Pop Rocks: Dress Codes Are Worse Than Sagging Pants

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I went into business for myself years ago for a variety of reasons. But there are two items on my list of things I want out of a job that I have tried to maintain. First, I don't want to be penalized for being fast. If I can get my work done in half the time someone else can, I shouldn't have to sit around in an office all day just to fulfill some ridiculous time requirement. Secondly, I hate dress codes.

Since I was a kid, I thought they were dumb. Why was it necessary for me to wear a collar at school? What distraction exactly was I providing for other students if I sat in a t-shirt. I remember talking with the guidance counselor at my former high school a couple years after I graduated. That previous year, they instituted a hair policy that did not grandfather in guys who already had long hair. So, as an act of rebellion, a large number of them shaved their heads -- it felt like half the senior class was bald. Administrators were shocked -- being bald wasn't against the rules, but it was damn weird -- and my response was, "Well, what did you expect?"

And this is not to say there is a time and a place for everything. It's one thing to wear cutoffs to a formal wedding or show up at a business meeting in a t-shirt that says, "Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?" But, I've long thought that dress codes were more about enforcing a doctrinal discipline on a particular group of people than appropriateness. Case in point laws regarding sagging pants like this one from Pikesville, Tennessee.

Look, I get that guys wearing their pants so low you can see their boxers is kinda stupid. I'm not one that particularly wants to see another dude's underwear, but you have to have it pretty good if your town of 1,600 people can spend time making laws about the scourge of sagging drawers.

To make matters worse, it is highlighting the "problem" with a giant yellow marker when, for all intents and purposes, this is a fad. Banning sagging pants would have been like banning bellbottoms in the '70s or shoulder pads in the '80s. Just as fashion trends have moved the waistline on women's pants up and down over the decades, my guess is the same will be true of men's pants, just as I imagine hipsters won't always default to skinny jeans.

And it's bad enough to deride the clothing and those who wear it, but to attach and actual fine to them seems ridiculous. I'd love to fine a people for bad breath or farting in elevators or writing a check in the express lane at the grocery store, but I'm not going to introduce a freaking law.

The problem is that this is not just about underwear and civic pride. It delves into personal taste and, more uncomfortably, exclusionary tactics designed to alienate those who are different. Some dress codes are nothing more than ways to keep undesirables at bay.

Recently, my wife and I were in Fort Worth for a few days. Around the corner from our hotel was a nightclub and posted near the door was a dress code that included things like no flat-billed caps, no tank tops or gold chains. And this wasn't a country bar. This was a douchey club. But, similar stories have emanated from bars along Washington Avenue here in Houston where dress codes target very specific demographics as a means of keeping them out.

When reading this though, I just kept thinking, "This is probably not your biggest problem, club owners." I've gone to many bars, clubs and live music venues over the years. I've seen some pretty disturbing crap and none of it had to do with clothing. I suppose I understand that certain work environments need to set standards for their employees if for no other reason than to derail any would-be agitators. I'm sure the HR directors out there have plenty of horror stories about what people wear to work when there is a dress code vacuum. That imagined "pistol in your pocket" t-shirt slogan from earlier in the story comes from an actual student incident when my mom was a guidance counselor. I feel their pain.

But, there is a difference between being selective and restrictive. Years ago, I worked at a small answering service in a windowless office where no client ever visited. I stared at a computer screen and talked on the phone for hours at a time. One of the bosses had it in his head that a well-dressed worker makes a better professional. As a result, no tennis shoes, no jeans, no t-shirts. Standard dress was waiter attire: black slacks, white button downs and dress shoes with dress socks.

When a new owner took over several years later, that was relaxed dramatically, primarily because I became the manager, and turnover rate among employees in this part-time, relatively low paying gig was roughly the same along with professionalism, because that stuff is about the person, not the outfit (superheroes notwithstanding).

For me, it has always been about appropriateness. If I can do a job in shorts, why shouldn't I be allowed to do it. No one is going to demand lifeguards wear sport coats or dresses on the beach, though it would make for a dramatic rescue if he/she had to strip on the way to the water. Garbage men don't wear three-piece suits. And lawyers, when standing in front of a judge, probably shouldn't do so in flip flops.

Maybe dress codes are for those among us who try to flaunt the norms of society or others too dumb to know the difference, but we all shouldn't be made to suffer for it even if the fashion statement it is meant to curb is probably worth banning.

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