staff, yet not waited upon. Several days later we were out and about again, this time dressed in our traditional clothing for class, when we retrieved the gift. Upon arrival this time we were immediately greeted and received wonderful service. The disparity between the two experience, in the same shop and occurring only days apart, stood out as a lesson in how one presents oneself.

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  18. Yes, we need dress codes ... some individuals dress awful on purpose to flaunt their cavalier attitude, while others simply are clueless about the facts of proper clothing.

    Once upon a time the average person took pride in their appearance, and tried to look as good and clean as possible. I keep hoping that people will start dressing like those seen in the Alfred Hitchcock films of the 1950s. And I'm not just talking about movie stars. Ordinary folks back then would be considered fashion plates today. Fedoras, suits or coats and ties, trousers, leather tie shoes, and dresses for the ladies -- no sneakers, baseball caps, sweatpants, polyester, blatant athletic wear, jeans, tank-tops, shorts (except on the tennis court or beach) or other sloppy, logo driven attire anywhere.

    One can only hope for a renaissance -- but that's up to the coming generation.

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    1. Come sit by me, Robert.

      Jacqueline

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  19. The question posed is 'Where and how should dress codes be used?"

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  20. “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

    ― Mark Twain

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  21. I can put up with a lot, and ignore a lot. I try to accept people as they are and recognize most individuals are facing far greater daily challenges than how to dress for a flight.

    But seriously, walking through the airport in your pajamas and slippers carrying a blanket and pillow--crimony!

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    1. This is the most perfect comment on this thread.

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  22. I agree with the sentiments indicating how the manner of dress in public has deteriorated. I believe it might indicate both laziness and selfishness to disregard and not care how others might see you. Among the worse trends are the jeans with the frayed holes in them which are currently the fad, many of which are sold for insane prices. Coming from a family with background in the clothing industry, I was taught to always look your appropriate best which is what I try to do. When traveling, I typically wear comfortable, but stylish shirts and slacks - like a dress shirt and khakis. In church I always wear a jacket and tie or suit and tie, which I believe shows respect for where you are, while so many others dress casually. Sadly, every day all around me I see mostly the sloppy dress that folks above have referred to. Again, it seems people just don't take pride in their appearance anymore.

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  23. In the high school I taught the dress code was so minimalistic. I caught neck for coat and the every day, even spirit day, I only wore a school's colors tie.

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  24. Would everyone please tell their daughters that yoga pants should only be worn whil actual in the process of exercising!

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    1. The three biggest lies (revised):

      1. The check’s in the mail;
      2. I’ll respect you in the morning;
      3. Leggings are slimming.

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    2. I completely agree! I would also like to add in leggings. Leggings are not pants and should not be worn as such.

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  25. Left without a standard, most people will opt for the lowest legal level when it comes to apparel. As a veteran of the software industry, I've seen just about every interpretation of "business casual" with exception (so far) of seeing someone show up wearing a barrel and suspenders! My own style is rare for ties, but always button-downs, casual pants, adding a jacket for key gatherings. I am gratified that my general manager does not wear shorts, sandals or tank tops to the office. As for tanks, those should be banned from wear on public/shared transit.

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  26. For at least several decades, I have belonged to two private clubs that I believe would be regarded as "prestigious" by most people.

    When I first joined, strict dress codes were in place, though they were baredly needed. A gentleman would not be in the lobby, main rooms, or dining rooms without a coat and tie. As the years have passed, there has been a steady devolution to what is now referred to as business casual.

    Both of my clubs have reciprocal privileges at many similar clubs across the country, and I have visited many of these clubs over the years. This reaxed standard seems to be prevalent at all of them.

    I have been told that the clubs have done this in order to survive. It seems that the younger adults have little interest in these clubs, and that they would not tolerate a dress code that they consider formal or pretentious.

    It seems that as the old guard dies off, the torch is not being passed.

    I'm sure that many Saltwater readers have more experience with this than do I. I would be interested in what others have to say on this topic.

    Is this business casual just a reflection of society at large?

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  27. These are all great responses. I would also love to see the general public care more about their appearance. I recently remarked to my mother, wouldn't it be something to have all the advances of today, yet the dress and manners of yesteryear? It seems that for all we have gained, there is much we have given up.

    As for the original question - I am in favor of dress codes, and they should be decided by business establishments, schools, etc. I do feel that people who dress well take more care, and are treated with more care, than slovenly people. Private schools have dress codes for multiple reasons, one of which is to teach proper dress. However, looking presentable needs to be taught in the home, first and foremost.

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    1. Dress codes in schools, for example, are a very important “equalizer.” They level the playing field and make it more difficult for students to attract attention by flaunting family wealth. They minimize distraction. Private schools with dress codes, in a way, provide discreet opportunity for students from more modest (financial) background to confidently assert their intellectual capacity.

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    2. Yes, you are correct. I had written more about the level playing field and minimizing distractions, but decided to omit. I agree wholeheartedly.

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  28. I work in a public school system in what would be considered a well-off part of New England. What I have observed is that the students up to grade 5 are being dressed by their parents, and come across fine. Once they hit middle school, it turns into every-man-for-himself. Jeans are considered dress up for the students. They wear pajamas or sweatpants, and most wear either shearling scuff slippers or Adidas shower slide shoes. I wish I were joking. For tops, it is mostly t-shirts or cropped sweatshirts. The administration does nothing because I think they are just happy to have them in the building.
    But at this we’ll-to-do district, there are constant fights, police are called in consistently, kids are removed from classrooms for misbehaving. I can’t help feel that even a modest dress code could remedy some of this. As someone said earlier, dress codes level the playing field. And I believe that to be so, whether you are a student or a professional.

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  29. Indeed, the standard has changed, more aptly, lowered. I worked, not so long ago, in an office that required formal dress, as we regularly meet with Members of Congress. This meant suits and ties for gentlemen and skirt suits for ladies. On Fridays, the code was relaxed just a bit – blazers or sport coats for men and women or pants suits for ladies. We had a new hire who obviously wasn’t accustomed to our office formality. He once showed up to an inner office meeting sans jacket, shirtsleeves rolled up, forearms exposed and his tie loosened and top button on his shirt undone. While the gasp from the rest of the staff wasn’t audible, the looks were telling. He learned quickly as we never saw his forearms with rolled up sleeves again or his tie loosened again. Only occasionally did he step out of his office without wearing a jacket.

    Personally, I miss the days of formal dressing for a number of reasons. Formal dressing certainly made my morning routine simpler. Figuring to what to wear was simple – just pick a suit and go. Additionally, it certainly seemed to me that while well attired, one was accorded better treatment.

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