HR Never Wins the Dress Code Game

You probably saw this last week when the internet got all hot and bothered over a 17 year old girl who worked at JC Penny got sent home for a dress code violation. She tweeted out a picture of herself dressed in JC Penny bought ‘career’ apparel that she was wearing at the time (see pic above). The only place where I see this being dressed appropriate for work is probably Hooters, but you know me, I’m super ultra conservative right winged nut job, so what the hell do I know…

Many wanted were angry over what they saw as a double standard, although I’m not sure what that double standard is. I would have been more upset over a 17 year old boy wearing this outfit to work than the girl!  I would have sent both home, so there goes your double standard.

The real issue here is that JC Penny labeled this outfit ‘career apparel” to the customers, but didn’t find it career appropriate for their own associate. If JC Penny is labeling this outfit on their shelves appropriate work wear, why is it inappropriate work wear for their own employees?

Well, I have some reasons:

1. It’s tight and revealing for the average customer of JC Penny.  The average age of a JC Penny shopper is 103 years of age.  The last thing an old person wants to see is a fourth of July wannabe stripper.  That’s knowing your customer base.  I’m sure if she was working at Hot Topic, she wouldn’t have been sent home.

2. There a difference between marketing and operations.  Just because marketing is calling something ‘career appropriate’, doesn’t mean your HR and Operations folks will feel the same way.  Welcome to the reality of working in a corporation. People aren’t always on the same page, and that is a bad thing.

3. 17 year olds have no ability to understand the broader picture of the corporate politics at play here.  It’s too bad someone couldn’t have better coached this young lady on how to handle this situation to have a better impact for herself and fellow employees. Going nuclear wasn’t the best option for her.

4. HR never wins when it comes to dress code, because of these kinds of issues.

HR should give up the dress code policy whenever it’s an option and let your operations team own it. They know their customer base. They know their work environment. They know their employees.  Let them build a dress code that works for them, and trust they’ll do what’s right for the organization.  I’ve done this three times in my career, and all three times it worked out wonderfully, and I didn’t ever have to deal with dress code ever again!

5 thoughts on “HR Never Wins the Dress Code Game

  1. Dress codes are out of date – I would be more concerned whether she is a good, competent employee! what looks good/bad is too subjective who cares as long as you’re getting good service!

    I would be more concerned with the age discrimination in an article by someone who is supposed to work in HR!

  2. Unless there are risks of safety or bits hanging out, I have found it is in the best interest of every party (including HR) to remain calm and just let people be themselves.

  3. I think she handled it okay. Barely nuclear. Barely. And honestly this is the only way to make a point, sometimes.

    I have a feeling her career will recover.

  4. 100% agree – HR should stay as far away from the dress code (particularly enforcement) as possible.

    I find it funny that in the linked HuffPost story she’s pictured flicking off the camera, as well. I don’t think she picked up that type of professionalism in the “Career” section.

    If the adage “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” were true – I’d be wearing basketball shorts and a Knicks jersey to the office every day. Who knows what this misguided teenager wants to be when she grows up..

  5. Why couldn’t they just pull something off the shelf for her to wear that was more appropriate? After that, coach her on expectations. More than likely, if she is 17 & working, her parents aren’t rich. Also, she is probably mature enough to take it. Personally, professional attitude and behavior is a lot more important than professional dress. I’m not saying people should show up to work wearing ripped up jeans and metal in their faces, but appropriate dress s/b common sense for most.

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