Our Casual Society Hates Dress Codes

The latest article circulating social media about women being being told that sleeveless clothing isn’t “proper attire” in the US Capitol has had many feminist jeering, saying it’s a way to “repress” women.  Really?  Congress is supposed to be a very conservative environment – regardless of whether one is Republican or Democrat – where I always expected people to be in full suits, whether they’re male or female.  And this isn’t just the politicians and their aides, but journalists as well.  Okay, maybe not full suits in the case of journalists, necessarily, but at least a few notches above “business casual.”  In other words, a man or woman might wear a button down shirt with non-denim pants (or knee-length skirt) with a jacket or sweater.  This is NOT a case of “slut-shaming” as many publications have interpreted.  To be quite honest, I’m actually surprised this sleeveless situation was never called out before.  It’s a case of being and looking professional, and on the Hill, being “professional” means wearing more conservative clothing.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s a dress code.

dress codes, being professional, professional clothing, business casual

Our society is now SO CASUAL – especially when it comes to clothing – that we believe that “anything goes” is the only right way.  Sorry, but that’s not always the case.  Not everyone works at Google or Facebook (where being casual reigns), or even the fashion industry, where being creative with your style is not only accepted, but pretty much required.  Wearing a full suit would probably look very odd in the social media world just as wearing heels at a construction site would.  Of course, it would be very dangerous to do so for the latter.  It saddens me that some men (including ones who aren’t all that young) can’t even tie a tie properly, simply because they never had to wear one.  *I* know how to tie a tie, thanks to years at uniformed school!  And I’m FEMALE!  Because the general view (i.e. not necessarily me) is that we HAVE to be casual, we criticize any kind of dress code that isn’t for safety reasons (except, perhaps yoga studios that do not allow shoes) and if it targets women/girls for any reason, it’s considered “slut shaming.”  It’s not.  It’s just that women’s clothing can appear too casual (e.g. sleeveless dresses – even suit dresses, when not worn with a cardigan or jacket).  Can you name ONE professional menswear outfit that is sleeveless (vests don’t count)?  I certainly can’t!  Guys’ professional outfits are what I outlined in the first paragraph.  A notch more casual would be a polo shirt, which probably wouldn’t be considered acceptable wear, save for a casual day.

Of course, sometimes dress codes don’t make much sense.  Traditional clubs often have a colour limit for racquet sports.  Many ban large logos and limit colour to 10% of one’s entire ensemble (hey, at least it isn’t like Diner en Blanc, where even your SHOES have to be white (at least the couple of times I’ve been.  You know how hard it is to find white shoes?)).  I follow these rules at the clubs I play at, of course, why would wearing, say, blue or green reflect badly on the club itself? It isn’t like working in finance or an old line law firm, where there is one traditional “look” – suits, suits and nothing but suits.  But even then, various colours are allowed.  If one can wear a blue, black or grey suit, why can’t one wear a green shirt for tennis?  Limiting colour isn’t the same as limiting an entire kind of look.  Besides, these clubs don’t have actual UNIFORMS (where colour limits, of course, make sense).

We, as a society, really need to stop and think.  Is it “slut shaming” EVERY TIME a woman/girl is criticized about what she’s wearing?  Well, it IS in many situations.  However, we must remember that it isn’t ALWAYS the case.  Is it “slut-shaming” if someone is asked to wear a shawl around her shoulders and arms in a conservative church?  I don’t think so.  What about criticizing someone (male or female) for wearing a bathing suit at the mall (actually, I’m not sure if malls will even allow that unless you’re trying something on are part of a fashion show)  There are appropriate times for certain outfits.  And I can’t help but wonder what would happen if a guy turned up wearing something sleeveless.


Image credit: Africa Studio/ShutterStock

Cynthia Cheng Mintz

Cynthia Cheng Mintz, previously known for her sites, DelectablyChic! (still "live" and still active on social media) and Shorty Stories, was born and raised in Toronto. In addition to writing, Cynthia enjoys cooking and is an avid supporter of the Canadian fashion industry. She is involved with various philanthropic projects, including music, arts, culture and mental health awareness.