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Dress Codes: Sexism in the Workplace?

Calendar August 26, 2021

For a long time, many companies have different ideas and rules of what the dress code should be in the workplace. In some cases, this has shown sexism was still alive and well in the workplace sadly.

A workplace is allowed to implement dress code standards and what would be appropriate for employees to wear to work. Dress codes can be part of an employee’s terms and conditions which they would need to accept when offered the role. The dress code for men and women do not have to identical but equivalent which no do expect women to dress in a more provocative manner. Some employers encourage and have their employees to wear certain dress code, for example law firms would require their employees to wear a formal dress code. However, many retail stores, bars and cafes allow their staff to have relaxed dress codes which include them showing tattoos, piercings which might make feel all customers welcome.

Unfortunately, some businesses that enforce formal dress code make mistakes in making men wear a suit and tie and women giving a vague business dress. It could be seen as men
have a rigid dress code than women giving them less choice.

When considering dress code, the protected characteristic needs to be taken into consideration:

  • Disability
  • Age
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Therefore, this raises questions whether dress code should be clarified in certain companies.

Airline Companies

As airline crew are predominately female and as we like to think of ourselves as a progressive society only a few airline companies allow women to wear trousers and flat shoes. Even though wearing trousers allows more manoeuvre and flat shoes allows comfortability and gives no real reason to why women should wear this.
Many airline companies also have makeup as a mandatory requirement, Virgin Atlantic in 2019 decided they said to be liberal to relax foundation and mascara which can be seen as moving into the right direction for airline companies.

Olympics 2021

Female athletics fight back to sexist dress code standards, this first happened more than four years ago when the Egyptian volleyball team wore full length sportswear then the usual bikini this bought international attention and admiration by everyone.


The gymnastics German team decided to wear long legged unitards instead of the high cut unitards. The reason being they wanted to combat ‘sexualisation’ of their sport.
Former Olympic soccer player Brandi Chastain said, “It feels a little bit extraordinary that we are still talking about what women can and can’t wear”. Will this be the new norm of women
wearing whatever they are comfortable in instead of having a (sometimes sexist) standard dress code for all?

The Importance of Flexibility in the Workplace

To ensure there is flexibility for all staff, employers should implement the following:

  • Having the opinions of employees about the current dress code, asking if they feel comfortable.
  • Being fair to all employees, if you would like them to wear the same outfit to work, you should give them an allowance, if for example Muslim women need to buy a hijab to go with the dress code, additional allowance to ensure it is fair to all employees.
  • Ensuring staff are notified as soon as they start working for you about the dress code and communicating when dress code changes are made.
  • Dress code policies should be easily accessible to all employees and policies should be clear, they should not be a clear difference between men and women’s dress code.
  • Ensuring the dress code is practical for example you would not let a chef wear a full suit at work.
  • Ensuring you have a balance between people expressing their personalities and brand image, this is key within a company.

How can we help?

As Employment Solicitors we can help by providing expert advice on issues relating to sexism and discrimination in the workplace, please give our team a call 0330 221 0684 or
visit our website


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