I’m So Tired of Antiquated Patriarchal Workplace Dress Codes

We have an abiding love for the right to self-expression, whatever form that might take. Millennials are taking the judgmental edge off of tattoos but what about in the professional world where I would tentatively posit that there are some antiquated beliefs still entrenched? Why haven’t dress codes evolved with the times?

I have a somewhat biased view of the business casual mantra as I’ve gotten in trouble frequently for weighting the casual side of the phrase a bit too heavily. There was a certain too-casual tank that had a giraffe on it, that ultimately unleashed the dress code demon on the research lab that I worked in. My apologies to my fellow lab mates who endured that wrath with me. I am not an expert in materials and was not aware that it was on the black list. I thought I just needed to look “put together,” and didn’t know I needed a fashion degree to reach the acceptable togetherness.

Let’s take a quick look at the “reprehensible” professional styles of Millennials:


Maybe you’re in one of the lucky departments where nobody gives two shits regarding how many piercings (or tattoos, since those seem to get grouped in with the metal) you have. Tongue? Lips? Nose? Eyebrows? Belly button? Scandalous regions? Oh, and let’s not forget the lovely ears! Maybe I’m the only one who has this impression, but many people in the “professional” world seem to think that the location and the number of piercings we have indicate our delinquency status. I’m not allowed to wear more than, on average, three of my seven total piercings to my hospital rotations. What are they afraid is going to happen? That I’m going to scare the children and the elderly stroke patients will gasp in horror?


I am reasonably sure that denim is on the list of things that has been relegated to the unprofessional world. It’s blue, versatile, comfy, and forbidden. Even some of that nice colorful denim is forbidden because because apparently the material is just too sturdy for the confines of the office. Denim and heels! Denim and boots! Denim and flats! Denim is no longer a figment of the corn fields, so we’re just going to let it meander its fine self into the office.

Bare Legs

Cover your eyes innocent children! A foot of a lady’s uncovered leg is showing and you just can’t handle the heat! What is the point of nude colored hose? Or really any colored hose, but the nude color just happens to be the most baffling. As one of my dear tweeps (@wiredifferent) pointed out: “It is supposed to match your skin tone so as to be nearly imperceptible. So it is not the appearance of flesh but actual exposed flesh that is the issue at hand. And as hands, arms, other skin is exposed so it’s not the skin, but the legs under a skirt or dress… with the implication that there is nothing to hinder access to the lady parts but for the flip of a skirt if there is no hosiery.”

Allow me to be the practical one that points out that, for the very determined, some flimsy hosiery is not going to be much of a barrier. But, what it is a barrier to is when you need to make a quick dash to the bathroom and almost die because you can’t get down your tights fast enough. Or when you’re doing a presentation and can feel the crotch slowly sagging and pretty soon you’re walking like a penguin because the elastic is around your knees. Needless to say, I strongly feel that hosiery is an antiquated device of the patriarchy to belittle women. Perhaps we shall burn our hosiery in protest (but not talking about those sexy fishnet stockings because those are in a whole other class of their own).

I want to make it very clear that I’m not saying we should do away with professionalism altogether! Skirts still should not be ridiculously short, and men’s pants don’t need to be hanging around somewhere below their bums with boxers showing. But I do think professional dress codes are subjectively informed by an individual that is unwilling to allow their employees/students/interns to look different from each other. My wearing dark lipstick or dyeing my hair will not offend anyone—it’s merely a mild expression of myself. The concept that people with facial piercings are less intelligent or untrustworthy is an absurd societal construct that is simply not true. Tattoos do not a crook make. The panty hose regime is delusional if they think that the flimsy fabric is hiding or preventing anything.

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green saguaro cactus on brown field

Millennials are entirely capable of being professional in appearance, demeanor, and intelligence. But the dress code police need to catch up with the times! Let our vast capabilities in the job setting speak for themselves—in the end, it’s the only thing that matters. Stay uniquely fashionable darlings.

But if you have to dress for The MAn, at least shop smartly, scour for the best deals and always checks for promos like Kohl’s coupons so you’ll have more money to save for the fun things. 


View Comments (2)
  • I will fight (the collective) you on hosiery. I don’t think anyone should be required to wear it, but it’s not just some archaic fear of legs that makes it a fashion staple–a good pair of hose has its uses. When you’re walking to work in the sauna that is Washington D.C. (or even Chicago) in the summer and wearing a pencil skirt, those flimsy bits of fabric are the only thing that will save your thighs from chub rub. (Though, seriously, the difference in quality between good hose and cheap hose is astronomical and if you’re going to wear them a lot, you really should buy the good ones). Also, as a practical matter, i’m not sure how women manage to wear skirt suits without hose. My skirt always ends up rotating 90 degrees around my waist unless I have hose to help keep it in place (not to mention the shaping benefits to keep everything tucked where it needs to be).

  • The photo at the end? I die.

    I struggle with this too. I have to cover my visible tattoos at work and I receive more comments when I’m covered vs. when I forget and they hang out bare for a shift or two. It’s frustrating. Tattoos aren’t for the rabble-rousers anymore. They’re for everyone and their grandma.

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