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Seeing red over stockings ban

Too much colour? ... Rachel Bode reserves red stockings for casual Fridays.

Too much colour? ... Rachel Bode reserves red stockings for casual Fridays.

No lip gloss, dangly earrings or opaque stockings.

These are just some of the dress requirements Sydney's young women professionals are being asked to adhere to by their prestigious companies, worried about the poor presentation of Generation Y employees and the impact on client relationships.

Nina Funnell: The only dress code is suitability

 Companies including Westpac, Clayton Utz and King & Wood Mallesons have all recruited style consultants to provide sessions on dress standards for young staffers.

But the move has angered some younger workers and workplace experts.

The bright red stockings Sydney accountant Rachel Bode wore to work on Friday would fail such a style test, despite her participation in a fashion seminar at work.

"They said to wear a suit every day, including a skirt, stockings and a belt," Ms Bode, 25, said. "We did a make-up course as well. I didn't like that. I think it's personal choice whether you wear make-up."

Ms Bode said men were also invited to the session, but were only advised to wear a tie and to make sure their shoes were always clean.

"In a way it was discrimination," she said. "As long as you're wearing clothes in a professional manner that's all that should matter. I don't think they would approve of my red stockings, but oh well, it's casual Friday. I usually wear colourful things and dresses. Everyone else is wearing greys and blacks and I like wearing colourful things, especially in winter. It's nice to have some colour."

Interactive: the do's and don'ts of dressing for work

Lawyer Allira Swick, 27, who works in the CBD, said she was aware of friends being offered presentations at work, brought in under the guise of providing "assistance" to women. "I think it's a little degrading and women usually know what to do," she said.

Style consultant Alex Frampton said she was regularly hired by major firms to present style advice that they were too afraid to give to employees.

"They're probably not going to promote you and ... take you up to meet a client if you're wearing a mini-skirt or if your boobs are on show," she said. "If the companies are going to send out people to meet their clients, they need to be completely professional."

During her corporate sessions, however, Ms Frampton has received a backlash from younger women. "The legal girls were particularly focused on their rights and what they should wear," she said.

Fairfax Media understands that, after a presentation by Ms Frampton at the law firm Clayton Utz, the firm was forced to apologise after several complaints were made by female employees relating to advice about the preference of skirts over pants.

A spokeswoman from Clayton Utz last week said: "My understanding is that Alex [Frampton] came in as an independent presenter many years ago, and the views she expressed were her own, not the firm's. Our female employees are certainly free to wear trousers as part of their corporate attire."

A personal stylist, Chris Rewell, who runs her own company, created a prescriptive style document that has been presented at many firms. The 11–page document, obtained by Fairfax Media, lists do's and don'ts for women's presentation in the workplace.

Ms Rewell said Generation Y were leading a "casualisation" of dress codes in the workplace. "We are a visual species and the way we present ourselves needs to be appropriate," she said.

One of the firms that used the Rewell presentation, investment bank Barclays, said the two-hour session, run in December 2010, was designed only for women in its women's network.

"It wasn't a Barclays initiative for the presentation, the women's initiative network thought they should put on the program for the women," a spokesman said.

A professor of employment relations at the University of Sydney, Marian Baird, said companies were outsourcing such presentations as "risk minimisation strategies". When a third party comes into the office, the company can then distance itself from "sensitive issues" or the risk of facing legal action, she said.

"It's a very difficult area to police and you have to be very careful," Professor Bairdsaid.

Professor Baird said she had also heard of young women in corporate workplaces being told they were not wearing enough make-up or their heels were not high enough. "I think it's abhorrent," she said.

94 comments

  • You absolutely cannot tell women that it's preferable to wear skirts. This isn't a 1950s telephone exchange. I have once been told (by another female in the office) that 'all the other girls wear more skirts...'. Frankly, that's up to them.

    It's also completely ridiculous to ban colour. How outrageous. If the business rule is 'business casual' or whatever it is, you cannot then narrow that to 'grey, black, white and shares thereof only'.

    In my experience, the degree to which dress is commented on negatively is entirely related to the overall 'look' of the woman in question - young, slim, blonde = wear whatever the hell you like.

    A lot of workplaces are lagging in terms of dress as far as I'm concerned. To me, those with client facing roles should wear suits on days where they will have external meetings. However, anyone not facing external clients for the day should be able to wear casual dress (with the usual no shorts, no thongs, no whale-tails) rules.

    Appropriate dress is often only talked about in the context of women. It's hard to get inappropriate with pants, shirt and tie. Unless of course the tie is hideous... of course, telling a bloke his tie is inappropriate would only lead to ridicule. Oh, to be male...

    Commenter
    GouGu
    Location
    On the border of outrage and boredom
    Date and time
    May 14, 2012, 1:49PM
    • Right....and the 60 y.o. fogies worrying about "casualization" of office dress - would they be the same ones who applied for a CBD job in 1975 wearing flares and a knitted tie? And maybe a body shirt with a Big Collar, coupled with hair brushing over said collar? Of course these days they have no hair to brush and the body shirt won't stretch over the somewhat expanded gut.

      Rest up folks, red stockings will not cause you to lose the case. Giving poor advice will!

      Commenter
      Melbourne Girl
      Date and time
      May 14, 2012, 8:38PM
    • In the past, women could wear whatever they wanted, because nobody took them seriously anyway.

      Thankfully we've evolved to the point where women are now accepted in most professions. Self-respecting women dress like they're actually there for business rather than trying to impose their oh-so-unique personality by dressing like a flower.

      Your friend hinting that you should wear more skirts was trying to do you a favour.

      Commenter
      Jimmy
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 15, 2012, 10:25AM
    • Jimmy, was the favour the friend was offering going to help due to the fact skirts are more feminine and show more leg which will help her climb the corporate ladder as men prefer that in their business partners? Maybe you should take that advice for yourself, it's obviously not demeaning to wear a skirt as a man.

      Commenter
      Serena
      Date and time
      May 15, 2012, 12:39PM
    • Serena,

      I would wear a skirt to work every day if it were part of a man's corporate uniform and/or it was more aesthetically pleasing than pants. Since it is neither, I don't.

      A skirt is more feminine, yes. It also fits a female shape far better than dress-pants which just make most women look rather silly.

      I'm not sure what your 'showing leg' reference is to, as longer skirts are almost always preferable in a business setting. Most skirts are also a lot more modest than the "look at my ass" crop-jacket and pants combination I see far too frequently around the city.

      I don't even see any kind of male/female divide here.

      A business suit is designed to make someone look professional, attractive, shapely and most importantly de-sexualised.

      It's not that hard people.

      Commenter
      Jimmy
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 15, 2012, 3:18PM
  • What is wrong with opaque tights? Or wearing colour or prints in the office? Or flat shoes? Doesn't mandating heels in the workplace violate at least five OH&S regulations, let alone EEO principles? Why does this only apply to women? If we have to wear high heels, why don't men? And that goes for wearing skirts and makeup too. Fair enough for a company to demand neat and tidy but is it reasonable or even legal to insist that women employees adopt the corporate version of feminine attire?

    Commenter
    Deskbound
    Location
    Work
    Date and time
    May 14, 2012, 1:57PM
    • I work at a department store that requires all female asociates to wear high heels, though of course the males are wearing regular dress shoes or loafers. Working 12 hour days is hard on anyone's feet, doing it in a 4" heel is BAD ON THE FEET. I don't know how stores in Australia do things, but here in the US, I not only help customers but am responsible for moving fixtures around the department and climbing ladders to remerchandise. Then to end all, I had to sign a form stating I won't climb ladders in high heels. At least I am free to wear colour and prints.

      Commenter
      Annakel
      Location
      USA
      Date and time
      May 15, 2012, 8:47AM
  • Umm... I think the fact that you are calling young female lawyers the 'legal girls' probably sums up why there was a backlash against you Alex Frampton.

    Commenter
    legal girl
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    May 14, 2012, 1:58PM
    • I had exactly the same reaction. Hair on the back of my neck stood up at the expression! Are there 'legal boys' as well?

      Commenter
      lgrsydney
      Date and time
      May 14, 2012, 4:49PM
    • When can we get rid of old and middle aged men from our workforce? I'm a bit sick of putting up with their 'I'm the alpha white male ideal employee' dribble. And yawn. Go home to the brats you scurry away from every day and make a genuine difference.

      Commenter
      Rachael
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 14, 2012, 6:18PM

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