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Now Trending—Silly Dress Codes

Vivia Chen

October 21, 2013

Dress_Code_photos via istockWell, this is awfully confusing.

Two mighty corporations recently issued new dress codes, and they're brilliantly contradictory, casting light on how utterly clueless management is about what makes employees tick—or ticked-off.

The news is this: Barclays Bank wants its investment bankers to chill and dress down, while Newsweek is requiring staffers to button up. So the upshot is that stuffy Wall Streeters are encouraged to look like unscrubbed college kids—while rumpled-by-nature writers and editors must now dress like Brooks Brothers mannequins.

Here's a summary of Barclay's new dress code, according to CNBC.com:

The bank has recently put in place a policy of supercasual Fridays. Jeans, T-shirts and even sneakers are acceptable on Fridays. . . . The idea, apparently, is to make Barclays a better, cooler place to work. It's one of a number of initiatives the company is taking to make employees enjoy their workplace more.

As you might expect, some I-bankers can't get into the über casual thing. One Barclays banker tells CNBC: "I didn't become an investment banker to dress like a perpetual teenager." Another says to CNBC: "It's ridiculous. Please make them stop. It's like working at a start-up but without the IPO."

Newsweek, on the hand, would like to see its employees get more uptight. Reports Politico:

IBT [International Business Times, which now owns Newsweek] staff are required to follow a dress code that prohibitis denim jeans, sneakers and baseball caps, among other articles of clothing. "Open-toe sandals are not permitted." Hair must be [a] "natural color," and "well groomed." Staffers who do show up to work without meeting these requirements "will be asked to return home to change into suitable clothing."

To add to the ridiculousness, Newsweek now requires journalists to perform an additional unnatural act: refrain from being negative. Politico reports:

Employees may also be terminated for a "negative attitude or behavior that is not contributing to a harmonious working relationship with fellow employees," according to the handbook.

If you can't go around making disparaging remarks about the clowns coming out with these ridiculous rules, what's the point of going into a field like journalism? Aren't writers paid to be royal pains in the butt?

But I digress. Let's get back to Newsweek's dress code. How can anyone seriously ban sneakers, jeans, and all that sloppy-chic stuff at a news organization? And the prohibition against open-toe shoe—what era is that from? Even in Corporate America, open-toe shoes have gained some acceptance.

All of this points to a severe identity crisis in the workplace. I only hope that law firms don't fall into the same trap and start aspiring to be hip and cool. So here's a refresher: Bankers and lawyers should not look relaxed. They're suppose to be tense and uncomfortable.

Hey, why battle nature?

 E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist


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Worst dressed I ever saw was at Wilmer Hale, Palo Alto, where casual was taken to an extreme.

Sometimes I feel that management on these big companies need more direction. Dress codes are enforced so that everybody is aligned to the company's image and that nobody looks at anyone else differently within the company. But there's always the challenge to keep people comfortable when the dress code is not aligned to employees personalities.

What if you work some place where there is a written dress code but the dress code is selectively enforced? Looks like a problem with past practice when that happens. On a practical note, you will NEVER obliterate fashion faux pas, which are the reason why dress codes are imposed in the first place.

Natural hair color?
So, women cannot change their hair color, or the color cannot be, for example, purple?
So, can a man cover his grey hair to appear younger?
I guess a John Boehner tan would be prohibited!

"Hair must be [a] "natural color."

Doesn't say YOUR natural color. :)

If you had ever worked anyplace where it gets hotter than Satan's armpit or colder than the backside of a banker's heart you would appreciate necktie and pantyhose free days or the ability to wear a sweater. What people are forgetting is common sense. If you have meetings or appearances then you cannot go casual....but if you are destined to be shuttered into a windowless hole void of natural light and human contact; then by all means be COMFORTABLE. I bet productivity even goes up when that happens.

Our outside counsel bond lawyers are always dressed in suit, tie, and generally in black. Our own mothers gave us all the rule - dress as you want to be treated and per the impression you want to make. If a finance lawyer couldn't take the trouble to put on a tie (or heels, as applicable) for our meeting (ties/heels - a different topic!), s/he looks more interested in "warm and fuzzy" than protecting my money. And a reporter on the beat wouldn't get much cred with his sources showing up looking like a news anchor!

This is confusing and contradcitory? Here's my tip: every day when you wake up, remember where you work. Do you work at Barclays? Follow the Barclays dress code. Do you work at Newsweek? Follow the Newsweek dress code. Or perhaps you work at some other place that is neither Barclays nor Newsweek, in which case you should consider your own employer's dress code. Hope that helps!

Reminds me of living, working in China where there is a rule for everything since Chinese are obsessed with controlling others. Taiwan isn't much different. Until a few years ago teachers would keep a ruler handy to measure the length of the children's hair

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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