When Dress Codes Discriminate Against Men

  • Posted by: Emma Berdanier |
  • 6/24/19 |
  • 1:05 AM
When Dress Codes Discriminate Against Men

Many employers may think of schools when the term “dress code discrimination” comes to mind, as most of the popular stories in the news these days revolve around students – disproportionately female students and students of color – being reprimanded for not following strict, discriminatory dress codes. But workplace dress codes can be just as discriminatory, and can have a similar impact of disproportionately affecting marginalized communities. However, your company’s dress code may also be affecting non-marginalized communities, or simply one specific non-marginalized community – men.

Common Disparities in Dress Code Policies:

  • Requiring women to wear skirts/dresses while men may wear slacks.
  • Requiring women to wear makeup.
  • Requiring women to wear heels while men may wear flat shoes.
  • Requiring women to style their hair for work.

Disparities in Dress Code Policies that Affect Men:

  • Requiring men to wear long pants, while women can wear shorter skirts/dresses and cropped or capri pants.
  • Prohibiting men from wearing makeup, while women can.
  • Prohibiting men from wearing jewelry, while women can.
  • Requiring men to have short hair, while women can wear their hair either long or short.

The Solution:

Even when a dress code is perfectly legal, as even dress codes that discriminate against gender tend to be upheld in the courts, it may cost your company in terms of a decrease in productivity and morale, and an increase in turnover. Employees want to work somewhere where they are free to fully express themselves, and where they do not feel they are discriminated against based on things outside of their control. And in a state like Colorado, where both discrimination against sex and sexual orientation (including transgender status) are prohibited, it is very important to ensure that your company’s dress code doesn’t adversely impact any group.

To prevent this from happening, an easy solution is to not base the rationale for a dress code policy on a desire for men to act more “masculine” or women to act more “feminine”. Instead focus on what policies would create a professional and presentable workplace, without creating policies that single out either gender. Policies that single out men or women may also adversely affect employees whose gender identity falls somewhere else in the spectrum.

A dress code that creates reasonable and professional expectations for the office doesn’t need to focus on gender at all. Special consideration should be given not only to how your company’s dress code affects female employees, but also to how it affects male employees, as they are the forgotten group that can also be discriminated against in a dress code.



“When Do Dress Codes That Perpetuate Gender Stereotypes Cross the Line?” SHRM, 18 March 2019, https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/gender-discrimination-in-dress-codes.aspx. Accessed 21 June 2019.

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