I Dressed As I Was Told, and Was Still Judged

Sherry Lee
10 July, 2020

Dress codes are implemented for the purpose of having people wear the appropriate attire as a standard for visual cohesion. How employees dress represents the image of the corporation they are working for after all. Although the workplace reserves the right to have their employees dress as to how they want their business to be presented, some take it too far and the dress codes end up being discriminatory against women.

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Unfortunately, some of these “dress codes” might also be verbal instead of a written set of standards for reference on how people should dress. So, there are times when women are accused by the supervisor on how the outfit is a violation when it does not say in writing at all how we have breached the dress code. Not surprisingly, this issue happens in many different corporations around Asia, and three women have decided to share their stories on how unfair dress codes are against women.

Too “Revealing”

Agatha, age 28, from Taiwan

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I worked in the office for an international company and the dress code was generally either formal or smart casual, so we didn’t really have many choices. However, in writing, the dress code literally said “Women must wear attractive dresses, skirts, or suits with slacks.” I did not think too much on that one word since it’s very vague and why would anyone not dress attractively to work? I also thought because it was an international company they wouldn’t nitpick unreasonably on what I wear to work, right?

Wrong. I was only in the company for nine months, and I have seen different women getting called into the office for unknown reasons, came out looking frustrated, and went back home. Never did I imagine that I would also be called to the office and find out exactly what drove them away.

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I stepped into the manager’s office, and I recall wearing full formal wear with a blazer, dress shirt, pencil skirt, and even heels. He did not even ask me to sit down, and with a look of disappointment, he said, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Ashamed? Why should I be ashamed? My brain went back to all the things I’ve done, wondering if I have accidentally betrayed the company in any way, shape, or form until what he said next baffled me even more.

“Your skirt is too short. It’s too revealing.”

I looked down at my skirt. It ended right above my knees. I’m not showing anything, and I even wore safety pants underneath. I do not see how that is revealing in the slightest, and I tried to reason with him. All I got back were more degrading statements like how I’m purposely trying to seduce anybody or how I’m using my thigh to distract the well-established men doing their work. My thighs weren’t even showing, but he wasn’t having that excuse. He ordered that I must go back home and change into something “more acceptable.” Only then will I be allowed to come back to work or I’ll be fired.


Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

I knew by then there was no point in arguing back, and as I stepped out of the office, everyone was looking at me. I can’t even describe how awful it felt. Not only was I losing pay from the time needed for me to go back home, but my time and money was sacrificed for the “benefit of the men” to not stare at my knee. I went to gather my stuff, still in that outfit that was considered unacceptable. And for not leaving to change as soon as possible, I was fired regardless of what I was doing. I didn’t care. There was no point in staying in a place where I had to feel degraded for not doing anything wrong at all.

Tightfitting is Not Fitting

Charlee, age 21, Indonesia

I’m what people call curvy, so compared to the beauty standards we have around here, I am bigger than what people are used to. While I love getting compliments about how certain clothes look on me, the place where I worked part-time for three years ago did not appreciate me as a person at all.

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I worked in fashion retail and there were no specific dress codes. I just had to wear normal casual clothes that don’t show too much. It sounded easy enough, so I just wore anything casual I could find to work.

For the first three weeks, nothing happened except I was told to work at the back from time to time. I didn’t think too much about what I was wearing as long as my shirts don’t have offensive language and that I was covering up to my collarbones. It wasn’t until that specific day when I wore a body-hugging black jumpsuit with sleeves, and in about an hour, I was told to work in the back. I didn’t see anything wrong with that and did as I was told. My supervisor then came in with a disgusted look on her face and asked me what I was wearing.

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I didn’t see any problem with what I was wearing. Everything was covered up, and not even my ankles were showing. But then she shouted how I was practically wearing nothing with something this skintight, that nobody wanted to see how big my breasts and butt are, and how she already had a problem with how prominent my butt was from wearing jeans.

A woman was berating me on my body for wearing a jumpsuit. I couldn’t believe it. So, all those times that I was told to work in the back was to hide my body from the customers, so I don’t “freak them out.” I felt utterly disgusted and offended. Nowhere on the guidelines did it say anything about skintight clothing, and it wouldn’t because women who are smaller than me in size can wear body-hugging clothes, no problem.

Photo by Jasmin Chew on Unsplash

After that, I reported this problem to HR and stayed for the rest of the month before I left due to policies. I never shopped there or even stopped near that place ever again.

The Glasses Ban

Yukiko, age 28, Japan

Around November of 2019 was when many companies in Japan enforced the infamous glasses ban. I, unfortunately, was one of the people who need glasses, and even worse, the company I work in also had the ban.

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I work as the front desk officer, where I needed to greet people on a daily basis. When clients or guests come out of the elevator, the first person they see is me. I always greet them with a smile and a polite bow as everyone in the office does, so when I was told by the higher-ups that I was no longer allowed to wear glasses, confused me.

Not that wearing contacts is difficult, but it does get uncomfortable after some time, especially when I have to stare at the computer screen a lot for my job. I asked why, and I was told that it was a new rule that every woman in the company has to follow. They added how, because I work at the front desk, I must be wary of how I look for the people coming in, so when they see me, they would have a good impression of the company.

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That just brought on even more questions, like why did it only apply to women, and how did my glasses affect how I look. To my surprise, they actually gave a very thorough answer. Other than insisting that glasses block eye makeup, they were also restricted because people claimed they made women give off a cold and calculated impression, causing them to look unapproachable. And for a front desk officer, they wanted to avoid that.

I still don’t understand how glasses, the object that carries the stereotype of intelligence, have now disregarded what intellect women have because they make them look too “distant.” For the sake of not losing my job, I did as I was told. But I am thrilled that people were and still are fighting the glasses ban. Objectifying us enough to even forbid us from wearing glasses for other people’s visual comfort is distasteful.

Fixing the Dress Codes

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From all three of these stories, there is one conclusion that can be made. Dress codes, even ones written down, can be altered or twisted however people want their employees to look. It can even be used as an excuse to get rid of people when they did nothing wrong.  As victims of the dress code, many women had their time, money, and intelligence sacrificed for the benefit of those who aren’t affected by distorted dress codes.

Dress codes shouldn’t be purposely used to hinder women from working. If what we wear does follow the actual dress code, then people’s opinions on things other than what we should be wearing when working shouldn’t cause women to need to change. The dress code was followed, that should be it.

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