Dress codes claim to protect the sanctity of places, to curb elitism and bring equality to society. While the honest intentions of neck ties and blouses aren't paving the road to hell, we're ready to toss their implications out with the bathwater.
Dress codes speak to a long history of gender discrimination. Traditionally, and prominently, towards women. Often to show modesty for the opposite sex's sake. A man's success can be diminished by your gender. Please neutralize it.
Worse, body-modifying dress codes can permanently distort the natural shape of the body, literally molding people to best fit temporary beauty trends. Physically altering bodies with practices like foot binding and corsets while no longer in practice, were once the ideal.
Foot binding is now technically illegal in China and corsets are worn more as a temporary fashion choice, not daily ritual. Yet, modern pressures remain. Laws still exist in the world today that require women to wear heels to work in some parts of the world.
Society as a collective continuously creates rules around who gets to wear what, when, and where. Skirts musn't rest shorter than the length of the wearer's fingertips and most certainly should not be worn by a man. The shoulders of women have long caused offense on the U.S. Senate floor and god forbid a man try showing his bicep in that sacred place.
Too much skin and you're inappropriate. Cover up and you're an extremist, insulting the god of modernization. Or a slob, disrespecting the gravitas of the walls around you.
Unspoken dress code rules are watered down each time a man wears a gown on the red carpet. Etiquette is challenged when a hoodie is spotted on Capitol Hill. And research in favor of formal attire is questioned when an executive successfully leads their team in an uncollared cotton t-shirt.
We've seen the California business style of Casual Fridays seep into other days of the week and geographical locations. We know business people will find new ways to define professionalism and school kids will always find a way to form cafeteria factions. Yet as dress codes fizzle, there will be a void. Special events and sacred places may mourn the loss of panache and importance.
We suggest an alternative prioritization to garment choice—quality. Quality of fabric, craftsmanship of stitch, and attention to detail should trump rigid rules of which garments attend which spaces.
Tailored 100% premium cotton joggers eclipse a lousy Rayon suit any day. A classy zip-up with a drop yoke and quality stitching can be Win-the-Pitch attire for a business presentation. And shorts—yes, even shorts, those under-appreciated pool-vibes-only items—can be made of such high quality and craftsmanship, even they can make dinner reservations.
Confidence and quality shine brighter than a prescribed selection of cookie-cutter items.
We challenge the notion that garment type resides over quality. Suits, collared shirts and shoulder-covering, reach-to-the-knee dresses may stay, with two non-negotiables: 1) they are worn by choice and preference of the wearer 2) other garment choices of high-quality are equally acceptable.
Dress code norms are strong. We cling to what we know and expect.
Retrospectively, fashion rules are laughable. Will we laugh tomorrow about the crisis of a nipple slip today? Maybe such body parts of the next milenia will be the ankles of today. Innocent. Non-sexulized. Functional, in fact.
Quality is a neutralizer without stripping away self-expression. Allowing quality as a qualifier unto itself is one of the steps towards bringing equality to how people are able to represent themselves on their own terms, in whatever arena they choose to enter.