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What is a Dress Code?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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Dress codes are sets of regulations governing what is and is not appropriate attire for a given setting or event. In years past, it was usually easy to convey a dress code by noting that the appropriate dress would be casual, business, semi-formal, formal, or black-tie. Over the years, the relaxation of clothing options in various settings has changed, often making it necessary to further define what type of clothes are considered proper for a given situation.

Many different settings require a specific dress code. One of the most common is in the workplace. Offices often set a specific dress code in order to create a perception of professionalism. The idea is usually that if people are required to dress in a certain manner, they will conduct themselves in a more businesslike fashion. It is not unusual for an office dress code to specifically require a certain length of skirt for women, a coat and tie for men, and sometimes even the range of colors that are considered appropriate for the workplace.

Schools also commonly have dress codes. Elementary and junior high schools may require students to abide by a dress code as part of the process of maintaining order on the campus. While a school dress code used to consist mainly of identifying various types of clothing that were not permissible on school grounds, the trend today is to specify a simple shirt matched with slacks or a skirt that serves as a uniform. This approach is thought to help minimize outward differences between the children and thus remove at least one factor of elitism or class distinction by having all the students wear essentially the same type of clothing.

Dress attire for social events is often specified in order to prevent confusion over what type of clothing is proper for the event. The need to be more specific about the dress code for such events as weddings, benefit dinners, and even social events taking place at a house of worship is much more common in modern times than in previous decades. Prior to the societal change of the 1960s, all these events required at least business dress, and often were specified as requiring formal dress. Today, however, weddings may take place in settings where jeans, shorts and even swimsuits may be more appropriate for the occasion. Benefit dinners are also sometimes held in casual settings and thus require casual dress. Even many houses of worship have loosened dress codes and may allow jeans or other types of casual clothing at various social events.

Most modern dress codes are defined in terms of what is appropriate to wear for the event. To some extent, this is due to the fact that older designations of clothing types are no longer as rigid as they once were. What would be considered formal to one person may appear to be semi-formal to someone else. Business dress today may include the sub-category of business-casual and include clothing that a few decades would never be associated with an office setting. By including examples of the type of clothing that is considered right for the occasion, the host assists guests in choosing clothing options that comply with the code and thus make it easier for everyone to feel comfortable in the setting.

Of course, there are still many examples of dress codes that focus on what not to wear. This approach identifies items that are not considered appropriate for the setting. The assumption is that by providing examples of what should not be worn to the event, guests will be able to choose appropriate attire by process of elimination. However, the constant shift in fashion and design sometimes leave the door open for options that the host would consider equally inappropriate, even if they are not addressed in the list of “don’t wear” items. For this reason, many offices, churches, and social events tend to lean toward providing dress code examples that identify what type of dress is required rather than examples of what is not appropriate for the occasion.

WiseTour is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseTour, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By SauteePan — On Jan 12, 2011

Sunshine31-Dress code grooming is also important. There are companies that do not allow their male employees to have facial hair and must come to work cleanly shaven.

In addition, many companies do not allow visible tattoos and piercings because their customers might find the tattoos and piercings as offensive. Also, jeans are usually banned from a dress code for men because it is seen as too casual for a business environment.

Although this is standard for most companies, some companies in the creative field might have relaxed dress code standards because they do not want to limit their creative expression, or the clientele also has tattoos and piercings. A perfect example would be in a nightclub.

If a bouncer has a tattoo or facial piercings this would be acceptable, but if a sales representative of a bank looked that way they probably would not have a job for long.

By sunshine31 — On Jan 10, 2011

It is really important for a company to have a business dress code policy. Both employees and members of management need to understand the professional dress code for everyone.

This ensures that everyone will be comfortable and professional because the attire should be in good taste even if there is a casual Friday dress code.

Outlining the limits of what people can and can not wear take the guess work out of what is acceptable attire and what is not. If a company has no stated dress code policy than the traditional dress code attire should prevail.

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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