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Dress Code Policies: The Hairy Dilemma

Posted on May 28, 2020


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ELGL is the proud host of CivicPride content. The mission of CivicPRIDE is to advance inclusive local government by empowering LGBTQIA+ leadership.It is a national association for local government professionals of all gender and sexual identities.

CivicPRIDE Board Member Taylor Reimann (LinkedIn) discusses workplace dress code policies and how confusing they can be for queer professionals.

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Who remembers their first day of internship? Bright eyed and bushy tailed, eager for the winding down of studies and the ramp up to a career! There’s just one thing, as someone who stocked grocery store shelves to get through school, I did not have the wardrobe to fit into my new office of well-established bureaucrats. At the time I was a senior in grad school with little time and less money, so I employed a trendy and sensible technique to solve this: thrift shopping. As I built my new closet over months, I soon came into a hairy dilemma. Literally.

My new professional ‘look’ emerged as a range of modern dapper to professional chic – with an emphasis on looking as androgynous as possible. I had seen many of my professional role models rock sleeveless blouses, and living in the Valley of the Sun made that a particularly appealing item to add to my wardrobe. Despite that I never bought one, and to this day I stay away from them even though I think they look smashing on me.

You see, I stopped shaving altogether in 2014 during a “No Shave November” and since liberating myself from that chore I’ve never turned back. It’s just not my thing, personally. I’ve heard many people get grossed out by my hairy armpits in particular, including my mother, but I refuse to sacrifice my comfort for anyone’s sensibilities, sorry mom.

The appeal for a sleeveless blouse didn’t go away though, the scorching Arizona sun made sure of that. So I decided to look into the employee dress code for clearer direction on the dos and don’ts of office attire. During the time I was interning at 2 different local municipalities. Here’s how their dress code policies read (cities are anonymous):

 

CITY A

During business hours, each employee is expected to wear appropriate clothing and maintain the standard of personal grooming as required by their position, blah, blah, blah… present a clean and neat appearance, keeping safety in mind when selecting their attire and wearing clothing in accordance with the requirements for the position and work environment.

Business Professional Attire (preferred, but not required)

Women

  • Dress Pants/Slacks
  • Dress Blouses/Sweaters
  • Jackets/Suits Sports
  • Dresses/Skirts

Men

  • Dress Pants/Slacks
  • Dress Shirts/Sweaters
  • Jackets/Suits/Blazers
  • Ties

Business casual attire

While business professional is the basis for City standards, the following are examples for appropriate business casual attire.

Women

  • Shirts and Blouses
  • Slacks/Dockers, Capri/Crop Pants and Gouchos
  • Polished shoes in good repair
  • Suits, Dresses, Skirts, and Skorts

Men

  • Dress Pants/Slacks/Dockers
  • Dress Shirts, Casual and Polo or other knit shirts with collars
  • Polished shoes in good repair

 

CITY B

One sentence included in the Performance Management Guidelines (PMGs) saying, “Maintain professional appearance”

Neither of these answer my hairy question. The first city spells out their policy in excruciating detail, so I paraphrased a little and pulled out the most relevant parts, particularly the antiquated pieces calling out men and women preferences explicitly. The second is broader and leaves a lot up for interpretation, but I felt like a thoughtful conversation with my supervisor might clear it up?

I’ve experienced it to be more culturally appropriate for women to wear something sleeveless but seemingly with the unspoken rule that they all must be shaved to do so. Would I get a talkin-to if I came wearing the same thing with my hairy underarms? What would the office reaction be if a biologically male body showed up in the same outfit with bare pits? What about grooming requirements that require shaved pits, so everyone could sport that cute top without second guessing themselves?

Not so simple. I’d like to think that we are socially evolved enough to celebrate trans bodies even in the office setting, but I don’t know if that’s a norm yet. Moreover, grooming requirements are already hard for employers to set due to anti-discrimination laws and religious protections.

My questions to everyone: Where do we stand on armpits? Is it a gender thing, or is it a grooming thing? Are your office attire policies as archaically gendered as City A, and if so do you think that’s a problem? How would you weigh in if your office wanted to revisit the dress code policy?

Send in your comments to us on Twitter at @CivicPrideLGBT or email them to us at [email protected].

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