A dress code is a set of written and, more often, unwritten rules with regard to clothing. Clothing, like other aspects of human physical appearance, has a social significance, with different rules and expectations applying depending on circumstance and occasion. Within a single day, an individual may need to navigate between two or more dress codes. For example, many navigate between a home dress code and a work dress code; usually this ability is a result of cultural acclimatization. Different societies and cultures will have different dress norms, although Western styles are widely accepted as valid.
The dress code has built in rules or signals indicating the message being given by a person's clothing and how it is worn. This message may include indications of the person's gender, income, occupation and social class, political, ethnic and religious affiliation, attitude towards comfort, fashion, traditions, gender expression, marital status, sexual availability, and sexual orientation, etc. Clothes convey other social messages including the stating or claiming personal or cultural identity, the establishing, maintaining, or defying social group norms, and appreciating comfort and functionality.
For example, wearing expensive clothes of high quality can communicate wealth or the image of wealth. The observer sees the expensive clothes, but may misinterpret the extent to which these factors apply to the wearer. Clothing can convey a social message, even if none is intended: if the receiver's code of interpretation differs from the sender's code of communication, misinterpretation follows. However clothes may be worn because they are comfortable and practical, not to convey a message.
In every culture, current fashion governs how clothing is constructed, assembled, and worn to convey a social message. The rate of change of fashion varies, clothes and its accessories within months or days, especially in small social groups or in communications media-influenced modern societies. More extensive changes, requiring more time, money, and effort to effect, may span generations. When fashion changes, the messages communicated by clothing change.
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|Western dress codes|
and corresponding attires
In the Middle Ages, the European royalty and nobility used a dress code to differentiate themselves from other classes of people.
The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast had a complex social structure, including slaves, commoners, and nobles, and dress codes to indicate these social distinctions. John R. Jewitt, an Englishman who wrote a memoir about his years as a captive of the Nuu-chah-nulth people in 1802-1805, describes how, after some time living there, Maquinna and the chiefs decided that he must now be "considered one of them, and conform to their customs". Jewitt resented the imposition of this dress code, finding the loose untailored garments very cold, and attributed to them a subsequent illness of which he almost died. He was not allowed to cut his hair, and had to paint his face and body as a Nootka would.
In most traditions, certain types of clothing are worn exclusively or predominantly by either men or women. For example, long sleeves are common for both genders, and while the wearing of a knee- to floor-length skirt or a knee- to floor-length dress tends to be associated with female dress, ankle-length trousers are associated with male dress. Hairdressing in some societies may also conform to a dress code, such as long hair for women and short hair for men.
In many societies, particular clothing may be a status symbol, reserved or affordable to people of high rank. For example, in Ancient Rome only senators were permitted to wear garments dyed with Tyrian purple; and, in traditional Hawaiian society, only high-ranking chiefs could wear feather cloaks and palaoa or carved whale teeth. In China before the establishment of the republic, only the emperor could wear yellow.
In 1996, former U. S. President Bill Clinton announced his support for the idea of school uniforms by stating, “School uniforms are one step that may help break the cycle of violence, truancy and disorder by helping young students understand what really counts is what kind of people they are.” Many school districts in the United States took up the idea. By requiring students to wear a school uniform they are less likely to have something to make fun of other students for. This would cause the students to get to know one another by their personality and who they really are rather than the clothes they wear.
Military, police, and firefighters usually wear uniforms, as do workers in many industries. School children often wear school uniforms, while college and university students sometimes wear academic dress. Members of religious orders may wear uniforms known as habits. Sometimes a single item of clothing or a single accessory can declare one's occupation or rank within a profession
Ethnic and political affiliation
In many regions of the world, national costumes and styles in clothing and ornament declare membership in a certain village, caste, religion, etc. A Scotsman declares his clan with his tartan. A French peasant woman identified her village with her cap or coif. A Palestinian woman identifies her village with the pattern of embroidery on her dress.
Clothes can also proclaim dissent from cultural norms and mainstream beliefs, as well as personal independence. In 19th-century Europe, artists and writers lived la vie de Bohème and dressed to shock: George Sand in men's clothing, female emancipationists in bloomers, male artists in velvet waistcoats and gaudy neckcloths. Bohemians, beatniks, hippies, Goths, Punks, and Skinheads have continued the (countercultural) tradition in the 20th-century West.
A Jewish or Muslim man may display his religious affiliation by wearing a cap and other traditional clothing. Many Muslim women wear head or body coverings (see sartorial hijab, hijab, burqa or niqab, chador, and abaya) that proclaim their status as respectable women and cover the so-called intimate parts. A Jewish man may indicate his observance of Judaism by wearing a kippah.
Traditionally, Hindu women wear sindoor, a red powder, in the parting of their hair to indicate their married status; if widowed, they abandon sindoor and jewelry and wear simple white clothing. However, this is not true of all Hindu women; in the modern world this is not a norm and women without sindoor may not necessarily be unmarried.
In many Orthodox Jewish circles, married women wear head coverings such as a hat, snood, or wig. Additionally, after their marriage, Jewish men of Ashkenazi descent begin to wear a talit during prayer.
Laws and social norms
In New Guinea and Vanuatu, there are areas where it is customary for the men to wear nothing but penis sheaths in public - this is uncommon in more developed areas. Women wear string skirts. In remote areas of Bali, women may go topless. In America and some parts of Europe, there are nude beaches.
In the United States, a few businesses or restaurants display dress code signs requiring shoes and shirts, claiming to be there on account of a health code, although no such health codes exist. Also, it is a common belief that there are laws against driving barefoot. However, no such laws exist. It is quite uncommon for people to be nude in public in the United States and in many circumstances, it is illegal. Many states and cities have laws and ordinances for indecent exposure and sometimes nudity can overlap with disorderly conduct. However, there are a few private beaches and resorts that cater to people who wish to be naked.
The “Free the Nipple Movement” is a global campaign seeking equality and empowerment for women when it comes to dress code. It emerged as a reaction to the idea that it was socially acceptable for men to appear without a shirt in public, whereas a woman appearing topless in public would be construed as indecent. The states of New York, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Ohio, and Texas have made it legal for both men and women to appear topless in public. The remainder of states consider the exposure of the female nipple to be an act of indecent exposure, putting them in a position where they can be charged with a criminal offense. This appears to be a gendered law that promotes different expectations on how a person is expected to dress when in public.
The Gender Nondiscrimination Act prohibits employers, health care providers, and housing authorities from discriminating against people on the basis of gender. While employers are not able to discriminate in their hiring practices, they do have the ability to create a gendered uniform. Employers cannot force someone to wear a uniform for a gender they do not identify themselves as, but this becomes an issue for non binary gendered people. In society, clothing is marketed by gender and dressing across this established line is often construed as an anomaly. Skirts, dresses, and high heels are clothing marketed almost exclusively for women. If a man wore any of these pieces in public it would be seen as outside of the norm.
Private dress codes
Private organisations may insist on particular dress codes or standards in particular situations.
- Religious bodies may insist on their standards of modesty being followed at their premises and events.
- Employees are sometimes required to wear a uniform or certain standards of dress, such as a business suit or tie. This may depend on particular situations, for example if they are expected to interact with customers. (see also International standard business attire) These policies vary depending on the industry with lawyers, bankers, and executives often wearing suit and tie. Some work places require that tattoos be covered.
- Patrons of a disco or nightclub are sometimes expected to dress in a particular style, such as clubwear; and bouncers of a disco or nightclub at times refuse entrance to those whose clothing they consider not consistent with the atmosphere of the venue.
- Patrons of a casino, shop, or restaurant are usually expected to dress to a minimum standard, such as smart casual.
- The organisers of some parties sometimes specify a costume or theme for the event, such as a naked party or toga party.
- Fetish clubs often require patrons to dress in fetish clothing or else all in black.
Dress codes function on certain social occasions and for certain jobs. A military institution may require specified uniforms; if it allows the wearing of plain clothes it may place restrictions on their use.
A "formal" or white tie dress code typically means tail-coats for men and full-length evening dresses for women. "Semi-formal" has a much less precise definition but typically means an evening jacket and tie for men (known as black tie) and a dress for women. "Business casual" typically means not wearing neckties or suits, but wearing instead collared shirts, and more country trousers (not black, but more relaxed, including things such as corduroy). "Casual" typically just means clothing for the torso, legs and shoes. "Wedding Casual" defines yet another mode of dress, where guests dress respectfully, but not necessarily fancily. The uniform may consist of various items that are appropriate length and style depending on what the school suggests: for example, khaki pants or shorts, plaid skirts, a button-up collared shirt, a sweater, a coat and tie and even socks. Some schools have each grade assigned a color type which communicates what grade the student is currently in. That way if a student is lost someone is able to figure out what grade they are in just by looking at the color of their shirt. If the student is younger, older students and faculty are able to look out for them and make sure they are safe. Organisations which seek to maintain standards of modesty have difficulties with sheer and see-through clothing.
Dress codes usually set a lower limit on body covering. However, sometimes it can specify the opposite: for example, in UK gay jargon, dress code, means people who dress in a militaristic manner. Dress code nights in nightclubs, and elsewhere, are deemed to specifically target people who have militaristic fetishes (e.g. leather/skinhead men).
History in school
Dress codes were first implemented in the school system to prevent students from wearing inappropriate clothing items to school and was thought to create a safer and more professional environment. Even though dress code was created to positively affect schools, the rules actually impede on students' right to self-expression. There have been many court cases regarding school dress code, the first being the Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District. The case was held because students wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam war.
In some grade schools, students are prevented from wearing short shorts, leggings, crop tops, saggy pants, and other clothing items that are deemed "too revealing" or "inappropriate".
In colleges, the most common type of dress code is business casual, but most colleges don't have dress code requirements.
Non-communicative and communicative
Non-communicative dress code violations in public schools are violations that are without implications of hate, gang-affiliation, etc. Communicative dress code violations are violations of an explicit nature, where the clothing has implications of hate, violence, gang-affiliation, etc.
Dress code violations and the courts
In cases where dress code rules in public school systems have been violated by noncommunicative clothing, courts repeatedly legitimise dress code discrimination based on gender. Amongst the transgender populations, gender based dress codes are primarily enforced against individuals who do not yet pass.
White collar work place clothing has changed significantly through the years. In a corporate office, appropriate clothes are clean, business casual clothes such as (for men) a dress shirt, polo shirt, and trousers, or other similar outfits. Suits, neckties, and other formal wear are usually only required in law offices and financial sector offices. Previous business dress code eras (the 1950s in the U.S.) featured standardized business clothes that strongly differentiated what was acceptable and unacceptable for men and women to wear while working. Today, the two styles have merged; women's work clothes expanded to include the suit (and its variants) in addition to the usual dresses, skirts, and blouses; men's clothes have expanded to include garments and bright colours.
Casual wear entered business culture with the advent of the Silicon Valley, California, technology company featuring casual work clothes on the job. Additionally, some companies set aside days — generally Fridays ("dress-down Friday", "casual Friday") — when workers may wear casual clothes. The clothing a company requires its worker to wear on the job varies with the occupation and profession.
Some businesses observe that anti-discrimination law restricts their determining what is appropriate and inappropriate workplace clothing. Requiring men and women to dress differently at the workplace can be challenged because the gender-specific dress codes would be based on one sex and could be considered stereotypical. Yet, in fact, most businesses have much authority in determining and establishing what work place clothes they can require of their workers. Generally, a carefully drafted dress code applied consistently does not violate anti-discrimination laws.
Business casual dress, also "smart casual", is a popular work place dress code that emerged in white-collar workplaces in Western countries in the 1990s, especially in the United States and Canada. Many information technology businesses in Silicon Valley were early adopters of this dress code. In contrast to formal business wear such as suits and neckties (the international standard business attire), the business casual dress code has no generally accepted definition; its interpretation differs widely among organizations and is often a cause of sartorial confusion among workers.
The job search engine Monster.com offers this definition: In general, business casual means dressing professionally, looking relaxed, yet neat and pulled together. A more pragmatic definition is that business casual dress is the mid ground between formal business clothes and street clothes. Examples of clothing combinations considered appropriate for work by businesses that consider themselves as using the business-casual dress code are:
- for men: a shirt with a collar (polo shirt) and cotton trousers (or "khakis" in American English).
- for women: a tennis shirt and trousers.
Generally, neckties are excluded from business casual dress, unless worn in nontraditional ways. The acceptability of blue jeans and denim cloth clothing varies — some businesses consider them to be sloppy and informal.
Inverse dress codes
Inverse dress codes, sometimes referred to as "undress code", set forth an upper bound, rather than a lower bound, on body covering. An example of an undress code is the one commonly enforced in modern communal bathing facilities. For example, in the public bath SchwabenQuellen, no clothing of any kind is allowed in the sauna part of the resort. Other, less strict undress codes are common in public pools, especially indoor pools, in which shoes and shirts are disallowed.
Violation of clothing taboos
Some clothing faux pas may occur intentionally for reasons of fashion or personal preference. People have the right to express themselves in freedom of speech and expression under the first amendment; however, some styles of clothing that people may chose to wear can be seen as taboos or violations. Dress codes are a way that public schools try to limit violence and danger in the classroom and at the school, as stated by Sue M. Stanley, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, in the journal of Education and Urban Society. She says how clothing styles, such as gang clothing, are linked with violence in schools. She believes that dress codes and uniforms will reduce the focus on fashion contests and violence and instead promote ideas and achievements. Violations of clothing taboos, such as students wearing gang clothing or intentionally baggy clothing, can be viewed as unsafe by administrators. However, these students are just expressing themselves in their style and fashion. For instance, the teenage boys of rap duo Kris Kross of the early 1990s wore all of their clothes backwards and extremely baggy. Just because the boys of the rap duo Kris Kross wore their clothing like this it did not make them dangerous. Rather, they were just trying to be different and break common fashion “rules” to express themselves. Limiting students to only wear certain things or uniforms because of fashion taboos is a violation against their freedom of expression. As stated by Paul M. Murphy, a lawyer and writer for the Southern California Law Review, in the article “Restricting Gang Clothing in Public Schools: Does a Dress Code Violate a Student's Right of Free Expression” in the Southern California Law Review, as an attempt to keep schools safe, administrators are prohibiting students from wearing gang related clothing. However this is a violation of the first amendment which is the freedom of speech and expression, says Paul M. Murphy. There can be different clothing styles that can be viewed as taboo for different age groups and genders to wear as well. For example, for older women to wear brighter colors and revealing or overly suggestive clothing is seen as a clothing taboo for this era of women. This information was taken from a survey done by the journal of Ageing and Society, where they had 36 women from the ages 71 to 93 say what clothes they usually don’t wear, to see what their perspective on clothing and different styles are for their age group. The majority of women said that they refrain from wearing styles such as bright colors and revealing or overly suggestive clothing. The women view these styles as taboo for their age, however that does not mean that one can not wear these clothing styles if they are in this age group. There are different clothing brands and stores that can be seen as taboo as well. In a study done in the journal of Middle East Technical University Studies in Development, researchers took 300 participants in an emerging market context to see the effects of different styles and brands on the participants. The results were that customers were becoming less predictable and more diverse in their brands and clothing stores than before. This shows how people have lots of different styles of clothing and fashion, and how that is making clothing taboos become less common and not seen as a restriction.
Rebellion against dress codes
Social attitudes to clothing have brought about various rules and social conventions, such as keeping the body covered, and not showing underwear in public. The backlash against these social norms has become a traditional form of rebellion. An example of rebellion of general, universal dress codes is cross dressing. Cross dressing is defined as wearing clothing typical of the opposite sex. This is a rebellion to dress codes, because it goes against most social norms of a general dress code for men and women. Also over time, western societies have gradually adopted more casual dress codes in the workplace, school, and leisure. This has especially been the case since the early 1960s.
On Monday, September 22, 2014, "about 100 pupils walked out of Bingham high school in South Jordan, Utah." Students staged a walkout because more than a dozen girls were turned away from a homecoming dance for wearing dresses which violated the dress code rules. "School staff allegedly lined up girls against a wall as they arrived and banished about two dozen for having dresses which purportedly showed too much skin and violated the rules." It is believed that this act was awkward and humiliating towards the female students, which spawned the walkouts.
Certain dress code restrictions in schools across North America are believed to be perpetuating sexist standards, since they concentrate specifically on females and what they are and are not allowed to wear. There is also an emphasis placed on the effects that girls’ wardrobe choices have on their male classmates, which is seen by some as inappropriate. In March 2014, a group of middle-school girls from Evanston, Illinois protested their school’s dress code, which prohibited them from wearing leggings to school under the pretense that it was “too distracting for boys.” Thirteen-year-old student, Sophie Hasty, was quoted in the Evanston Review saying that “not being able to wear leggings because it’s ‘too distracting for boys’ is giving us the impression we should be guilty for what guys do.” In a Time magazine article covering the incident, Eliana Dockterman argued that teachers and administration in these schools are “walking the fine line between enforcing a dress code and slut shaming.”
In September 2014, a similar incident occurred at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, New York. Within the first few days of the semester, two hundred detention slips were handed out to students who violated the school’s dress code. Approximately ninety percent of the slips distributed were given to girls as their clothing was deemed “disruptive to teaching and learning.” Many claim that making girls feel guilty for the actions of boys is similar to telling victims of sexual assault that they were “asking for it” by dressing in a particular manner and has thus been linked to the practice of victim-blaming.
A Canadian teenager, Lauren Wiggins, was given detention in May 2015 for wearing a floor-length dress with a halter neckline. The punishment prompted Wiggins to write an open letter to the school’s assistant vice principal at Harrison Trimble High School in Moncton, New Brunswick. In the letter, Wiggins concentrated specifically on the fact that females are often blamed for the behaviour of males, saying that if a boy "will get distracted by my upper back and shoulders then he needs to be sent home and practice self-control." She was then given a one-day suspension after writing and submitting the letter.
- A Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt, only survivor of the crew of the ship Boston, during a captivity of nearly three years among the savages of Nootka Sound: with an account of the manners, mode of living, and religious opinions of the natives.digital full text here p161 onwards
- Note that the golden-colored YiShanGuan (翼善冠, lit. 'Winged Crown of Philanthropy') the male model wears is historically incorrect: according to archaeological findings at the Tomb of Wanli Emperor (明定陵, MingDingLing, lit. 'The Mausoleum of Tranquility of Ming') - the golden version of YiShanGuan was only worn by deceased emperors as part of the burial ritual; a living emperor on the other hand, always wore the YiShanGuan made of black silk with decorative jewels and dragons, therefore a 'black' version of it instead of gold. A historical fact not widely known in modern day China, thus the misrepresentation of the Ming Royal Attire in the photo above.
- Bowen, Sherry. "Should Kids Wear School Uniforms?". EduGuide. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
- Gilmour, David (1983). Dispossessed: The Ordeal of the Palestinians. London: Sphere Books. p. 83.
- "Bare Feet and the Health Department". Barefooters.org. 2010-01-24. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- "School Dress Codes - FindLaw". Findlaw. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
- Herbon, Beth, and Jane E. Workman. "Dress and Appearance Codes in Public Secondary School Handbooks." Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences 92.5 (2000): 68-76.
- Smith, Natalie. "Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in Public School Dress Codes: The Necessity of Respecting Personal Preference." Journal of Law & Education; 41.1 (2012): 251-60.
- "Employee Dress and Appearance". Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved 27 September 2017.(subscription required)
- Thomas, Robin. "Dress Code Legal Issues". Personnel Policy Services Inc. Archived from the original on 14 March 2016.
- Cloud, Duane. "What is Cross Dressing?". Study.com. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
- Carroll, Rory. "Students protest 'slut shaming' high school dress codes with mass walkouts". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
- Dockterman, Eliana. "When Enforcing School Dress Codes Turns Into Slut Shaming". TIME.com. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- Dockterman, Eliana. "Schools Are Still Slut-Shaming Girls While Enforcing Dress Code". TIME.com. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- "High Schooler Lauren Wiggins' Letter Nails Exactly What's Wrong With School Dress Codes". The Huffington Post. 14 May 2015.
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- Majority of Americans Would Rather Die Than Take Their Clothes Off at the Wayback Machine (archived May 23, 2006) (Beach Buzz)