Dress codes are everywhere – at school, at work, in restaurants, and in religious institutions. But are they a good thing? Today, let’s take a look at the debate over dress codes!
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Scrubs (n) – loose clothes worn by doctors and nurses in a hospital
She came home wearing her doctor’s scrubs
Limitation (n) – the act of controlling or reducing, or something that controls or reduces something
There are strict limitations on where you can build houses in the UK
To indicate (v) – to show, point, or make clear in another way
Please indicate what course you would like to study on the application form
To enforce (v) – to make people obey a law
The new teacher had failed to enforce any sort of discipline
Synthetic (adj) – synthetic products are made from artificial substances, often copying a natural product
Clothing made from synthetic materials can catch fire easily
Inclusive (adj) – an inclusive group or organisation tries to include many different types of people and treat them all fairly and equally
Our aim is to create a fairer, more inclusive society
To violate (v) – to break or act against something, especially a law or rule
He violated the law with his business deals
To sexualise (v) – to see something or someone in sexual terms
She criticised the number of sexualised music videos being released by pop stars
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A few months ago I released an episode looking at the pros and cons of school uniforms. It quickly became one of my most popular episodes. However, after releasing the episode and listening to some of your comments, I realised that schools are not the only place to control how we dress.
Dress Codes are Everywhere!
In fact, I’m sure most of you have some kind of dress code for work. It could be a really strict dress code: such as a military uniform, police uniform, or protective equipment used by scientists. Or you could be a nurse or doctor wearing scrubs in a hospital. When I started this podcast I was working a night shift in a supermarket – and I had to wear a company polo shirt and black trousers.
A lot of you will need to wear suits to work. Even if you don’t need to wear a suit, it is likely you have some limitations on what you wear: a buttoned shirt, smart shoes, or no shorts. Work is one of the most common places to have dress codes.
Famously, some airlines require female employees to wear high heels and tight dresses while they are working. In fact, some airlines don’t just have a dress code for clothes, but also tell their employees how to put on makeup and how to do their hair. A friend of mine is a nurse in Japan, and she has been told by her hospital to keep her hair black.
Dress codes are actually everywhere, but we don’t always think about them. I went to a hot spring in Japan recently – people with tattoos were banned from entering. In fact, there are a lot of careers, companies, and places in Japan that won’t accept you if you have tattoos.
I went on vacation to France when I was a child and the local swimming pool did not allow people to enter wearing swimming shorts. In fact some beaches in France have infamously banned the “burkini” – a swimming costume covering the whole body and designed for Muslim women.
Some restaurants and nightclubs also have dress codes – you may have seen signs that say no shirt, no shoes, no service before. A friend of mine plays golf regularly and he has to wear smart clothes to play on his favourite course.
I’m sure there are hundreds of other examples of dress codes in the world, but you get my point. Our schools, employers, hobbies, restaurants, and businesses try to control how we dress. But why?
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History of Dress Codes
Dress codes have existed for a long time. Humans have been wearing clothes for over 100,000 years, and most societies have long had rules on clothes. Who can wear certain clothes has always been controlled by society. Clothes were used to reflect cultural values and social beliefs.
Clothes indicated the leaders, elders, and different professions within a society. Religions used clothes to reflect their morals – think about head coverings common in Islam, Judaism, and some types of Christianity. These are a form of dress code.
There are formal dress codes – rules which force you to wear or not wear certain clothes. Often these rules may come from businesses or schools. Sometimes, however, the government also takes an interest in the clothes and appearance of people. A man called Richard Walweyn was arrested and imprisoned in 1565 for wearing “very monstrous and outrageous” pants.
There are also informal dress codes. These are not enforced by rules or laws, but by social expectations and pressure. Have you ever noticed how friends, people of similar backgrounds, or similar social classes tend to dress similarly? There are whole stores and businesses designed around informal “dress codes.”
Think about skateboard stores selling skateboarding shoes, graphic T-shirts, and various hats. You don’t need to wear these to skateboard, but often skateboarders do. Or sports fans wearing their team’s colours on game days. Or professionals in big cities buying and wearing high-fashion brands with famous names. It is all a kind of dress code.
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Are Dress Codes a Good Idea?
But should we really still have dress codes? At work, at school, at restaurants or businesses… dress codes still exist. But do we really need them? On the one hand, dress codes are seen as creating a professional atmosphere, promoting safety, and bringing people together. On the other hand, some people argue that dress codes can sometimes be racist or sexist.
Today, I want to present you with arguments from both sides of the debate! As with my previous debate episodes, I will introduce the main pro- and con- arguments. I want you to listen to the two sides, think about the different issues, and make your own decisions! I want you to think in English!
Yes! Dress Codes are a Good Idea!
Let’s start with the pro- arguments – that dress codes are a good idea. First, there has been research conducted that shows dress codes help create a professional atmosphere, and that professional atmospheres are conducive to success. Dress codes that force employees to wear suits or other job-related clothes may be improving employees’ performance.
In fact, one study showed that people wearing suits perform better on tests than people not wearing suits. Another study demonstrated that people wearing suits make better business deals compared to people dressed casually. A third study showed that people wearing white lab coats made 50% less mistakes in concentration tasks than people not wearing lab coats.
Second, dress codes are often essential for safety reasons. In some jobs you need to wear certain things, and can’t wear certain things – and the reasons are for your own protection. Think about construction workers… They wear hard hats, protective glasses, work boots, and jackets to protect them from accidents.
Other times, certain items of clothes need to be banned for safety reasons. If you work with chemicals, wearing clothes that expose skin or are made from synthetic materials (like leggings often are) is always a bad idea. Religious clothes like headscarves are sometimes banned as they can get caught in machinery or pose other threats. And stores which ban face coverings like masks and helmets do so to help prevent robberies or violence!
Third, some people argue that dress codes help create an inclusive environment. This is similar to the argument that is used to support school uniforms – if everyone is wearing similar clothes people can concentrate on their work rather than outfits. Dress codes can make a large and diverse group of people look like a team. Dress codes can also help customers or clients!
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No! Dress Codes are a Bad Thing!
On the other hand, dress codes are often, and fairly, criticised. First, dress codes can often be based on racist ideas of clothing and beauty. Regulations of hairstyles, for example, often force black men and women to change their natural hair. For example, some schools and companies prevent women from wearing their hair in braids, afros, or locks – all hairstyles that suit black hair.
When you force all people to wear the same or similar clothes, you ignore the fact that different people have different bodies. A school teacher from the US revealed how black female students were punished more often for violating school dress codes than white students… despite wearing the exact same uniforms. Why? Different people have different features – and in the US and Europe these dress codes were designed for white bodies!
Second, dress codes are not the same for everyone. In fact, the average business or school has more rules on women’s clothes than on men’s appearance. Often girls are punished for clothes that can “distract” boys – rather than boys being told to stop sexualising women. While a man may be told to wear a suit, women also have their makeup, haircuts, nails, and body types regulated!
Third, dress codes can be openly racist and discriminatory. As I mentioned earlier, France has banned certain religious clothing. Banning burqas and hijabs, traditional Islamic clothing, is supposed to be for public safety, but is ignoring the culture and beliefs of some Muslim women. Schools in the USA have often banned Native American hairstyles and clothing. And until 2019, there was a rule in the US that banned religious headwear like hijabs, turbans, or kippahs in the US Congress.
So what do you think? Are Dress Codes a Good Idea? Should we still have dress codes? After listening to both sides of the argument, what is your opinion?
On the one hand, dress codes are important for safety, create a professional atmosphere, and make an inclusive environment. On the other hand, dress codes are often unfairly harsh on minorities and women, and can be openly racist and sexist.
What kinds of dress codes do you encounter in your daily life? Do you have dress codes at work, school, or your religious institutions? Do you think these dress codes are fair?
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