am I being a dress code snob?

A reader writes:

About five months ago, I started a new job as a manager in a nonprofit with approximately 30 full-time employees and over 100 part-time employees. In my department, I inherited one full-time assistant and 15 part-time direct reports. We are a public-facing department with a large social media presence.

The organization’s employee handbook has a clearly-defined business casual dress code policy: no jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, etc. However, everyone here dresses like a slob. On my first day, my assistant was wearing rumpled cargo shorts and a t-shirt with holes. My part-timers routinely show up in jeans, sweatpants, and the type of clothing I’d usually reserve for yard work. My own supervisor wears jeans and an untucked t-shirt.

I’ve always been someone who enjoys dressing up for work. My typical work wardrobe consists of dresses, skirts or slacks, blouses, and blazers. It drives me nuts when people look unpolished and unprofessional at work, but that seems to be the accepted culture around here.

Would it be out of line to enforce the company dress code in my own department, even if it’s not enforced anywhere else? Or am I just being an elitist?

It sounds like in reality the dress code is different from what the handbook says. Sometimes you see that in situations where, for example, the handbook was written 15 years ago and no one has bothered to update it since then, but meanwhile what’s considered acceptable in the organization has changed.

Have you asked anyone about it? Before you go changing something this significant — and believe me, what people wear to work (and what clothes they therefore have to buy) is significant to them — you’d really need to talk to people and get a better understanding of what’s going on. Maybe the dress code was written under old leadership, the new leadership doesn’t care, and you’d look out of sync with the culture if you tried to enforce the outdated one. Maybe the dress code became more casual as the organization noticed the people it serves responded better to that. Maybe the dress code was intentionally relaxed as a perk and no one bothered to update the handbook. Or sure, maybe the change wasn’t intentional and an objective observer would agree that things have gotten too casual for the work you do — but maybe you’d still have a mutiny on your hands if you try to change it at this moment in time.

I don’t know what the context might be — but it sounds like you don’t either, and you need to understand that before you consider trying to change something that matters to people. You don’t change something this significant to other people just because you like to dress nicely yourself.

So talk to people. Start by asking your own boss. Say you noticed the handbook says one thing but the practice seems to be another and ask about the difference. If your boss doesn’t shut down the idea for a change, then talk to your own people — ask what their thoughts are and how they think the current practice does/doesn’t impact the results they’re getting.

And then really focus in on that question yourself. Does your team do work where being more nicely dressed has an impact on their work? You noted they’re public-facing, but public-facing can mean “won’t be trusted if we’re not in suits” or it can mean “won’t be trusted if we are in suits” and all kinds of variations in between. Particularly in some types of social service work, some traditional ideas of “professionalism” can create problematic distance between staff and the people they’re serving.

So before you consider changing anything, get really clear on the problem you’re trying to solve. That problem can’t be “it drives me nuts when people look unpolished and unprofessional at work.” It would need to be something like “clients trust us less,” “the public sees us as a rag-tag band of incompetents when we need them to see us as skilled professionals,” “our clothing is detracting from our message when we speak to the media,” or so forth.

You’ve also got to bring some nuance to it. An untucked shirt can be fine in a context where a t-shirt with holes isn’t.

And to be clear, I’d be surprised to see people turn up to work in sweatpants and t-shirts with holes too. But you’re talking about changing an established culture that apparently your own manager participates in, and you might be talking about people needing to buy entirely new wardrobes. You’ve got to have legit reasons to push for that.

If there really isn’t a work reason for pushing people to change something they’ve been doing for a while and probably value as a perk of the job, you’d be better off pushing for the handbook to more accurately reflect the dress code instead of the other way around.

{ 672 comments… read them below }

  1. D3*

    I’d be so upset if I had to buy a new work wardrobe because someone new to the organization prefers to dress nicer and it drives her nuts that others don’t do things the way she does.
    Pay attention to your colleagues WORK OUTPUT, not the clothes they wear.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Yup. If OP’s boss allows her to get more strict with the dress code (and I bet she won’t, or at least won’t allow enforcement of anything beyond “no holes in your clothes,” given that boss herself wears jeans and untucked shirts), OP should not be surprised if her direct reports are suddenly applying for internal transfers like mad (or quitting, if they think they can find a lax dress code somewhere else).

      1. tangerineRose*

        Yep. Casual clothes tend to be cheaper to buy (and replace if anything happens) and frequently more comfortable. This is a big perk for me.

        1. IndustriousLabRat*

          And cheaper to clean! If you squint really hard at the dreaded Dry Clean Only tag, the invisible fine print is, “I’m going to cost you as much to maintain over the course of my useful lifetime as I cost to purchase! Mwahahahaha!!!!”

          Whereas jeans and cotton shirts just get better over time with a bit of hot n steamy laundromat action.

          1. Annie Moose*

            This is totally not the point of your comment, but maybe it’ll help somebody out there who like me accidentally have bought dry clean only sweaters and refuse to dry clean something that cost me $20… as long as you’re willing to take a risk, you can wash most dry clean only things in a washing machine! Use cold water on a delicate cycle, preferably in a mesh bag if it’s a sweater or similar material that could pull, and air dry it. I do this with 99% of my “dry clean only” stuff and they turn out great.

            (I’d be careful if I was washing silk, leather, etc. but otherwise I’ve never had an issue)

            1. Dove*

              “(I’d be careful if I was washing silk, leather, etc. but otherwise I’ve never had an issue)”
              Silk is actually a lot more sturdy than it seems! You can run it through the washer on delicate with no problems. Leather, you can’t really get wet to the extent that a washing machine would; I’d spot-clean it only, and make sure it’s thoroughly dried and look up leather-care tips. (I think you’re supposed to oil it after it’s gotten wet?) Wool needs the sort of treatment you’d expect silk needs – it has to be done on cold, delicate, preferably with a wool soap, and you need to air dry it *and* make sure it’s stretched out so that it won’t shrink out of shape.

              1. Media Monkey*

                silk also tends not to be colour fast so be sure to wash it separately!

                but toally agree – dry clean only is often a way to say “cheap and will fall apart quickly if washed in a machine too often!

                1. JustaTech*

                  As a little girl I had a dress that was made of a material that was not supposed to get wet. (My mom sewed it for me to be a flower girl, and I was old enough to not be constantly sticky, but still!)
                  Silk and wool might take more care but at least they won’t dissolve in water.

              2. Mongrel*

                For leather, just hit up the auto-store and look for leather upholstery care. You’ll probably want something to clean it and a balm for long term care but leather is fairly robust

              3. Worldwalker*

                For leather:

                Smooth leather, use Lexol Cleaner. Follow up with Lexol.

                Suede, if spot cleaning with a tiny bit of water and Dawn doesn’t do it, you’re on the hook for a pro. Make sure it’s a company that specializes in cleaning leather, not just J. Random Drycleaner.

              4. Anax*

                You can also handwash, which is way easier than it sounds – I got a couple 5 quart Sterilite bins and Eucalan soap, and just… swish clothes around for a minute and then leave them for fifteen. Less than five minutes of work for a typical week. (The advantage of something like Eucalan is that it’s wool-friendly and doesn’t require you to rinse it, which skips a step.)

                For anything “dry flat” – many wool sweaters – you can just lay an old towel on the table and lay it there, or use that interlocking foam flooring for kids’ rooms. Between that and a foldable drying rack, we keep my GF in business casual attire pretty easily.

              5. HelenOfWhat*

                A big plus to wool – if you wore it and didn’t spill anything on it, or only moderately sweated in it, you don’t really need to wash it/dry clean. Wool is naturally odor resistant. You can just shake out any dust/dirt and air out on a hanger or flat surface. You can also use the no-heat air fluff setting in a dryer (while the item is in a mesh bag if it’s delicate / very fine wool versus tougher wool). The main reason they tell you to dry clean wool on the tag is because throwing in a washer risks felting and shrinking.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I don’t wear leather, but I can guarantee that silk can totally be machine-washed. I make my own clothes so they don’t have labels, and I put all my silk pyjamas and blouses in the wash. Dress-to-impress items go in the mesh bag just in case. Silk is actually very sturdy (which is why they made parachutes out of it).

            3. Joielle*

              I wash tons of dry clean only stuff in a washing machine! I got a nice pencil skirt on clearance a long time ago at Banana Republic or something, and it sat in the to-be-dry-cleaned pile for AGES until I was finally like, you know what, I’ll try washing it on delicate and if I wreck it, so be it. It came out fine – bit wrinkly but nothing a quick pass with a steamer couldn’t fix. Since then I’ve washed a variety of other dry clean only stuff and it’s all been fine. The only thing I actually have dry cleaned is wool.

              1. Quill*

                Yeah, it can be very hard to tell without more info if “dry clean only” is “I wrinkle!” or “I will desintigrate and/or shrink to half my size with water.”

              2. Self Employed*

                You can definitely try this with unconstructed garments, but anything tailored could have interfacing that will be wrecked if washed in water. They’re not going to have the right shape afterwards and I don’t know if it’s possible to fix without basically picking apart the seams, replacing the floppy interfacing, and resewing. I’ve seen quite a few tailored jackets at thrift stores that clearly lost a fight with a washing machine.

            4. Ralph the wonder llama*

              Pro tip: for those who need to wear suits: Ann Taylor suits will go through the washer and dryer on delicate just fine.

            5. TardyTardis*

              I’ve washed silk Hawaiian shirts, and if I wash them with cold water and a delicate cycle and dry them on low with a dryer sheet, and then hang them up on a tube hanger, they’re just fine.

      2. Joan Rivers*

        Sometimes at a non-profit you’re doing physical labor, maybe in a basement. It’s OK to dress appropriately.
        But when I did, I was amazed at how much impact a SCARF and EARRINGS could have. A secondhand scarf that just pulled together colors I was wearing. So if you want to upgrade your look, consignment stores and garage sales are full of cheap clothes and accessories.

        Accessories are your friend. A “kerchief” scarf can look cute around your neck w/jeans and Tshirt, it doesn’t have to be dressy.

        If you meet w/clients, ask yourself — Is how you dress is respectful to THEM? If you’re paid to serve them and they’re dressed better than you are, how does that make THEM feel?
        If you’re not hands-on then maybe it’s fine. But this mentions clients.

        Because attire relates to body language, posture, attitude. Even if you’re not aware.

    2. Tehanu*

      True. Also her supervisor wears jeans. I think this will be be hard to change. I prefer dressing nice for work, and couldn’t fathom wearing clothes with holes in them in public, but it sounds like this is the culture.

      1. bubbleon*

        I’d be interested to see what the holes actually were, it’s tough to gauge with OP’s reaction if it was a small hole the employee might not have noticed (like where a zipper tries to eat your shirt in the washing machine) or large tears

        1. KHB*

          I’m wondering this too. When I had a lot less money than I do now, I used to sometimes wear shirts whose cuffs were a little frayed, or that had developed pinprick holes in unobtrusive places, because it seemed like such a waste to throw them away just for that. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these part-time nonprofit workers were doing the same.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            I have a cardigan with a hole on the back of the collar. You’d have to lift my long hair to see it. I figure it’s fine for work.

          2. Jasper*

            “Part time employment at a non profit” also doesn’t shout out to me “has the money to be super careful about replacing clothes as soon as they start looking worn”.

            1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

              Jasper, this x 1,000! As a lifelong employee of nonprofit agencies, I wholeheartedly agree; most of us willingly trade (much) higher salaries in the private sector to support a cause so important to us that we choose to devote our lives to it. Part of that trade-off is NOT having money for a lavish wardrobe or for instantly substituting upscale business attire for old, worn clothes. To have a newbie boss swan in and demand that those underpaid part-timers use their meagre wages to buy a raft of clothes in order to meet HER standards can’t even.

            2. joss*

              No kidding. Low paid job with expensive dress requirement shouts “introduce clothing allowance” to me

            3. another Hero*

              Yeah, this is big to me – MOST of their staff are PT, and she wants them to buy clothes they’ll only wear at work? Mmmmmmmm

            4. iglwif*

              Yes, that was my exact thought also!

              In my early working days, when I was an extremely junior nonprofit employee, 80% of my work wardrobe came from Value Village (the other 20% was fancy things my grandma had bought me to celebrate my first full-time job). I looked for nice things without holes and stains, of course, but like … I’m making $1300 a month after taxes, my rent is $750, and you want me to be buying nicer clothes? NOPE.

            5. Wendy Darling*

              I did a temp stint in a shitty mailroom that required business casual clothing. To sort mail and use all kinds of mailroom machinery. Mail is filthy and will snag the living hell out of your clothing so that job destroyed my entire business casual wardrobe and paid like 50 cents an hour over minimum wage.

              I just kept wearing my sad, wrecked clothes until the job ended because like hell was I buying new clothes to sacrifice on the altar of the envelope opener. I had to buy new job interview clothes afterwards because mine were grimy and stained and had pills and runs everywhere. Ugh.

          3. AstralDebris*

            There was a time where virtually every shirt I owned had two small pinprick holes in the abdomen, because at some point in the shirt’s lifespan I wore it while sitting down at home, and there was simply no avoiding my cat immediately jumping in my lap and making kitty biscuits on my stomach. I tried to remember to change out of my work clothes as soon as I got home but all it took was one slip-up, and there was no justifying buying a whole new wardrobe on my entry-level pay when it was only a matter of time before those shirts would succumb to cat love. I got an inexpensive set of tank tops and learned to layer, and no one ever commented.

            I get that there are jobs where looking polished matters, but if the whole office is ultra-casual then I’d guess this isn’t one of them. I hope the OP takes the time to understand what a big ask it would be to essentially implement and enforce a new dress code. From the letter, it doesn’t sound like they’ve considered the burden this would put on their employees, or the impact it would likely have on morale.

            1. Mad Harry Crewe*

              Yup, in the Before Times I wore a lot of long-sleeve tshirts in plain colors or stripes. There were always one or two tiny holes where my belt buckle and standing desk rubbed through the fabric. I’d have been throwing out perfectly good shirts (in really good colors!) *constantly* if I’d binned them for that.

        2. Evan Þ.*

          Yeah. I’ve occasionally worn shirts to work with that sort of hole, too. Once it was even in my pants.

        3. Forrest*

          I knit a lot, and also buy a lot of sale and secondhand cashmere jumpers and cardigans, and you better believe I’m going to keep wearing them despite a tiny hole under the arm or a small snag!

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            A dear friend of mine does the same. Unfortunately she started a job at a high profile law firm right at the same time a bunch of moths decided to show up in her wardrobe! She was trying to pay off her student loans and didn’t have the money to replace her whole wardrobe. Neither could she go to work reeking of mothballs.

            I helped her darn the more obvious holes as subtly as possible, and the smaller ones or less obtrusive ones we just didn’t worry about. Getting rid of the moths was a saga in itself, so there was a good 5 month period where if you looked closely you’d probably find a small hole somewhere on everything she owned.

          2. Felis alwayshungryis*

            That’s one great thing about knitting. Save at least some of your leftover yarn, and you’ll always be able to do mending that matches perfectly. I have sweaters that are reaching 10 years old, have been mended multiple times, and still don’t look worn out.

        4. ElizabethJane*

          It’s also not clear if the “clothes with holes” thing is the deliberate fashion choice holes. I work (worked when not in a pandemic) in a trendy office with a young staff in downtown Chicago. The clothing there was designer and expensive but it was also more risque than what I would call business casual – deliberately ripped clothes, shorter skirts, even the guys wore distressed sweaters.

        5. iliketoknit*

          Along these lines, I had to wonder whether sweatpants means “something Rocky would wear to the gym,” or joggers/athleisurewear which has become really popular and fashionable. I agree that in most business casual offices neither would be appropriate, but the overall impression can be very different between the two.

        6. JustaTech*

          I had a coworker in an academic lab (so, not a place with a lot of emphasis on appearance) who regularly wore a band t-shirt (Jane’s Addiction?) that was *full* of holes all over the body of the shirt, to the point that he wore another shirt under it.

          For me, that’s too many holes. If it can’t really function as a shirt anymore, it’s not for wearing outside.

      2. Lil Fidget*

        Also, it’s great for someone to like dressing nicely for work and to do that! But it should end there. Try not to project preferences onto the direct reports and coworkers.

      3. Quill*

        Depends on the hole, like… sometimes my sweaters or under-cardigan tees get holes around the collar that I don’t notice (because I’m not looking at me!) until much later.

      4. Cyn*

        I mean, I’ve paid money for brand new clothes that have pre-made holes…. It might be a deliberate fashion choice!

    3. Kizzia*

      Completely agree. I wouldn’t want to manage people who I’d forced into spending hundred of dollars just to make me feel better.

    4. Lady Meyneth*

      I’d look for a new job if I was suddenly told I had to dress up. Maybe that seems entitled of me, but a casual dress code was one of the biggest draws of my current company and a main reason I took that job. Losing that, even with other excellent benefits on the table, would drive me to move as quickly as I could.

      OP, if your work actively needs more polished dress, fine. You should be prepared to lose some employees over it, but that’s the way it is. Certainly, talk to the holed-shirt person, because that should not be ok anywhere. But if your main concern is “people look unpolished and unprofessional at work”, that’s a you problem and you need to adress it with yourself.

      1. KHB*

        I don’t think it sounds entitled. I was thinking the same thing. I really value the freedom to wear clothes that are comfortable to me, and I especially value the sense that my colleagues are more interested in my work than in how I look. So if I were suddenly told that I needed to adopt a whole new wardrobe for no reason other than to stop driving my supervisor nuts with my appearance, I’d be doubly put off.

        OP, your best employees are the ones with the most options, so they’re the ones you’re most likely to lose over something like this. Before springing any big changes on people, ask yourself if that’s a price you’re willing to pay.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Same. I prefer to wear more formal clothing. I would not work somewhere where I had to wear jeans or (shudder) khakis.

          Personally I think it makes more sense to look at the culture than the handbook. Half the time no one actually references the handbook or updates it, it just gets sent to new hires as a checking-the-box thing. My old job’s handbook was hilariously out of date (we also had a head of HR who had never heard of Glassdoor, sooo).

          1. KHB*

            I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a place where employees are forbidden to wear dressier businesswear or required to wear jeans or khakis (unless as part of a specific uniform). Do such places exist?

            1. Jackalope*

              I had a job where the uniform was khaki bottoms (pants, shorts, or skirts) and the company t-shirt or sweatshirt (which was provided to us). I thought it looked pretty smart while also being practical for what we had to do. But haven’t had a uniform like that in several years.

            2. Julia*

              I’ve had jobs where skirts were not allowed for safety reasons (construction) or movement/modesty issues (toddlers who will try to flip your skirt), so wearing a tight business skirt or anything less than ankle length and leggings underneath was a no-go. Those are rare cases, of course, but no one wears nice business pants in these situations either, because they’d either be damaged or restrict your movement.

              1. iglwif*

                Off topic, but during my mat leave I toured a daycare and rejected it, in my mind, even before they told me the mind-blowing monthly fees, because all the childcare staff were wearing really nice clothes, and the clothes were all very clean.

                Which may sound snotty, but you know what? If that’s how you dress to work with small children, I don’t think that you and my child will enjoy each other’s company very much…

            3. Green cat*

              I’ve had colleagues purchase appropriate casual clothes for assignments. Their everyday would look too out of place. They were still on the dressy side of casual, but didn’t stand out. Too formal can be just as jarring as too informal, even if it is the safer way to go.

              Think of it like this – if your workplace typically wears boardies, tshirt and thongs and you turn up in a suit & tie you look very out of place. It’s like a person in a formal workplace rocking up in a ballgown. If you’re the boss, it can also come across as judgemental rather than a personal idiosyncrasy. Where there are significant income differences, it can also appear to be rubbing that in.

              Most people stick pretty close to the culture and so tending to formal is a minor thing.

            4. James*

              As a cashier I had to wear tan khakis and a red shirt. On my current job, at jobsites the de facto uniform is jeans and a t-shirt. Jeans because they take wear and tear relatively well, and t-shirts because you can buy them in bulk and they are replaceable. Some jobsites have stricter requirements–I once worked at a site where they mandated the color of the jeans and t-shirts, because they’d negotiated deals with the local gangs and that uniform meant non-combatant and wouldn’t be targeted (I got out of that one as quick as I could; what I described wasn’t even the worst part of the job).

        2. Anna Karenina*

          Best part of WFH now is that I wear sweats everyday and a sports bra. I have to say it has really improved my body image as well

        3. Anonapots*

          I think it’s okay to say no sweatpants. That’s not crazy, in my mind, but who cares if they wear jeans?

          1. Stefie25*

            I have to agree with you there. I’ve never heard of a office type profession (implied by the blazers & slacks) that okays sweatpants. I know it’s fine in some industries (my dad’s a welder; sweats fit best under welding leathers) but public facing? There’s dressing casual (jeans & a tshirt) & then there’s dressing like a slob. I’m assuming that if OP is mentioning holes that means they are big & noticable & not tiny pinpricks. I’d be against that too. As a customer, I would probably relate better to someone in jeans & a tee/hoodie rather than a suit but I don’t think I would be okay with someone dressed in sweats & a holey shirt. If they don’t put some type of effort into their appearance how do I know they’ll put effort into their work.

          2. Mookie*

            Sweats are getting the stealthy swank treatment of late, particularly for women, where the tailoring, construction, fabric, and details (like concealed elastic waistbands, false flies, tapered legs with a traditional bottom hem) form a convincing enough illusion. Nice consequence of the rise of better leisurewear, I think.

            1. JustaTech*

              My very best “business” pants have an elastic waistband and no fly. They’ve also got the biggest pockets you’ve ever seen. I wore them on a red-eye to Europe (in the BeforeTimes) and slept comfortably (for a plane) and looked presentable when I got there. (Betabrand)

      2. Nice Try, FBI*

        I would, too. I’ve left jobs over dress code. If you want to dress up, OP, go for it. But why feel the need to change an established culture? Did you not notice how people were dressed while going through the hiring process?

        I had to dress up for about a decade of my professional life, and I appreciate having a boss who says that, unless there’s a reason to be dressed up, there’s no need to. My boss trusts that we will come to work dressed appropriately (we’re in education), and I appreciate working for someone who’s reasonable. I assume if one of us came to work dressed inappropriately, she’d address it one on one.

      3. Anon for Today*

        My company had a casual dress code for years (jeans, casual tops, tennis shoes). It was great, even though it was unevenly enforced. Then we started to have more upper management in the building for meetings and they noticed one too many people coming in wearing velour track suits and Van Halen style jeans (I saw one woman come to work in flannel pajama pants once) and that was the end of that. People were pissed, but I could see why it happened.

      4. Quoth the Raven*

        It’s not. Dress codes are deal breakers to me. I own very few dress(ier) clothes, and feel absolutely uncomfortable in them (I mean, a lot of my style takes from grunge, though I know to make it less so when working). I would not work somewhere I’d have to wear something I’m not comfortable in for hours, five or six days a week, and that I’d have to spend money on clothes I wouldn’t wear otherwise.

      5. MCMonkeybean*

        I didn’t know that I cared about a casual dress code until my company announced a few years ago that they were making casual friday every day. There is still a dress code and you are still expected to look fairly polished but jeans are allowed which suddenly made pretty much every shirt in my closet something I could reasonable wear to work because everything goes with jeans.

        Once I had that perk, it was really hard to consider giving it up. When I decided to look at other companies I honestly applied at a place that makes jeans because I thought “oh I bet they’re allowed to wear jeans there!”

    5. Ally McBeal*

      ESPECIALLY if I were working at a nonprofit, which typically pays at or below market wage. If some new boss from the corporate world came in and made the dress code much more formal without any sort of stipend to help cover these purchases, I’d be furious. This is particularly important for bigger people, who often struggle to find affordable clothes.

      1. The Original K.*

        That was my thought too – folks who work part-time at a nonprofit likely aren’t pulling down big salaries, and asking them to shell out for new clothes solely because it’s the boss’s preference isn’t going to go over well.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Add me to the “but nonprofit employees don’t really make enough for a sudden wardrobe change” group.

          1. Middle Aged Lady*

            Me too! I was underpaid staff at my last nonprofit job and my boss decided to tighten up the dress code for our unit (it’s in the handbook! She burbled) while others around us were wearing what they always did. I couldn’t afford buy all new clothes on the salary they paid me nor did I wish to because I knew it would be unevenly enforced. One of the many reasons I don’t work there anymore. And who will enforce it? You had better be ready to send people home for violations, because believe me, those who complied will be PISSED if their coworkers get away with wearing what they always did.

          2. Self Employed*

            And there are always other nonprofits looking for experienced staff, so unless this is the only casual-attire nonprofit in town, OP is likely to lose staff who are presumably getting the work done. Then OP will need to hire people for PT nonprofit work who can turn down the job when they find out they’re expected to spend a significant % of their small paycheck on business attire.

            How formally they need to dress depends a lot on who the nonprofit serves and what work they do. I know people at a food bank, and they have to do a lot of physical labor and/or handle bulk produce. (And some donations are overripe and messy.) Nobody is going to complain that the person who checks them in or puts the bags in their trunk looks like a slob.

            I could see expecting lawyers or paralegals at a Legal Aid office to be at least business casual so they look like someone you could imagine dressing up a notch more for court.

            But at a lot of nonprofits, dressing too fancy (like OP) would just convey an unintended message of being much higher up on the social ladder than the people you serve.

            For instance, I’ve seen news articles showing young social workers just out of college, in business casual, meeting with homeless people in the encampments that are easiest to do photo ops in. They’re out to interview wary people who are embarrassed about being destitute and dirty for a very intrusive evaluation process to see what services they need. (Asking about medical conditions, substance abuse, being victims of crime, and sexual assault–that kind of thing.) They look like they’re afraid they’re going to get dirty or break a heel. Then the management of the nonprofit shows up at a [local government] meeting saying they just can’t find people who meet the criteria for whatever program is being discussed so they need more funding. Uh, shouldn’t that mean the county should find a nonprofit that can meet the grant criteria?

            Meanwhile, the rag-tag band of easily-relatable community volunteers and formerly-unhoused folks has a list as long as your arm of people who say nobody from the nonprofit ever visited their encampment down by the creek before the Water District bulldozed it. Yeah, the one you can’t see from a major street, where you’d wreck a nice outfit trying to get there from the bike trail, and it would be hard to bring a camera crew.

        2. Elenna*

          Yes, this! OP, among all the other excellent advice, please do take some time to look at how much your clothing generally costs (or, better although maybe harder, look at how much similar clothing would cost for someone plus-size or who has an unusual body shape, if you aren’t in that category). Then multiply by the cost of buying several full outfits of that type, all at once – not just one or two pieces at a time like you probably bought them.

          Then take a look at your employees’ salaries (if you have that information), keeping in mind the cost of rent, food, etc. in this area, plus the fact that your employees probably have other fun things they want to spend money on that’s not clothing. Of course I can’t speak about your organization, maybe your employees are actually paid really well! But in most part-time, nonprofit jobs, buying a whole new wardrobe would be a significant financial hardship.

          1. Elenna*

            Of course, even if your employees can easily afford new clothes, there’s still several good reasons to think before implementing a change, as Allison and other commenters have mentioned. But the cost is likely another good reason not to do it.

            1. Quill*

              Dress code changes are always most onerous for:

              – AFAB people
              – Gender nonconforming dressers
              – People of larger than average size, in height or girth
              – The lower earners in your organization
              – Disabled and Neurodivergent people (even when you, the boss, don’t know who these people are.)

              They’re also disproportionately enforced by
              – Size
              – Gender expression
              – Misogynistic assumptions & ‘sexiness’ of body shape
              – Race

        3. MeepMeep*

          And it’s not just the price of the new clothes – it’s the price and inconvenience of dry-cleaning the new clothes. I used to work in a “business casual” environment and it was very expensive to keep everything dry-cleaned and looking neat. Never mind that at a nonprofit, they probably won’t have the perk of on-site dry-cleaning pickup and delivery.

          I was willing to put up with that for a lawyer’s salary, but for a part-time nonprofit job? I’d start looking for new jobs ASAP.

          1. Observer*

            Business casual does not have to be dry clean. I generally don’t bother with blazers, but I do do skirts, shirts and cardigans. None of which are dry clean. I’ve spent so much time under desks, that I simply won’t buy anything for the office that I can’t throw in the washing machine.

            But still, at minimum it means spending money, time and effort buying a new wardrobe. And yes, most of my stuff does take a bit more careful handling and is a bit more expensive than I could get jeans and tees.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        I came here to say this. Nonprofit salaries are often lower, and I’d be really wary about asking employees to spend money on something like this if there isn’t a rock-solid work reason beyond “I don’t like how people are dressing.”

        That said, I think that “clothes should be free of holes and mostly not wrinkled” is pretty reasonable. I mean, things are going to pick up wrinkles while being worn, but that’s a normal thing.

        OP, I have to say, you do sound a bit “pearl clutchy” here. As Alison says, judge your employees more on their work output, and really think hard about whether there is a business impact to the way people are dressing. And if the work output is good, and there’s no specific impact you can point to, try to accept that this is a different culture than you’re used to and move forward on that basis.

        1. Malarkey01*

          Even the wrinkled thing can be a bit of a sliding scale. I had one coworkers who wore shirts that looked like he wadded them up in a ball and kept them in a bag for a week before wearing them…and then there was my mother in law who criticized me for letting my husband wear a casual collared polo style shirt that had a few crease marks from being folded (I was legit confused why she was telling me about this and not her grown a@@ son who she raised but that was the first of my revelations in my first year of marriage that I quickly rectified). So even the no wrinkles can be taken to far I think.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, I think we’re swinging a bit “all or nothing” here. For the record: I am an underpaid employee of a nonprofit. But there is a lot of room between “stains and holes” and “buying an all-new wardrobe”. It’s not unreasonable to ask people to be clean, in generally decent repair, and not totally wrinkled. If you can’t pay your employees enough for them to afford a few pieces of gently-used mix-and-match clothing, maybe the dress code should have been addressed already as part of a wider upgrade of your organization’s presentation.

          1. EchoGirl*

            I had the same thought. Asking them to wear clothes in decent condition (with some understanding that it may not always be perfect, but there are degrees — small, barely-noticeable holes or vague stains are different than huge rips or extremely visible stains), particularly for a public-facing department is one thing, wanting to completely change the de facto dress code is another.

            1. Anonapots*

              Or sweatpants. I absolutely understand if the OP doesn’t want staff to wear sweatpants to work; that doesn’t mean they have to dress up.

          2. JessaB*

            Yeh, the only dress code I ever enforced in a job that didn’t supply the clothing for work was “neat, clean, not obscene.” And I did consider large holes to not be “neat” but I wouldn’t send anyone home because of them. I’d ask them not to wear it in the future however. I get the old torn jeans thing, but patches and sewing are possible. Don’t start me on deliberately torn clothing, I don’t get it. Tears lower the lifetime of useability in clothing.

            On the other hand I’m an old hippie and I was not a trousers wearing gal for many many years, I did however have an ankle length denim skirt that was older and had loads of pretty patches on it because it was finally getting comfortable. Nowadays I wear whatever. I’ve learnt not to get the “ick” feelings about trousers and things. But torn stuff still gets stitched up.

        3. AstralDebris*

          I can’t not read the sentence “My own supervisor wears jeans and an untucked t-shirt” without picturing the writer clutching their pearls as they say it. Jeans, you say? And an untucked t-shirt, good heavens!

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Same. And even then, it wasn’t because I wanted to, it was because an adult who was in charge of me told me I had to.

            2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              I know, right?

              Look, I’m pear shaped. The only tops that fit me decently are stretchy knits. Anything else is too big on top if it fits through the hips or vice versa. Blouses that button down the front work only if I wear them open and layered over a stretchy top of some sort. I avoid anything that’s closely fitted, because my body type does not match any clothing manufacturer’s idea of what “normal” body proportions are supposed to be, and I have never ben able to afford to have things tailored to fit. So 90% of the time, you’ll find me wearing a stretchy, knit top of some sort, untucked, usually with stretch denim jeans.

              If I had a job where I’d been dressing as I just described for years and a new boss came in and ordered me to dress in a way that would require me to spend MY money on clothes that would probably neither fit as well or be as comfortable as what I’d been wearing all along, I’d be mightily displeased.

            3. JessaB*

              Heck I saw an advert for a company that makes shirts designed to stay untucked and not ride up when you raise your arms. I think it’s great.

          1. TrainerGirl*

            And I have to wonder if OP exaggerated a bit to make it sound like the employees’ dress is a huge issue. I just can’t picture a bunch of people dressed in the clothing they describe. It’s possible that the clothing is as bad as described, but since OP has made it clear they have a huge problem with it, they might be making it more than it is.

            1. Dove*

              I’ll admit that I will tuck my shirts in sometimes. Even tshirts!

              …it’s because otherwise there’s a very slight gap between the waistband of my pants or skirt, and the hem of my shirt, and the weather’s too cold for those sorts of gaps right now.

              At any other time in the year, I don’t care about tucking in my shirts unless the outfit requires it.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                For those of us with metal allergies, tucking shirts into the front of jeans is a necessity to protect against the dreaded metal button.
                (And because it’s usually the next suggestion, I don’t want to use nail polish on my clothing.)

                1. JessaB*

                  A bit of iron on patching material on the back side of the waistband can help also. Why yes I too have a metal allergy. The bit that bugged me for years was not being able to wear a watch, or metal jewelry, only bracelets with stones instead. Nowadays not a big deal because finding nurse watches that pin on is very easy (used to be rarer to find.) I have one clipped to the strap of my purse.

            2. DarnTheMan*

              I like tucking my t-shirts in but that’s also because I pretty much wear high-waisted bottoms so oftentimes tucking my shirts in looks better.

          2. JustaTech*

            I had a boss who wore torn jeans and untucked (button-up) shirts that probably cost more than my interview outfit, because torn jeans were in style, and the button-ups had interesting patterns. Like, easily $300 for the shirt and jeans.
            What did it tell you? Along with the spiky hair his outfit said “I’m a stylish guy”, with maybe a hint of “I’m cooler than the other PIs.”

            Our collective boss, a frankly Big Deal in our area, wore old faded jeans, a fleece vest, and socks with sandals. It’s a running joke at every scientific conference I’ve been to: older person in really casual clothes? Biggest big deal in the room. Probably discovered something really important.

      3. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        I’m curious about OP’s inclusion of volunteers, as well. If I’m volunteering, I’ll accept that I signed up for what I signed up for, but if you want me to wear my work clothes that I need to have for my paying job I might not be signing up.

        1. Alison*

          The only place I have ever volunteered and been told what to wear (outside of like closed toed shoes to work on a building project) was when I was a volunteer usher at a theater and even that was just white shirt, black pants. I think without there being a solid reason (safety, ease of identification) for requiring volunteers to dress a certain way that it’s way over the top to think that you can police their clothes.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an organization to provide a dress code to volunteers (since the volunteers are representing the organization), but it certainly does need to be reasonable. If I’m volunteering to do office work at a non-profit where the dress code for office workers is jeans-and-tshirt then it’s acceptable for that to be the volunteer dress code as well. I volunteered at a museum in college (I worked the ticket window and the front desk) and was asked to wear business casual, since that was the museum’s employee dress code, and did not see anything unreasonable with that.

          I’ve also been told as a volunteer to avoid wearing anything with offensive language/images, or anything with political messaging.

          People are certainly free to not volunteer if they don’t like the dress code, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable they exist in many cases.

      4. Another NFP Manager*

        I asked what I should wear upon starting as a non-profit manager myself, and the response was “whatever you don’t mind getting dusty”. Given how bad fast fashion is for the environment and the people who make it, I would hope that there are bigger priorities in that kind of organization.

    6. PolarVortex*

      Agreed, and a lot of comments make me think her dress style is just wildly different than many other people’s.

      Or my biggest thought is she’s older and from the more Work Dress style of many an old business world, and the younger generation tends towards wearing athlesiure (hate this word), tshirts, jeans, shorts as okay workplace casual. (The tucking in the TShirt comment tells me that, it hasn’t been a thing in Decades.) Because the old school way is Work is Important! and the younger generations think Work is not my Life!, which means there’s different standards one is willing to put up with.

      Also: cargo shorts aren’t meant to be pressed, and I find they wrinkle easily, so I am not shocked at that in the least.

      1. foolofgrace*

        T-shirts being tucked in or not — nowadays the thing is to just tuck your shirt in the front and let the rest flow free. I think it’s kind of weird but I am one of the older generation and probably in the minority.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            I’ve seen it and don’t care for it, personally. But I recognize that it’s a thing, and that not liking it is my personal preference, so I consider it my option to not wear my shirts that way and other people’s option to do so if they wish.

            If I’m wearing jeans or slacks, I do tuck in t-shirts. Because I’m short, and if I don’t, they tend to be a bit too long on me; tucking them in helps deal with that issue.

          2. Galloping Gargoyles*

            I actually had this conversation about a month ago with my 17 year old niece.
            50-year old aunt: I just don’t get it. Why don’t you either tuck in or tuck out
            Niece: shrugging, it’s out style. I like it.
            Me: shrugging, I just don’t get it but you do you :-)

            My husband tucks in every shirt he wears, except a t-shirt when he’s swimming because it would just untuck lol Pants, jeans, even sweatpants (and I do mean the traditional sweats we wore growing up not the fancy sweats of current style).

            I think dressing a little nicer is fine. I agree that having standards of no rips, limited wrinkles, no sweats is just fine but as so many have said, asking PT staff to upgrade their wardrobe when it’s not the cultural norm would be an undue hardship. It’s one thing if people know coming in to a job that dress code is business casual and thus they may have to purchase some wardrobe items. I don’t see anything wrong with that. It’s a whole other thing though to change the rules for people that have been dressing more casual for awhile now as appears to be the case here.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I tuck in T-shirts because they cause problems with my cell phone case, multi-plier pouch, and whatever other random stuff I might have hooked on my belt. Looking like Batman is a bit sub-optimal but at least that way I don’t leave stuff places.

    7. KayDeeAye*

      I agree that if the culture – and the work – allows for casual dress, the OP needs to accustom herself to that and to judge people on their work and not their clothing. But the OP needs to find out what the real rules are, since what’s in the employee handbook are apparently not the real rules, and then get upper management to agree that these need to be enforced.

      Casual dress =/= “You can wear whatever you please,” so even if this very casual dress standard continues, I don’t think it would be out-of-line, to have some rules, e.g., “Clothing should be in good repair.”

      1. EPLawyer*

        clothing should be neat and appropriately cover the person. (yes I am not a fan of midriff shirts, see through shirts male or female, or cold shoulder shirts, nor mini skirts that you worry the person may flash someone). But that is pretty simple.

        OP may also need to realize that her approach to dress may make her unapproachable to her team. If everyone is casual and you are in a suit all the time, you may appear too buttoned up to approach about an issue. I’m not saying go whole hog dress down, but maybe a skirt, nice top sans jacket. Or a more unstructured jacket. or my current Zoom court outfit — jeans, dress shirt and suit jacket. I do not wear the unicorn slippers to Zoom court, just casual shoes.

        1. AstralDebris*

          Are your feet visible in Zoom court? Because I would take a great deal of seditious pleasure in wearing the unicorn slippers (or perhaps the killer bunny slippers) to court.

          But perhaps that is why I didn’t go into law :)

          1. Anononon*

            I had my first zoom court appearance a couple weeks ago (almost all of my remote hearings have been just over the phone), and I got SUCH a kick out of wearing sweatpants and socks with a suit jacket and nice top. Of course, for my teleconference hearings, I’m in full on sweats and hoodies. (Also working from home lol.)

        2. #WearAllTheHats*

          Yes. “…dress like slobs” 100% DOES make you sound like a snob. “They don’t follow the dress code and their clothing has holes” is more accurate and way less judgy. Many of these conundrums could be solved by “Read the room, y’all, and ask sensible questions for clarification with a judging tone,” and voila. Questions answered and you can determine if the problem is with others’ (mis)application of a rule…or with you. And if it’s with you, decide if you can stand the “slobs”.

        3. Timothy (TRiG)*

          One of the few true perks of working from home is being barefoot at all times. I hate shoes.

          I’ve been wearing shorts and t-shirt to my office job for years, though. I’m a programmer. We can do these things. (Also, I don’t own jeans, and find them uncomfortable, so all the people suggesting jeans as neutral are puzzling me.)

    8. emmelemm*

      Yeah, I’m definitely a “I will dress cleanly and comfortably and no more” person. It’s one thing if I went to a job interview and could see everyone was wearing pretty formal clothing, and then decided to take the job because it was still the best offer I had available. I’d upgrade my wardrobe as best as possible and try to live up to it. But if I went to a job interview and more than half the office was in jeans, I’d be like, “My people!” and if a week after I was hired, someone said, “No more jeans!!” I would be mad as heck.

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        This makes me curious about what the LW saw of the dress code in the interview. Surely there was an inkling that they’re not a smart-business-casual sort of office…

    9. LegendaryBobcatTaxidermy*

      I had a boss that did this. She went against the grain and required all of us to dress up even though our department was not frequently client or customer facing (we always had a heads up to dress nice the next day if customers or corporate was coming to visit) and we could do our jobs perfectly well in jeans, like the rest of the entire company. It was commented on from other departments (“she thinks they’re better than us”) as well as creating annoyance within the department that we were required to dress up for no apparent reason, even though no one else had to. Whatever potential “benefits” were gained were fair outweighed by the negative repercussions. By all means, dress to the nines – I do it every day, working from home, while my virtual coworkers (mostly developers) wear t-shirts and pajama bottoms. But don’t require anyone else to do it. Lead by example, not enforcement.

      1. NYWeasel*

        This is along the lines of what I was coming to say. Dress up and be a kickass leader, and people will naturally start to emulate you. Make a stink about a code no one is enforcing, and ppl will cut you out of the office politics bc they’ll be afraid of what else you’ll be a stickler about. You might get faster compliance the second way, but you’ll pay for the speed many times over.

        1. MCMonkeybean*

          “Dress up and be a kickass leader, and people will naturally start to emulate you.”

          As someone who used to prefer dressing up all the time, I can say that this was not at all my experience. People were really weird about it. I don’t know if they subconsciously felt like me dressing nicely was a dig at them not doing so and so they got weirdly defensive about it? But I would get a lot of weird comments.

          One dude in college that I had like never even talked to before was just randomly like “do you even *own* any tshirts??” And at the office I would somewhat regularly get half-joking comments of “uh oh, someone’s got an interview later!” And more generic comments/questions along the lines of “why are you so dressed up today?” were extremely common.

          All this to say that OP should probably just let this go and dress however they want, but they should also be aware that if the way they prefer to dress is significantly different than their coworkers people might be weird about it.

    10. Tired of Covid-and People*

      I would do the reverse, start dressing more casually, and save on my dry cleaning bills. OP, casual doesn’t mean sloppy. Your coworkers likely thing you are indeed a bit of a snob. I like to dress well too, and would never wear what some other folks used to have on when we were in the office, which has no dress code. But you would never catch me in pantyhose or a skirt suit. I’m more casual but still polished, and have saved a small fortune in clothing maintenance costs. Consider loosening up a bit.

    11. TrainerGirl*

      Very true. I had a previous job with a tech company where one employee (who was essentially my counterpart in another group) tell me that I needed to dress up even as he walked me around the office where I could clearly see that everyone was dressed in jeans and t-shirts. No one should try to change a company’s culture or dress code simply because it’s what they prefer.

    12. Tara*

      Especially part time workers at a non-profit! No part of the message suggested that the employees are earning the kinds of salaries where they’d be happy buying new, more professional clothes! It sounds to me as if LW just needs to get more comfortable being the only one dressed that way, rather than trying to make other people spend money they may not have, to look a way they don’t appear to need to.

    13. Elle by the sea*

      I couldn’t agree more. Unless the dressed-like-a-slob majority would want her to stop dressing nicely, OP has no standing to enforce the dress code on the rest of the team.

      Honestly, I don’t understand why it bothers people how others dress, apart from a few cases like the clothing being dirty or revealing to the point that it displays their private parts (e.g. what I tend to call a mason’s décolletage as a result of wearing extremely low-rise pants).

      I also like dressing up nicely but since I work on engineering teams, even my usual (born out of compromise) jeans + T-shirt/fitted top/silk blouse + blazer outfit stands out as being too dressy. Occasionally people turned up in tracksuits and no one cared. In general, we don’t focus much on how people dress – work output and being able to work with people whose personality or style is different from yours is what matters the most.

    14. Joan Rivers*

      I’d be so upset if I were a client at a nonprofit and the person meeting w/me was dressed a lot worse than I was. It would seem disrespectful of me and/or their career. Unless they were carrying furniture, etc., as their job.

      I’d also be so upset if no one mentioned clients’ perspective after mentioning there ARE clients involved here. Why do people think it’s only about what the workers want? Do they think nonprofit clients have to just take whatever they want to give them?

      1. Oaktree*

        What kind of non-profit do you think this is? It sounds like you’re assuming this is a non-profit organization that works with people experiencing poverty, but while this is possible, nothing about “non-profit” necessarily means that is the case. Non-profits can range from neocon think tanks to soup kitchens to lefty civil liberties orgs to museums. Your comment makes so many unfounded assumptions about the nature of the work that it’s pretty useless as advice.

      2. FunTimes*

        This is an odd take. I worked in a very, traditional formal industry (law) on the non-profit side, and we were allowed to wear jeans to the office, even for client meetings. Sometimes clients would be dressed nicer than me, sometimes they would come in sweatpants. No one ever suggested that I was disrespecting them or providing poor service by virtue of my outfit. Non-profit jobs are often high-stress and do not pay well. Casual dress codes are a nice perk that the organization can give its staff for free!

    15. A*

      Yup. I ask about dress code in the interviews because I refuse to work anywhere that I can’t wear jeans. Realized early in my career that for me – comfort is more important. I would be livid if the policy, or culture in practice, changed this drastically. I’d be job hunting immediately.

  2. Morticia*

    The first thing I thought of when I read this was the LW who couldn’t afford to buy new clothes, and was being fined $5 a day for wearing the clothes she had.

    LW, another thing to look at is whether or not these people are paid enough to buy new clothes. And, even if the pay seems reasonable, remember you don’t know what hidden expenses these people have.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      This jumped out at me because so many people in this org are part time. Do they get benefits? Or are they paying the dentist out of pocket? Because if you make people spend their dentist budget on nice clothes you will be rightly hated.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Good point. And are the part time people comming or going to another part time job earlier/later in the day and that job wears jeans too?

      2. H. Regalis*

        The part-time thing really stood out to me too. I can’t imagine being underpaid at a part-time job and then one manager (and only that manager) being like, “*I* have decided that all of you need to get a new wardrobe.”

    2. Rainy*

      And depending on the type of non-profit it’s possible that all of these people paid through the nose for degrees that then qualified them for jobs that pay almost nothing.

      If your non-profit thinks that the satisfaction of doing something you’re passionate about is “part of your pay” they have no business complaining about what clothes people show up in, since their employees cannot eat satisfaction, pay the rent with it, or use it to buy business casual clothing.

      1. EngineerGirl88*

        The part-time part stuck out the most to me. Like you don’t have the decency to pay these people benefits but they are still expected to spend money on dress clothes for just half a days work? Maybe their next job within the day is more casual.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          I think the OP probably needs to lighten up at least a little and maybe a lot, but I also think assuming the OP “doesn’t have the decency” to treat employees well is a little harsh. Part-time doesn’t necessarily mean “down-trodden” (though sometimes it does, of course) and it’s unkind to assume that’s the case here.

          1. Observer*

            Part time does not necessarily mean downtrodden. But making rules that cost people money is always something to think very carefully about. And that goes in multiples when the people you are going to hit with this new expense are low paid and don’t get benefits.

            The fact that this doesn’t seem to have occurred to the OP does not really speak well about the way she sees her staff.

            1. KayDeeAye*

              Of course such things should be considered carefully, and I think reminding the OP of this is a good and useful thing. But I still say that assuming the OP is being exploitative here or completely ignores the needs of her staff is (1) unkind and (2) contrary to the AAM commenting rules.

              1. Observer*

                Agreed. There is a wide range between “not being the greatest manager” and “horrible exploitative boss”. Absent evidence of the latter, I agree it’s neither kind nor useful to go there.

        2. [insert witty username here]*

          Whoa, let’s back up here. There’s nothing to indicate that these jobs are part-time specifically so the non-profit doesn’t have to pay benefits. Lots of people seek out part time jobs for a variety of reasons. Not everyone needs benefits through their job. I couldn’t care less if people show up to work in casual attire but even if they had a next job within the day that is more casual, they would still need to meet their first job’s dress code if it’s different than the other job’s. Let’s not shred OP’s company with misplaced anger; we don’t know enough and you’re making some big assumptions here.

          1. Observer*

            We don’t have anywhere near enough information to assume that the organization is being exploitative. I agree with you on that.

            However, generally, part timers are not making much and they also generally don’t get benefits. Given that reality, the OP should realize that even if her staff is being paid a nice hourly wage, they are almost certainly not well paid. She definitely should keep that in mind when considering making rules that will cost people money.

            1. [insert witty username here]*

              Oh yes, I agree with you on everything you said! I don’t think I made myself clear that I think OP is not reading the room in this situation. The comment from EngineerGirl88 just came across as pretty aggressive and assuming a lot of things that we don’t know to be true and I wanted to respond specifically just to that. But yeah, I agree that OP needs to take into consideration that enforcing different dress code rules (even if they already exist on paper but not in practice) could/would be a financial imposition for a lot of her team and that is not cool.

      2. Verde*

        @Rainy – I have said something similar often, and this is stated very eloquently. Just like artists and musicians can’t pay their bills with “Exposure”. No one takes that card in real life.

    3. cncx*

      this this this. i worked at a law firm that expected us to wear suits and stockings every day. those of us at lower pay bands got a couple hundred a month clothing allowance in order to play along.

  3. cold call catastrophe*

    Also make sure you don’t have some kind of bias with the dress code. At my last workplace, the dress code was ignored for people who were conventionally attractive women, or older men. Potato-shaped women like myself and younger men were regularly chastised for the slightest dress code variant.

    1. gratefully a former manager*

      This. Finding affordable more formal business attire is harder and more expensive depending on your body shape and size. (It’s very hard to thrift shop while fat and/or short or tall, for example. Heck, lots of brick and mortar stores have nearly eliminated carrying plus sizes entirely, forcing larger folks to shop online.) While it’s possible for a part-time employee to have a high hourly rate, it’s not particularly common, either.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Ooh, I just realized that the burden of buying a new work wardrobe would be even higher than usual right now for anyone who struggles to buy well-fitting clothes without trying them on first, too. Do you risk the brick-and-mortar store? Or do you shell out a bunch of cash out front for things you’ll probably have to send back anyway?

        1. PolarVortex*

          Most brick and mortar stores aren’t letting you try on in store either. You have to buy and take home to try. Bought some jeans on a whim and a prayer the other day since my last pair got a rip that made them NSFW.

          1. Rachel in NYC*

            really? the second hand shop by me will let you try things on- they have a ‘quarantine’ rack by the dressing rooms for after you try stuff on.

        2. Nea*

          I’m only buying from tried-and-trusted vendors whose sizing I know and Eshakti, where the clothes are made to my measurements.

            1. introverted af*

              I’ve never bought from it myself, but a coworker had a couple dresses from them – the fabric and build/construction quality was solid, and they definitely seemed to fit her very well. She said she liked them a lot and they felt comfortable, and never had any complaints about the price, especially for what she got. So take that secondhand opinion for what it’s worth :D

            2. Rainy*

              They’re great, but DEFINITELY HAVE HELP MEASURING. Most humans cannot effectively get true measurements for bespoke clothing without at least three hands.

              1. coldbrewraktajino*

                I’ve gone so far as to have my sewist friend measure me and they still fit weirdly. (Though that one was the best out of the four dresses I’ve tried.) I’ve heard that it helps to add comments like “yes this bust is correct, I am cup uk size H.” Otherwise the measurement gets basically averaged out rather than adding/removing fabric right where you need it.

            3. Nea*

              I love them and have a ridiculous number of their cotton knit dresses. The year they were doing pull-over-the-head dresses I ordered one in every color and then used their “fabric customization” system to order one in every color they *didn’t* make.

              That said, the fabrics used for the cotton knits tend to shrink a little bit in length (most of my “below knee” dresses are now at the bottom of the knee) and the darker colors fade a bit when washed often (one black dress is now charcoal gray). So know that going in.

              But you’ll never find anything as comfortable or as flattering. AND THEY HAVE POCKETS!

            4. Beth*

              I used to buy a fair bit from them and some of those items held up for like 8 years before I finally retired them (after two separate rounds of tailoring as I changed sizes, frequent wear and washing, and generally not-very-careful treatment). My style has changed enough that they’re no longer my go-to place to shop, but assuming their quality has stayed the same over the years, I’d definitely recommend them.

            5. Barefoot Librarian*

              I own maybe 20 Eshakti dresses and a handful of tops. I’ve shopped with them for about five years. I’ve found that they hold up well, wash well, and (provided you measure yourself correctly) fit perfectly. I’ve got fairy broad shoulders for a woman and I struggle to find things that fit off the rack. Plus almost everything has pockets — deep, sturdy pockets. I get compliments all the time on my wardrobe.

            6. Shhhh*

              I’ve bought a couple dresses from Eshakti and I’ve really liked them. I’m a large woman in my late 20s and I find it difficult to find dressy dresses that fit me well and are something I feel comfortable wearing. The pricing is good for the kind of clothing you’re getting, too, and they often have coupons available. If I’m able to go to my cousin’s wedding this summer, it’s where I plan to get a dress.

              My main challenge has been planning ahead when I want to order something from them – obviously, it takes longer since the clothing is custom made and is shipping from outside of the US. As long as you leave yourself enough time, though, it’s a really good option.

            7. Liza*

              Like the others commenting above I’ve mostly had great experiences with eShakti’s clothes! My one caveat is that their idea of a reasonable neckline is often lower than my idea of a reasonable neckline, so keep that in mind while you browse and while you choose what neckline you want on a top or dress.

              (My only, only bad experience with them was one time I needed something by a certain date and it shipped late and then the delivery company lost it–that part wasn’t eShakti’s fault. But all my other orders have gone well.)

              Oh, and I second Rainy’s recommendation to get help with your measurements if you can–but I did manage to get my own measurements well enough that the clothes I ordered fit well.

            8. Deliliah*

              One of the only places I can purchase button down shirts that don’t gape or come unbuttoned! I have a button down shirt and a button down dress from them that I love!

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                YES. I am a short-waisted, 34H with (apparently) shorter-than-average shoulders (my spouse learned too adjust bra straps before we were even married). I gave up on button-downs before finding eShakti. I have a custom shirt-dress from there that is the only one I’ve ever found that fit right in the chest.

                My second favorite is an embroidered cotton dress with hidden pockets that I get tons of compliments on.

            9. Filosofickle*

              I’ve been extremely pleased with the quality of the fabrics and construction. They have some of the most interesting patterns I’ve seen anywhere. And not just pockets — good pockets. Big and well set so you can put stuff in them and not create lumpy chipmunk hips. I happen to have the exact measurements of one of their standard sizes, so I don’t need to do custom. (Notably, it’s a 2 sizes up, numerically, from what I normally buy in stores but it’s true to the chart, so go by that.)

              I’ve bought 4 items from them — two blouses, a dress, and a tunic. The blouses are perfect. Where I’ve run into problems is length on the dress and tunic. Both of them came in shorter than I expected. The dress by just an inch or two, no big. The tunic I specifically changed it from butt length to mid-thigh length but the actual garment barely clears my tush. Decided not to send it back because otherwise it’s adorable on. So I wear it over jeans instead of leggings. I wish I could give them an actual back seam measurement instead of choosing a length from a picture. I know exactly how long I like a dress.

              1. elizelizeliz*

                Since we are way off on this tangent at this point, I will say as someone with a long torso and short legs, I make my height 2-inches longer when I order clothes and it’s perfect. So that might be an option also, is to shift your measurements slightly that way even on the non-made to measure items.

                1. Filosofickle*

                  Yes, I was thinking of doing just that! (And also, I should just ask if I can give them a specific length.) Compared to my very short torso and lower legs, I am disproportionately long from waist to knee. Skirts are the one item I don’t need a petite in.

            10. Used to shop there*

              I’ve had mixed experiences with their sizing. This isn’t custom measurements, which are more expensive, however… The import fees are pretty steep if you’re not in the US, too.

            11. Properlike*

              I have two friends from two different worlds who swear by Eshakti – neither of them fit the “standard female” fit of most clothes, one of whom is punk-rock all the way, the other is traditionally feminine. Their stuff is super cute and I’ve considered it for myself. That price point is SLIGHTLY above what I want to pay, which has held me back.

            12. Ms Jackie*

              I bought a dress there. The material and quality are great. I found the fit wanting. However, I am bigger than the average gal and it was a tighter fitting dress than i am used to. I ended up going to the seamstress. But i would 100% buy there again. The dress was beautiful and less than $100 even with ‘customizations’

            13. girlreading*

              @TootsNYC, I LOVE Eshakti! I will say, I’ve only bought dresses and a couple shirts from there, so I can’t speak to how other items fit. My favorite thing is how you can customize so many elements of a garment for a single fee per garment. As I gained weight and grew out of my favorite dress pants from now defunct stores, I was searching for work dresses. But I’m that person that’s always cold in the office and pretty much the only work dresses you can find are sleeveless and I didn’t want to have to wear cardigans and blazers over them when I was already going to have to wear tights (because again, cold person). I love that I can customize the sleeve length, hem length, even the neckline and it’s only an extra $10 (last time I bought) per item.

              And I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’m so impressed by the quality. I figured they’d be that annoying, thin, almost see through fabric like most places you shop at now, but it’s actually good quality double layered thick fabric (at least the cotton knits). I don’t have to worry about trying to find a slip or panty lines. And the best thing- they put pockets in the dresses!!! (although you can remove them if you prefer but what crazy person does that?). I love dresses with pockets and it’s especially handy when I’m carrying around items for meetings. Another cool feature a lot of them come with (depending on neckline) are bra strap hook- just a little loop that you button your bra strap into so you don’t worry about it showing.

              I didn’t have issues with the sizing (instead of entering all my measurements, I just chose one of the standard sizes), but if you have something unique like a long torso or long legs, it might be better to enter all measurements. It also always asks what your height is so that it’s fitted to your height. They seriously thought of everything!

              I just love their dresses because I wanted something affordable, professional, COMFORTABLE, and versatile for work. I usually buy just the basic colors because I mix and match with a lot of jewelry and I always get complements. If you aren’t sure, I suggest waiting for their frequent sales and you can usually get an extra discount on your first purchase. Also, I promise I don’t work for them haha!

            14. EchoGirl*

              The one problem I have with them is that for some reason, my bust line is a little bit lower compared to my shoulders than most, and that’s one thing they DON’T take measurements for, so the bust will be perfect to the measurement but it’ll fall out be an inch or so off from where I actually need it to be; it’s not a big deal with stretch fabric, but for non-stretch, which is most of what they sell, I end up having to wrangle my body and the shirt to make them match up correctly. It’s not just an issue with that brand (which is what makes me think it’s my body that’s out of the ordinary), but if I’m paying extra for customization, I want it to fit me correctly on ALL axis.

            15. Bagpuss*

              They’re very good. I bought a couple of dresses and was really pleased with them – they are good quality and well made, and having gone for the custom fit, they did fit beautifully. My top and bottom halves are different sizes and I have broad shoulders, so struggle to find a good fit off the peg, and it makes a huge difference if you get something which actually fits properly.

              I’ve lost a significant amount of weight since I bought mine so they don’t fit me anymore, but I plan to get some new ones once I am sure I’m going to stay roughly the same size! (If I could sew, I would look at whether they could be taken in, but I can’t, and don’t know of anyone locally who does alterations)

              My mum (who has a short torso and finds it pretty much impossible to find dresses which fit) also bought one on my recommendation and has been really happy with it

        3. Displaced Cactus*

          Risking the brick and mortar store might not even be an option! On a recent trip to Target I noticed signs saying that you weren’t allowed to try clothes on. Good luck buying anything other than stretchy, forgiving clothes right now.

          1. ThatGirl*

            On the flip side, stores like Target and Kohl’s have a solid return policy so that you can try things on at home, but obviously you still have to be able to put the money out for them in the first place and then be able to return them if they don’t actually fit. I had to swap out some Target jeans last week cause I got a pair that were kind of funky (I think the size was misprinted) and I actually kinda wanted to try the new pair on before I left the store, but alas.

            1. Lexie*

              Some places aren’t allowing you to try on or return. Our Target wasn’t allowing returns for a while.

              1. ThatGirl*

                Our nearby Target did suspend returns for awhile, but they also extended the return window on things bought during that time. I realize this doesn’t solve the potential ill-fitting clothing issue, though.

        4. Cat Tree*

          Ugh, I’m in the awful position of searching for plus size maternity clothes. 90% of what’s available is athletic type leggings and t-shirts that could double as tents. Which is ok, but not something I could wear to work. The only silver lining of the pandemic is that I’ll probably be working from home until after I get back from maternity leave. Otherwise I’d have to wear the one pair of black maternity pants I found 5 days a week. Oh, and nothing has pockets of course.

          1. KaciHall*

            Maxi dresses and open cardigans are how I survived my pregnancy in semi business casual clothes. Maxi dresses with an empire waist for through my whole pregnancy and so for five years later.

            1. Cat Tree*

              I’d still have to shave my legs regularly for maxi dresses, plus my office is always super cold. I suppose I could wear tights, but searching for plus size maternity tights is even more daunting. Plus, the maxi dresses I found are all hand-wash only, which I have zero interest in dealing with when I’m 8 months pregnant.

              1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                I can’t speak to the maternity aspect, but I refuse to shave my legs and found that soccer socks are available in a variety of solid colors and go up to the knee, so I wear them instead of tights with dresses as long as those dresses hit below the knee.

                Since they’re for athletes who will also be sticking shin guards in them, they’re nice and roomy in the calves, and since they’re designed to survive being kicked in the shins by someone wearing cleats they hold up well and don’t run if you look at them funny. The trick is to find a brand that puts a logo on the toes or someplace else covered by shoes rather than on the shin like the big names tend to. I bought mine in the Before Times when I could just go to a sporting goods store, but they’re probably available online as well.

              2. AKchic*

                Jersey-knit is very forgiving during the last couple of months. And machine-washable.

                Also – empire waist is your best friend. I’ve been pregnant waaaay too many times, and can’t wear empire waist anymore, otherwise people think I’m pregnant again. Although, it’s great for binge-eating and bloat days. Or corset-wearing days.

              3. Bagpuss*

                Have you tried Snag tights? They make them in a variety of sizes and lengths so they actually fit – I think they do UK sizes 4 – 36 (I think this would the equivalent of 2-34 in the US) and do sizes designed for people of different heights and shapes.

                I am not sure if they do any specifically designed a maternity tights

          2. LizM*

            Luckily, I have a casual office, and was able to survive pregnancy in leggings and dresses. Plus sized maternity pants were nearly impossible to find, and the two pairs I did find were expensive and fell apart after 1 or 2 washes.

          3. Risha*

            Oh god, I know this search well. I’m at 34 weeks and I’ve literally worn only Torrid’s maternity leggings since… August…? September, at best. I don’t even like leggings, but I literally couldn’t find jeans in my size and am not that fond of dresses. And Motherhood maternity underwear (and their shipping and customer service sucks). Fortunately, my tops mostly still fit and/or are open front anyway.

        5. LegendaryBobcatTaxidermy**

          and it’s not just the initial purchase, it’s the upkeep of maintaining nice clothes you can’t just throw in the wash like a tshirt and jeans. whether or not you can afford to dry clean (a must for suits), or have to buy expensive detergent, or spend extra time and energy pinning things to a clothes line and air drying and then steaming them (steaming > ironing imo), or reshaping them, etc etc etc…it’s a lot to ask of someone who 1) could do their job perfectly well without being required to wear and maintain fancy clothes and 2) is now saddled with not only budget for wardrobe but also budget and time expense of maintaining said wardrobe, for no added benefit other than not being fired.

          and just for the record, this was written by someone who just bought a bunch of silk shirts, cashmere sweaters, and satin blouses from a thrift store to wear while wfh and a bunch of “the laundress” products to wash them with, because I guess I needed a new hobby. but I would not want to inflict my self-appointed hobby on anyone else!

          1. EchoGirl*

            Eh, I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. I’ve managed dress codes like the one OP describes with clothes that don’t require special care (machine washable slacks/skirts, cotton blouses, etc.). However, that’s separate from the issue of whether OP is overstepping/asking too much, which I believe they are regardless of clothing care levels.

            1. Uranus Wars*

              Yeah, I was a little surprised at all the dry cleaning comments. I’ve maintained a professional wardrobe (including suits) without having to succumb to dry cleaning. However, I agree that’s not really the issue in this particular case.

          2. Observer*

            Business casual does NOT have to mean dry cleaning or even highly fussy washing. As noted elsewhere, I only buy stuff that I can toss in the washing machine. I won’t do hand wash or air dry for work, never mind dry clean only.

            1. Self Employed*

              My outfits I would consider “business casual” are all machine washable because I have allergies and need to wash stuff if it gets pollen or house dust on it.

              I’m pretty happy with things like twinsets (cardigan and matching tank) from Land’s End if I need to look like I’m not actively painting something, with stretch corduroy pants. I prefer the fit and fabric of Chadwicks pants to Land’s End, though. And Land’s End is good for having a wide variety of sizes and colors, plus frequent sales. I have sensory issues with clothes, and their Supima cotton is just lovely. The T-shirts are definitely more office-attire than band T-shirts and feel almost like silk.

        6. Tinker*

          I’ve been making some changes to my wardrobe lately because of a combination of “trying to get a job search off the ground”, “moth invasion”, and “apparently with the chest I paid $12k for, suddenly I can just reach my hand out and buy button-down shirts that don’t make me look like I was stuffed into a bag” and after some contortions involving the measuring tape from my sewing kit and various implements inclusive of my teeth, I decided that probably getting a properly fitting classic blazer that fits in the shoulders and looks dignified with my other clothes is a bit more than I can do by squinting at size charts and photos of models.

          Also, granted that I have well-documented preexisting tendencies in this domain and there is some degree of comic exaggeration, but I don’t know as I can remember the last time I looked at a person as someone who wears clothes that I have an opinion about rather than as a point on a map around which a circle is drawn, and my standard for office wear may have collapsed to “how about let’s just make sure all the orifices are covered in fabric and call it good?”

    2. Threeve*

      God, I had an old manager casually talk about how the rule for skirt length should be a matter of “square inches of visible leg, not vertical.” Disgusting.

      1. cabbagepants*

        Now I’m looking for ways to maliciously comply with this. Like wear long pants that have a box cut out to reveal the approved surface area — of your butt.

        1. Rainy*

          How about the mom jeans with the clear panel over the knees? Or one of those dresses where all the seams are 2 inches of fishnet?

    3. Red-handed Jill*

      Agreed. Our old HR Director at my job used to particularly come for women who were less feminine-presenting for dress code violations (or perceived dress code violations) in a way that showed her problems had more to do with their gender presentation than actual professionalism or work requirements.

      1. starsaphire*

        Another issue I’ve had with this (seen and experienced firsthand):

        Sometimes things like dress code are intentionally left in the rules in order to force someone out. Like, for example, when a supervisor (in torn jeans and filthy Skechers) and a manager (with bedhead and wearing pajama pants and a yoga top) tells you that you have to get a *new* doctor’s note every six months in order to wear athletic shoes in the building, and btw you’re being sent home now, unpaid, for not wearing dress slacks and a blazer.

        Sure, it’s not something that good, ethical companies do; but it is something that happens.

  4. Allypopx*

    I also enjoy dressing up for work – sometimes I’d cheat with something like well fitting jeans with a nice blouse, but I generally like looking nice. However, I think work-from-home may have ruined that for me, and I think moving forward a strict dress code (such as business formal or “I’m definitely going to have a belt digging into my stomach everytime I sit down for the rest of my life”) might be an actual deal-breaker for me. Turns out I’m actually much more productive when I’m comfortable and not constantly worried if my skirt is askew or my jacket is wrinkling!

    My point being – OP maybe there are benefits to the casual dress code, besides it being a perk which is legitimate and big, that you aren’t readily seeing because you’re caught up in how much it bothers you. That’s worth considering. There are usually two sides to things.

    And maybe after talking to your boss you’ll feel empowered to at least pull someone aside and say “I know we keep things casual around here, but going forward I do need you to at least not wear shirts with holes in them.” That would be a reasonable line to draw, in my opinion, but it will depend on your culture. Also remember that people (sometimes even subconsciously) model their boss’s behavior, so if you keep dressing nicely you might see some change in your direct staff. Or you may not, and you need to decide how important that is in the grand scheme of things. I think Alison lays out great advice for how to assess that.

    1. Mel_05*

      Yup. I worked at a very dressy place before my current super casual job (and now I’m at home, in sweats) and it was really hard to for me to focus because I was fussing with my clothes all the time. I also had previously worked at a super casual place and it was a big strain financially to buy a new wardrobe that matched my job.

    2. CR*

      Yes, I cannot even fathom getting fully dressed in semi-dressy clothes and shoes every day anymore! I can’t believe I used to go to work every day like that!

    3. DG*

      Yes, I think we’re on the precipice of a massive change in dress code norms as so many of us become accustomed to wearing sweats and stretchy fabrics on a daily basis. What was previously my most casual work attire (jeans, flats or boots, a decent blouse or sweater) is now what I’d consider dressed up. No, I probably won’t return to the office wearing a sweatsuit and messy bun, but I am likely to incorporate more casual and comfortable elements into my work wardrobe.

      While OP’s request to dress more formally would probably generate some resentment in the before times, doing it now would read as especially out-of-touch.

      1. Allypopx*

        Pajama jeans and fake dress pants that are secretly yoga pants are now a staple in my wardrobe and no one will stop me!

      2. po-tay-toe*

        From your lips to the Universe’s ears! I practically work myself into hysteria a couple times a week thinking about having to force myself back into my old work wardrobe – not to mention how much new stuff I would have to buy to accommodate my quarantine-shaped body.

    4. Mr Jingles*

      Also two things I wonder: what’s the mission and who are the clients they’re facing?
      A friend of mine opened his own business and was always raving about proper dress code. Whe I was visiting him someday I noticed with wonder why all of a sudden he allowed his emploees to run around in baggy jeans and even flip-flops. We’ll, he’d chosen the wrong location to start his business: his walk-in clientele turned out to be laid back hippie-style people! He was very surprised to find that kind of clientele in the middle of one of the most conservative towns in Germany which he had chosen for that very reason. But he’s a smart guy, so when he found himself surrounded by people in second-hand jeans, sandals and crocheted tank tops who’d wear beads braided into their hair he adjusted fast. I almost didn’t recognize him, I’ve never seen him wearing anything but suits ever before and then he stood there in ripped jeans-shorts and flip-flops discussing local building-regulations for garden-sheds!
      I wonder if maybe something along that line was the reason why the dress code at OP’s work was abandoned.

  5. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    Ugh, I feel that. In my job the dress code is written for client facing employees. IT looks at it, laughs and throws it to the trash can. Our old department head even allowed men to wear shorts during summer.

    1. ceiswyn*

      In one of my past jobs, one of our VPs used to come in wearing shorts early ever summer just to make it very clear that his reports were allowed to do that if they wanted.

      He didn’t care how they looked, he cared about the quality of their work; and that office was a greenhouse.

      1. Jerry Larry Terry Gary*

        I think women can get away with the warm weather benefits of skirts in more offices that would ban men from wearing shorts.

        1. The Original K.*

          I find skirts to be cooler than shorts anyway (and I do wear shorts in summer but I don’t think I’d ever wear them to work in an office, even if it were permitted).

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, this. I have body image issues and won’t show my bare legs in public except on the beach (and I haven’t been to a public beach for years because of my issues), but I will wear a dress or a skirt that reaches my ankle or at the very least mid-calf when it’s hot outside.

      2. LDF*

        I think it’s easier for women to get away with shorts/skirts already and this comment is saying that even men were allowed to wear shorts. That said, I don’t see why that’s a problem.

      3. Alison*

        I love working at a work place that allows men and women to wear shorts. We basically don’t have air conditioning so I don’t think management can complain when we wear sleeveless shirts and shorts (gasp!) I mean, my shorts are all nice and not short shorts so they are not reveling in anyway. I don’t really see a problem with it.

      4. Richard*

        Women generally have a lot more options for dress clothes. As a man, I’ve mostly had dress codes that are basically collared-shirt, no shorts, no jeans, while women have the option of varied-length bottoms of different types.

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      Yeah, I had a job that had a pretty high level of “not business formal, but not quite business casual either” dress code. Basically, you didn’t need a suit, but slacks or dress skirts were expected. My job required me to unload 60 lb boxes and crawl around on the floor.

      I told my manager I’d be happy to pick up nice, black dickies and keep them clean and pressed, and I’ll throw a button up shirt over a plain colored T-shirt, but I could not afford to do my job in dress slacks and blouses. Fortunately my manager was a sane person and understood.

  6. Mel_05*

    Oh goodness, I’d wait a minute before bringing this up.

    At my job the handbook is way stricter than what is actually enforced. I was explicitly told to ignore it because it was only for sales people. If someone came in and didn’t like that we’re casual (we aren’t quite as casual as described, but people have been known to wear flip flops with nice jeans or a summer dress) and tried to change it that would be undermining one of the things we love about our employer.

      1. Liza*

        …do you mean OP should lurk moar at their workplace? That makes sense. At first I thought you were telling Mel_05 to lurk moar!

    1. Threeve*

      In general, taking away even a small perk is always going to be a hit to morale. I mean, people will lose their minds when the free coffee gets cut off. It’s not something to do lightly.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        We used to have weekend events that were staffed on a voluntary basis by employees from other departments. They were absolutely hellish affairs, physically exhausting, dirty work, dealing with a lot of angry people, not a cushy assignment. Anyone who worked an event got overtime pay for the day plus a free lunch. Free lunches weren’t fancy – typically a deli sandwich or a couple slices of pizza plus a beverage. Cost under $7 per person.

        New boss comes along and says we can’t be wasting money buying lunches for workers, no paying for lunch from now on. Staff flipped their lids. It was a HUGE blow to morale. Several people stopped offering to work those events. It’s been over three years and people still remember The Sandwich Wars – even though New Boss quit ages ago.

        She didn’t understand that it wasn’t about the sandwiches. It was about feeling respected and appreciated. When you take a way a small benefit that made people feel comfortable and welcome, they’re likely to be very upset… and the smaller the benefit, the more upset they’ll be. It’s easier to explain why you have to stop offering something extravagent/expensive. It’s hard to justify stopping something cheap and harmless.

        1. Self Employed*

          I sell my own gift items at in-person events that include corporate pop-ups where they basically have a mini craft fair for the employees. They’re typically in or near the cafeteria so employees can shop on their lunch hours. Sometimes we get a free meal, sometimes we have to pay but the prices are a real bargain, sometimes they have free snacks for the employees and the vendors are welcome to have some if they have time… and once in a while, they cater lunch or snacks for the employees and tell the vendors THIS IS NOT FOR YOU. (And the last time that happened, nearly everyone from the company ate the catered lunch, listened to the spiel about why there was a craft fair in the other side of the lounge, and went back to their desks. Maybe they had a deadline?)

          I was invited to vend at a women’s networking meeting that charged a fairly steep fee, but they assured me everyone would love my items and I’d get new clients. It was a 50 mile drive from home, and I had gotten stuck in traffic despite allowing 3 hours for the trip–I got there just in time to load in, no time to detour to a coffee shop–so I was getting a caffeine withdrawal headache. They would not let me have a cup of coffee in the cafeteria where we were set up because “that is only for our members and guests,” and got snippy about “you need to provide for your own needs”. You invited me, I paid a significant amount of money, and that doesn’t make me enough of a guest to get a cup of drip coffee? Wow.

    2. Sergio I Vázquez*

      I love the dressing code of GM “Dress properly”
      I worked for a medical diagnose company, there people love to see our staff wearing lab coats and eye glasses! That was the image of expertise and professionalism our customer expected. I can’t imagine people wearing camo trunks and a football jerseys in that company. And the opposite may apply perfectly for other industries. Formal Suits in a FedEx delivery associate?

  7. Bernice Clifton*

    Any chance the relaxed dress code is about having people come into the office during Covid?

    1. CJ*

      This is what I was wondering. Kind of “in lieu of work-from-home, we’re gonna lower table stakes here.”

    2. Littorally*

      This was my thought too.

      My office normally runs business casual, with the practice being the high end of it — people generally come in looking pretty polished, especially if they want their careers to go anywhere. But for the skeleton crew working out of the office to do things like handle mail, all bets are off right now. Jeans? T-shirts? Shorts back in the summer when it was scorching hot? You betcha.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        Same with us. We tend towards mid-ranged business casual, but have been operating on a “jeans and t-shirts are OK” dress code since this all started. Boss told us beginning of the year that we’ll be sticking with this going forward. End result is the same – ask your boss, OP.

    3. Cat Tree*

      Even if the relaxed dress code has been around for longer, this seems like a weird time to nitpick about it. We’re all in the middle of a crisis that had lasted a year now. Can’t we just go easy on people about stuff like this?

    4. Deborah*

      This was my thought. I got a new job in August. They sent me a copy of the dress code with my offer letter and again later as well, so I figured it was important. I figured out how to shop for some business casual (dress pants and nice tops) online successfully because of the pandemic since I’d always tried things on before, and I dutifully wore my business casual clothes Monday through Thursday and casual Fridays on Fridays. But I noticed other people were seeming to do casual Fridays every day – not everyone, but a lot of them. Eventually after about 3 months someone happened to mention on a company wide training call about our video meeting software that it was nice that since we aren’t having visitors in the building we are on casual Fridays every day. I think probably because they have their HR software set up to send the offer letters and all the other documentation, it does that without someone manually thinking about what documents to send and so no one ever thought to say something.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah, I’d wait a bit on this because all things are different because of the Pandemic.
      If I had to guess, things probably got WAY more relaxed during the early days of the Pandemic and just never went back to office casual.

      But that being said, wearing ripped, bleached and holy clothing in an office setting is generally a no-no, even if it is super casual.

  8. Bob's Your Uncle*

    I strongly suspect that some of the employees might not even be slobs, they just don’t dress up like OP wants them to. Also, do they do anything that requires them to wear more comfortable clothes? Say, visitations all day long, or carry heavy weights?

    1. Allypopx*

      I agree. Jeans and an untucked shirt, even in an office, would never register to me as “slob”.

    2. Louise*

      Yeah like… I’m in my late 20s and I’m the only person I know who owns an iron. And even then, I only iron button downs and some household linens. I wonder if “rumpled” means “un-ironed cotton shirt” and if “holes” means “small tear where the seam has clearly worn down.” Stuff that likely wouldn’t even register for me but that my mom would clutch her metaphorical pearls over.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        Yes, I get that sense, too. Early 30s here, and I absolutely do not own an iron (I do have a hand steamer for formal wear, but that’s a different story). OP might just need to adjust her cultural expectations for what she considers appropriate and what this new employer does.

        1. Alison*

          Same, I only own an iron because it’s essential to my sewing projects. I rarely if ever iron clothes that I’m not creating haha. Early 30’s here.

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            Same here. In 30s and just bought an iron so I could patch jeans and iron hems when. I hem jeans.

            1. Lucien Nova*

              33 here. Only reason I have got an iron is for my suit (for chorale performances) and for ironing interfacing when I sew things.

          2. Tiny Soprano*

            Ooh same. It comes out when I sew and that’s pretty much it. I mean, I ironed linen things when I wore them to work, but linen rumples if you blow on it.

          3. Self Employed*

            Same here, though I will iron new tablecloths for my booth when they look hopeless out of the package the first time.

      2. F as in Frank*

        Same, turning 40 this month and my kids think our iron is only for crafting with melty beads

      3. allathian*

        Yeah, this.

        I do have an iron (late 40s), but I haven’t used it in years, except to iron my linen party tablecloth that I usually only use for the Christmas dinner table. Ironing is and has always been my least favorite chore, mainly because I feel like I need at least three hands to do it properly. Clothes that need ironing tend to stay in my closet unused, so I don’t buy them anymore.

      4. Bagpuss*

        Mid 40s here. I am a lawyer so my default work clothes are fairly formal, and include suits or dress + suit jacket whenever I am going to court.

        I own an iron, which has been used precisely 5 times in the 6 years since I bought it

        2 x ironing my linen table cloth for special occasion meals
        1 x used by my mother to press a shirt for my dad to wear to a funeral
        2 x used by my mother to press bits of patchwork she happened to be working on while visiting me.

        The iron was new because when I moved house, the removal men dropped and smashed my old one, which I bought when I was at university and needed to look smart for a summer internship, which (in 1993) meant buttoned blouses. And even then I quickly worked out that as long as I hung the blouses up on a coat hanger to dry, I only actually needed to iron the collars and cuffs!

        I think the only garment I own which requires dry cleaning is a posh frock I bought in a hurry for a wedding.!

      5. Timothy (TRiG)*

        I’ve lived in a few shared houses, and an iron has always been provided. So I used to iron my shirts. When I moved into my own place, I kind of assumed I’d buy an iron at some point, but it’s been almost ten years now and I still haven’t got around to it.

  9. Clever Alias*

    I once worked a job where I was required to dress professionally because it was the team manager’s preference while everyone else got to look like slobs.

    Speaking from direct experience, don’t do it. It caused me a lot of internal rage and was in fact (an admittedly small, but still tangible) part of the reason why I quit, despite it being a perfectly good job.

    When my new job allowed me to participate in casual Fridays, I had to blink back tears of joy so that I wouldn’t weird out my new coworkers.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      When I first started at my current job, several mergers/acquisitions ago, I was informed on my first day that the job did not have casual Fridays. No jeans allowed ever. I said to myself, “fine, have it your way”, went online, and ordered five pairs of the cheapest, comfiest corduroy pants I could find. The dress code banned jeans and leggings, but said nothing about cords. I probably would’ve dressed nicer if I hadn’t been told that I would need to dress nice every day. It was not a customer-facing job, in fact one had to have a key card and go through two sets of locked doors in order to even see us sitting at our desks. When the job allowed jeans a few years later, I donated the cords.

      1. Eleanora Pilkington*

        Sounds like one of my old jobs – except Jeans Friday came with the expectation that we donate $2/week to a charity cause.

        As a temp making pennies above minimum wage, I had no interest in that initiative and resolutely wore my cheap, interchangeable stretchy black pants day after day.

        1. Cat Tree*

          I worked at a place that allowed jeans on Fridays for a $5 donation. I don’t even object to that, but I never carry cash. However, due to several medical conditions at the time, I had to wear shapeless, baggy, elastic-waist pants which are honestly more comfortable than jeans anyway. None of them were technically sweatpants material so no one ever cared.

        2. haven't come up with a new name*

          ooh, I temped at one of these offices too, mine was $5 for the privilege of wearing jeans on Fridays. I didn’t mind the donation-for-charity aspect, but I did not find it worthwhile to participate. I do not miss working in formal business environments, especially as one of the “underlings” making way less than everyone else in the office.

      2. Former Fed*

        I actually worked a job that didn’t say one thing about jeans (but we could only wear them once a month for a causal Friday) BUT specifically disallowed corduroy pants. No one knew why and it had been in the dress code forever according to my supervisor (who had also been there forever.) Weird!

    2. Autistic AF*

      I worked at a (very conservative) place that allowed (somewhat) casual Fridays if you donated a certain amount to charity through them. They were reasonable charities like the local food bank and I think people got tax receipts, but it still felt like a bit much. They got rid of it with the start of the next calendar year and a couple of people actually complained! No one’s stopping them from donating on their own…

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        We had something similar where I work. Everybody gets casual Friday, but for a small donation to charity (we got to choose which charity from a list of options) from each paycheck (I don’t remember exactly, maybe a dollar or two) you could get a special pass that allowed you a *second* casual day each week. The year they stopped offering that option, people were LIVID.

    3. DaniCalifornia*

      Same, minus the slobs part. I worked in a dental office, up front. We got a new manager 3 years in and she required all front staff to dress up. Slacks, blouses, etc. I made $9.15/hr and commuted 1 hr to and from work. I didn’t have that kind of money to buy work clothes. I wish I had known better language back then to push back but I didn’t.

  10. Weekend Please*

    I definitely think that trying to enforce the written dress code will go over like a lead balloon. If your supervisor is wearing jeans and a t-shirt I think it would be unreasonable to try to enforce a higher standard for part time workers. You can probably talk to the people with actual holes in their shirts and maybe sweatpants but beyond that you would need a really good reason to suddenly change things. Asking people to wear clean clothes in relatively good repair is a low bar.

      1. AnonPi*

        Unless you’re a geologist. In which case clean, non-holey clothes is considered dressed up ;D
        Even I was taken aback by some of the people at my first geology conference, lol

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Same for my line of work (garbage). We can tell our managers are headed to a board meeting because they wear jeans with no holes and a fresh sweater instead of a ratty sweatshirt.

        2. A*

          In college, I once gave a presentation for an upper-level geology class as a grade. I wore a suit (unbuttoned) but left the tie off and the professor commented that I really did dress like a geologist being professional. Well, a geologist having to interact with non-geologists.

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      I’m wondering if OP was brought in with some unspoken hope in mind that OP will lead by example.
      I’m feeling that more than one of OP’s interviewers got the vibe that OP is more business than casual and that people will adapt more to OP.
      Without upper management having to say it or really give OP the power to enforce it.
      Because honestly, it’s a non profit. Were you hired to clean up the staff or crush the cause?
      Priorities, right?

      1. JM60*

        The fact that the OP’s own supervisor – who presumably is the main person who decided to hire them – “wears jeans and an untucked t-shirt” makes me think that higher level management is okay with the casual dress code.

    2. Richard*

      Same goes for suddenly enforcing any random part of the employee handbook to the letter after years of office culture going a different way. In a lot of workplaces, the handbook is something that someone threw together years ago, and thinking it’s the bible/constitution will make you seem clueless.

      1. Self Employed*

        When I was in high school in the goth/punk era, our dress code was clearly written for the hippie era. No granny skirts, no tie dye, no bell-bottoms… even my mother thought it was hilariously specific and outdated.

  11. Jennifer*

    Jeans and t-shirt is one thing. Rumpled cargo shorts and stuff with holes in it is another. If it’s an office setting, people shouldn’t look like they are going to work in the yard. I do think asking people to buy a whole new wardrobe is wrong, but asking them to look presentable is reasonable.

    1. Roscoe*

      Presentable is a relative term. If I walked in and saw someone wearing cargo shorts I wouldn’t think twice. My mom on the other hand would. People have different standards.

      1. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

        Yes, seconding “relative.” I dress up for my desk job, but my friend, who handles art all day, wears jeans and sneakers. I don’t know if her clothes are ripped- I don’t look that hard- but she’s rumpled by the end of the day. I’ve also worked in different geographic areas of the country, which have different conventions. I wore scuffed combat boots and black jeans in my west coast offices, but pearls and heels when I was in the mid-Atlantic.

        In addition, I want to note that things such as professional dress standards are arbitrary and that professional culture was largely determined by upper-middle class WASP men, who were the dominant figures in offices. We should consider what we’re upholding when we call for adherence to dress codes and “professionalism.” Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it does not.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, I agree. Clean and not ripped or holey should be a minimum requirement for an office job.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      But if there’s an established precedent of rumpled cargo shorts and stuff with holes, and performance is fine, why change it?

    3. Nice Try, FBI*

      Why? What if they’re not seeing clients, customers, etc.? I’ve never understood the purpose of a strict dress code, unless you’re interacting with the public or clients who would expect that.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I knew I had found my ideal office when my manager came in wearing a denim minidress with bare legs and trainers, one colleague wore a bodycon dress, another wore a floor-length maxi dress and hijab, and a third wore a suit. We can wear pretty much whatever we want and no one comments other than to compliment something they like (bodycon colleague has an amazing winter coat that looks like she is being hugged by a big fluffy bear and we all love it). Apart from the fact I often start work in pyjamas and shower at lunch these days, nothing has changed about my wardrobe now I’m working from home because it was already fine to be comfy.

    4. Elenna*

      But if they like wearing rumpled cargo shorts and t-shirts with holes, and their work allows it, why would they own anything else? And if they don’t own anything else, then asking them to dress differently is essentially equivalent to asking them to buy a whole new wardrobe.

      Personally I don’t see anything wrong with cargo shorts, anyways. The holes, maybe, although it’s not completely clear from the letter how obvious the holes are. If I came into an office and people were wearing stuff with big, obvious holes, I’d be a bit taken aback, although I’d still ask around before trying to change it. If it’s just a matter of a relatively unobstrusive seam coming undone a little, I probably wouldn’t even notice.

      1. Becky*

        I work with a number of guys who are the shorts-all-year-round types. Cargo shorts are quite common among them. Usually no holes in t-shirts though.
        Of course I haven’t seen any of them in person since last March…

        1. Willis*

          I read this at “shortalls year round,” and was thinking that is a pretty unique form of work dress.

    5. Jennifer*

      Y’all I really don’t think it’s that deep. If you work in an office, it’s usually pretty frowned upon to walk around with holes in your clothes. The letter does say they
      are public facing. Like it or not, people do judge you if you have holes in your clothes in an office setting. We can just agree to differ I guess.

      If your company allows it, do you, boo boo.

      1. WellRed*

        Yeah, not sure why people are doubling down on the right to wear holes. Let’s take the OP at her word that it’s noticeable. And “no holes” is not a high bar.

        1. Observer*

          No holes is not a high bar. And if those holes really are noticeable, I think that it makes sense to bring it up. The problem is that the OP is not a credible narrator here, because she’s using fairly hyperbolic language about the situation. Including jean and tee (even and UNTUCKED tee shirt) dressing like a slob is just so far out of the norm, that I really have to wonder what else is being exaggerated. I don’t think that OP is lying, I just think that things may be jumping out at her that don’t jump out to others.

          That said: OP I most definitely DO think that you can push back on ripped clothing.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        Yeah, I feel like this is really getting a bit silly. Argue about the jeans or the untucked t-shirts or the cargo shorts all you want but I think it’s absurd to make the right to wear clothes with visible holes to your public-facing office job your hill to die on. This workplace seems fine with it but that is not an unreasonable standard.

      3. Becky*

        Most people are agreeing with you on the no holes thing –they’re just disagreeing with you on the cargo shorts thing.

        1. Jennifer*

          That’s a bit too pedantic for me then, I suppose. I was talking about the entire picture of cargo shorts plus the holey t-shirt. I have no issue with clean, hole-free cargo shorts if that’s the standard in their workplace.

          1. Observer*

            Not pedantic – the issue is that the OP described a bunch of stuff as “dressing like slobs” with only one thing that really falls into that category. It’s really important for the OP to realize that they need to make a real distinction between stuff like noticeable holes and “unpolished and unprofessional” (ie stuff the OP just doesn’t like”)

            This is a crucial distinction.

    6. Observer*

      I do think asking people to buy a whole new wardrobe is wrong, but asking them to look presentable is reasonable.

      The problem here is that it’s not clear what is actually happening. The OP complains that “ everyone here dresses like a slob“, which sounds like a real problem. But them it turns out that her definition of “slob” includes ” jeans, sweatpants, and the type of clothing I’d usually reserve for yard work.” (as though her choices about clothing for yard work are universal) and even >gasp< “jeans and an untucked t-shirt”.

      At minimum, the OP really needs to re-calibrate her expectations. She’s not being elitist – she is being self centered in a way that could hurt her because she’s just assuming that HER standard is THE standard that anyone who doesn’t live up to it is acting in an objectively problematic way. The word “slob” really is pejorative. Using it for an untucked t-shirt is so over the top that it calls the OP’s judgement of the situation in to question.

      Like, for instance, were those cargo shorts really “rumpled” or were they just not crisply pressed with a proper crease (something I’ve never seen in a pair of cargo shorts)? Etc.

  12. Jerry Larry Terry Gary*

    I…am confused that a tucked-in t-shirt is more polished. Did this letter just arrive from the 80s?

    1. Allypopx*

      That stood out to me too as a little strange, and makes me wonder if the OP has really outdated ideas about what constitutes looking polished.

    2. Nice Try, FBI*

      In my first teaching job, the principals set the dress code. At my site, the principal required shirts tucked in. I look ridiculous with a tucked in shirt and only do it if I’m wearing a sweater or blazer over my shirt. We’d go to district meetings, and everyone else would look comfortable. We looked silly and stood out.

      I don’t work there anymore. That was just one of many reasons why and was indicative of a micromanaging atmosphere I’m not willing to deal with at this stage in my career.

      1. Properlike*

        Same. I was told I would get written up for jeans when I was wearing a dressy top, jewelery, and strappy (low) heels. Conservative, yet nowhere near sloppy, and perfectly appropriate for teaching. One of many reasons I left, for your same exact reason.

    3. Cat Tree*

      It could be regional. I once worked at a place that had a sister site in the Midwest. When I went out there for special projects, I noticed that on Fridays everyone wore a polo shirt tucked into jeans. It was honestly a bit of a culture shock to see so much of it. And this was around 2014, so not that long ago.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I’m from midwest and nobody tucks in their polo shirts so it’s not a regional thing, unless it was just for that particular city. More likely that your sister site had that rule set up or something.

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            I’m in Wisconsin now, and lived in Minnesota. That is so strange I don’t see it that much. Maybe everyone who tucks in their polos lives in that one area of Wisconsin?

    4. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, t-shirts are not designed to be tucked so that particular beef is well out of bounds.
      No holes and no ripped clothing are very reasonable things for the OP to want to enforce. Everything else mentioned, especially since the boss seems totally cool with the status quo, would probably not go over well, and also is probably not worth raising.

    5. RC Rascal*

      Some of us tuck in our shirts because we wear a belt that we need to keep our pants from falling off.

      If you don’t tuck in the shirt then the belt buckle hits you in the tummy skin. Ouch.

      I say this as a fashionable person.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        I get that, I kind of have the same problem. I must wear a belt or my pants fall off by noon.

        Unfortunately, when I tuck my shirt in I look like two knackwursts tied together. So, I leave my shirt untucked for the most part because I am just a little vain and bought a belt with the lowest profile buckle I could find. When it does start to bug me I just tuck the shirt fabric behind the buckle while I sit, Tan France style, and pull it out when I stand up.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          This is why I almost always have a tank top on under my regular shirt. Tuck in the tank top so the belt doesn’t bug me, and leave the outer shirt untucked so I don’t look ridiculous.

    6. Generic Name*

      Yeah, than jumped out at me too. It sounds exactly like something my 73 year old retired mother would say. OP, if you decide you must hold your staff to a higher standard than everyone else, please take into account body types and personal preference as much as possible. I hate tucking in my tops. I don’t have much of a waist and it just feels strange to me. Honestly, if I suddenly had to start tucking in all of my tops, I might quit, as silly as that sounds.

  13. PolarVortex*

    “My own supervisor wears jeans and an untucked t-shirt”

    This is like 75% of my work wear when it isn’t flannels or long sleeved shirts – also people still tuck in T-Shirts? That’s a thing? I thought that went out in the 90s…

    Either way, I specifically chose where I work because I hate having to have “work clothes” and worry about ironing and pay through the nose for something that is never quite comfortable…if my boss suddenly changed it on me to be in “business casual” (which to be fair is what our handbook says but nobody in the company follows except sales) I would be out the door.

    1. Sabina*

      Tucked in t-shirts make me think of French tuck shirts ala Tan France of the Queer Eye show…tres chic! Not sure this look should be mandated or can be pulled off by regular office folk.

    2. emmelemm*

      Yeah, that’s part of my objection to the concept of “dressing up” for work. I don’t want to pay big bucks for things that a) aren’t comfortable and b) are easily ruined.

    3. :)*

      Tucking in t-shirts is definitely in style again! Especially because high waisted pants have been on trend for the last few years. Not that I really care what other people wear…I also work somewhere where jeans and tees are the norm.

      1. Mookie*

        Last time tucking was the rage I found it so unflattering—especially, as you say, with high waists—and now I’m old enough to know better. Or my tastes have become revoltingly nostalgic.

        As for a more polished look, yes, such tshirts exist and tucking away the hem is key, even for the oversized ones. No different effect than a cotton collared pullover under a blazer, which is a pretty nonthreatening default for almost any casual role.

  14. Ross*

    I’ve been remote since March of last year and while there are many reasons I’ve found myself to be happier working remotely, one reason I’m not looking forward to being back in the office is the need to dress up again. I do zero public facing work, and if I could come in everyday in a nice pair of jeans and a polo or button down shirt I’d be much happier. I’m just more comfortable in casual clothes, there’s a lot less laundry to do at the end of the week (since I can wear the same thing all day rather than changing when I get home), I’d spend less on professional clothes, and it would have zero impact on my productivity. Now, I don’t think I’d be comfortable being in the office in a tshirt with holes or cargo shorts, but unless there’s some clear benefit I’m a strong believer in a neat but casual dress code.

  15. I'm just here for the cats*

    It would be really offsetting to me if I was told I had to wear something different just because there was a new boss. Especially if it was just one department. I think the LW needs to really think about this. Does it really matter or affect the business? In fact I would be more productive in more comfortable clothes (nice jeans, cotton tops, sweaters) than I would if I had to be super dressy.
    It does sound like on some level there needs to be a change to the handbook. I think at the minimum that there should be no sweatpants and no holes in shirts.
    However, I’m curious about the holes. Is it like holes in jeans that are the “in” look now? That I think would look bad for work. Or is it like a tiny hole in a sweater, like I think my coat zipper or something caught it. If it’s something like that and the LW is being that nitpicky, then she needs to take a step back.

    1. Nea*

      Doubly offsetting and upsetting if a new boss meant purchasing a new wardrobe not required in any other department!

    2. PolarVortex*

      I’m a little curious about the holes too.

      Also about the sweatpants, because athletic wear and athleisure wear is a thing now, so is it like one of those that’s trendy and on point for the younger generations (and older as well!) or is it like, the true sweatpants that you’re lounging on the couch in?

    3. Lady Heather*

      I know I don’t have sufficient disposable income to replace clothing with “holes” the size of a square millimeter.

      I also don’t currently have access to clothing stores, with a pandemic going on and all. (And “I’m not going clothing shopping in a pandemic” is absolutely legit regardless of whether clothing stores are open.)

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. And with my body shape, I need to try before I buy, so it’ll be a while before I’m going to be comfortable with shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. I’m busty and big in the hips but I also have a clearly defined waist, with long legs and short arms, so I can’t buy blind. At least I’m in a casual environment and don’t need to worry about buying fitted shirts. Such things don’t exist for my figure.

        I also hate the idea of shopping online, spending a lot of money on clothes only to send most of them back because they don’t fit and waiting for the shop to return my money. Far too much hassle.

    4. tamarack and fireweed*

      Right. If it’s accidental holes, the appropriate thing might just be to attract the employee’s attention to it, like “I think your sweater caught in something – you might want to take care of this before it unravels any further” or “oops, your T-shirt has a tear here at the back, in case you haven’t noticed”. Politely pretending that it must have been an accident also serves as a mild form of nudging for those who are currently operating at a standard below “clean and in good repair”. If the clothes are shredded-by-design, this is more a matter of style – they may be perfectly appropriate for working in the arts sector for example. In which case the question is: what justifies asking the employee to change?

      And when they say sweatpants, are we talking year-old, washed-out gym clothes or something like “dress pant yoga pants” that, if we believe podcast advertising, are appropriate for both office and leisure wear?

      In general, happy, well-compensated employees who take pride in their work will have spot-on preferences about how to dress for it. So either the LW is letting their own preference for marking a sartorial break between work and home running ahead of their managing (and seeking justification in whatever happens to be in the dress code) or there’s an issue here that has fundamentally nothing to do with dress.

      Given that the LW’s manager is wearing non-compliant clothes of the kind that would be perfectly fine in the kind of high-performing casual workplaces I have known, my guess is the former.

      Personally, if I can’t wear jeans and a printed shirt, I’ll be out of there, or if I have to stay, I’d become be deeply resentful.

      1. Professional yoga pants FTW*

        Just a note that the dress pant yoga pants (at least the Betabrand ones; I don’t know if anyone else markets them) are absolutely appropriate for office wear and very comfortable. I don’t actually wear them for exercise but I’ve been very happy to have been wearing them for times when I found myself having to crawl under the desk to fix my computer hook up or climb up on a stepstool or ladder to reach high shelves. I did once demonstrate that they stayed in place comfortably for me to do a tree pose when someone didn’t believe that they were stretchy enough!

  16. potatocakes*

    Am I the only one who thinks that no matter how casual an office is, that dirty, excessively rumpled, or clothing with visible holes is not appropriate? There’s a big difference between casual jeans and a sweater and looking like you’re lounging on the couch, sick at home.

    I don’t think LW would be off base to enforce a no damaged clothes to the office rule at the very least. Or compromise on jeans and untucked shirts, but disallow sweat/yoga pants. Non profit or not, employees are still representing the organization when they’re at work, and I don’t feel it’s unreasonable to ask adults to wear clothes that are at least clean, undamaged, and don’t scream “working out/going to bed.”

    1. Littorally*

      I agree with this. A relaxed dress code during covid is understandable, but no holes, generally clean and presentable has always been a base expectation everywhere I’ve worked even when the dress code is otherwise more or less “please be clothed.”

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        “dirty, excessively rumpled, or clothing with visible holes is not appropriate?”

        I agree, except when the holes or whatever are part of a specific look, in certain industries. But in an office, in general, those are bad.

      2. Pennyworth*

        There is a world of difference between casual and unkempt. Clean clothes in good repair should be a given under any dress code.

      3. Elenna*

        FWIW, my sister works for Apple (so, large, well respected company), and from what she’s said they would have absolutely zero problems with sweatpants. Dirty/holey stuff might be looked at a bit funny, although I think they’d probably be okay with those pants that are deliberately ripped for style.

        Of course, different places have different culture, just mentioning this to show that “employees wearing business casual” is not at all necessary to be a respected business, especially for non-public-facing employees.

        (And, like Allison said, even for public-facing employees it depends who the public is. There’s definitely people who would respect “holey t-shirt and jeans” more than “business-y, more expensive clothing”.)

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      I think this would actually be a good compromise. Upgrading all the way to business casual would be extreme, but to “casual but tidy, no pjs or workout clothes” wouldn’t require too much of an adjustment.

      1. Observer*

        but to “casual but tidy, no pjs or workout clothes” wouldn’t require too much of an adjustment.

        If all someone has is “workout clothes”, then banning it IS a large adjustment because it means taking time and money to get new clothes.

        This is really the problems with the OP’s issue. She’s conflating two different things. One is a matter of generally accepted standards – GENUINELY “general” (ie clean and whole) with her PREFERENCES (ie “polished”, no jeans or workout clothes.) Perhaps at least some of her preferences actually match the genuine needs of the organization, but maybe they don’t. Given that, for her to “compromise” by unilaterally demanding wardrobe updates for her department is not likely to go that well.

    3. tamarack and fireweed*

      Well, yes, I think in a sustainable situation where no one feels exploited or unduly stressed, clean and in good repair is a reasonable standard for clothes to expect… but I’d be more worried than offended if I found that my team as a whole is not meeting it.

      If a manager has a whole team of disheveled people in ripped clothes, is it because they typically work 3 jobs, all worry to make ends meet and have no time and money to prioritize maintaining a wardrobe. And the manager now wants to put another weight on their shoulders?

      Or are we dealing with Tim using his lunchbreak to go cross-country skiing and goes back to his workplace after a shower in athleisure wear, or Tina being most comfortable and effective when wrapping herself in a hand-knitted shawl, wearing jeans and leather sneakers? In which case, let it go mate!

    4. Alison*

      I want to point out that it might really matter what it is the non-profit does. Our environmental non-profit has several employees who work in the field and in the office and sometimes split their days between both. So they would wear their field clothes into the office which often could be rumpled/stained/or even dirty if they are coming from a particularly dirty job. Since OP didn’t say what the non-profit does I think we could give some leeway that some of this might actually BE dressing for the job.

      1. Office Mgr Liz*

        I came here to say this as well. My non-profit does land conservation. Even as an office manager, I’m occasionally pulled out unexpectedly to work outdoors, so I tend not to wear my nice clothes unless it’s for a very specific type of event or meeting. Yoga pants, jeans (stained and dirty), t-shirts, etc are the norm.

        1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

          This. I used to work for a nonprofit with a lot of part-timers and ostensibly a “business casual” dress code, but the job had a significant fieldwork component. You dressed for your day – on the dressy side of business casual if you were going to give a talk somewhere, clean t-shirt and jeans if you were talking to the public in the field, and whatever was comfortable and weather appropriate if you were in the field. Duct-taped pants or boots were not uncommon. If you were in the lab, office, or storage, you wore whatever you wanted and didn’t mind getting filthy.

      2. Retail Not Retail*

        And they may have a uniform for the PT workers – my job says no holes etc, but if you rip an official shirt outside of ordering time you’re SOL if it’s in a bad spot.

        Also I just ripped my new soft pants on frigging hot wire climbing out of a moat today so I am sad. It’s not structural or noticeable but so unfair.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      I think part of the trouble of “excessively rumpled” and “dirty” are subjective. To me dirty is visibly dirty – or worn more than once without washing in between. But I’ve heard the arguments from people who would say otherwise. Ditto with rumpled. The line for “excessive” vs “reasonable about of rumpled considering you’re a human who moves” is different for a lot of people. So it’s not that those two types of standards are unreasonable or inappropriate, but they’re subjective enough to lead to rules lawyering and/or people feeling like they adhered but then told they’re not and then it’s a whole Thing. It’s one reason why I often think dress codes that list the dos rather than the don’ts can be more helpful, although that’s not universally true. But the simpler, the better.

    6. Jennifer*

      You definitely are not. Clean and without holes should be the bare minimum. I’m honestly surprised there is so much pushback based on situations that are likely outliers.

      1. Alternative Person*

        Same feeling here. Not enforcing business casual is one thing, but I get the impression the OP’s workplace has slid too far the other way.

    7. Data Bear*

      It really depends on what field you work in. I work in a research lab. Scientists only get dressed up when they’re giving presentations. Clothes should be clean, sure, but caring about whether someone else’s day-to-day outfit was wrinkled or worn would actually lose you points in many people’s eyes, because you’d be to focused on something that’s not important, and that marks you as not serious about the work. (Some years ago, someone had to pull a new lab director aside and tell him to lose the three-piece suit, because it was out of step with the organizational culture.)

        1. Resident slob*

          Many of my clothes have small holes in them. Mostly I doubt anyonehas ever noticed. I’m nearing the end of my job and so spending a grand on updating my wardrobe for a short period of time isn’t worth it to me.

          I also prefer to wear clothes out, not toss them the moment there’s any flaw. In an industry with a very casual dress code, I doubt anyone cares.

          I’ll stop wearing a pair of jeans when they wear through at the crotch (or start to!), but a small hole in the hem I couldn’t care less about. I rip a large hole in a shirt I’ll replace, likewise a small hole in a revealing location. But a small hole that you have to go looking for? I honestly don’t care.

          My clothes are clean and in sync with my workplace. Someone coming in from outside and wanting to change that would be laughed at for being a snob, and caring more about appearance than ability.

          If many staff have clothes with holes it could be because (a) the holes come with/caused by the job, or (b) there’s a culture of avoiding waste, or (c) staff don’t have the financial resources to do things differently. It’s possible that slobbish approach to dress has just been adopted by everyone. But OPs horror at an untucked shirt makes me think that this probably aren’t that bad.

          I had a big boss object to our stained work clothes in one previous job. But they were the idiot who decided to put us in white. Everything from the products we sold, the cleaning equipment we used, to the environment we worked in meant stains. When we wore dark clothing it was far less obvious!

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, this. My standard is pretty much the same as yours, I’ll stop wearing my jeans when they’re worn through at the crotch. I’m fat enough that my thighs rub each other with every step I take, so that’s where they get worn. I’ll even wear jeans with holes in them if everything else is in the wash, but only with a long tunic that goes mid-thigh and hides the hole.

            Unless my jeans get visible dirt on them, I’ll also wear them for at least a week before washing them.
            Even when I went to the office, I’d often wear the same shirt for two days in a row, and change when I took a shower. Now I only shower when I exercise hard enough to sweat properly, which I normally do at least twice a week, so I might end up wearing the same shirt for work four days in a row. I don’t normally sweat a lot, so if it smells a bit of old deodorant if you sniff the shirt rather than from a meter away, rather than freshly laundered, I couldn’t care less, neither does my husband. That’s where my standards have slipped a bit, when I went to the office, I definitely changed shirts at least every other day.

            1. Observer*

              Where does the OP say that? I looked at the letter and all I see is “with holes”. Now I’m assuming that the OP didn’t do a dress code inspection, but it’s not clear what the admin was actually wearing. Did the OP comment somewhere in the comments section?

    8. The Original K.*

      I agree, particularly since the OP said they’re public-facing. The only exception I’d make is if the org does messy work (e.g. environmental work that has them getting literally dirty), but I think if this were that kind of org the OP would have said so. Casual is one thing; dirty/holey is another.

    9. ElizabethJane*

      I don’t mind dress codes that call out specific types of clothing, as in “No pajama pants” but I’d have a hard time with “no damaged clothes”. Most of my clothes have been damaged and mended at some point. I don’t have the budget or the desire to continuously buy a new pair of pants every time a seam comes loose. A) I’ve got better things to spend my money on and B) how freaking wasteful.

      But also these dress codes in general are pretty elitist. Does my work quality suddenly decrease because I’m wearing pajama pants? If no then who cares.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I think for “damaged” you can safely assume they mean, like, currently visibly damaged. Seams hanging open, unmended holes or rips, visible stains, whatever. No-one cares if the garment has at some point been damaged and then repaired if you can’t tell, it’s about the immediate appearance.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Yeah, this is starting to get into “not everyone can have sandwiches” territory. I get it–casual dress codes are nice, and so is being comfortable, and we should focus primarily on output. That does not automatically make the semiotics of clothing irrelevant, or inappropriate to consider.

    10. Paris Geller*

      I agree that one shouldn’t wear noticeably dirty clothes or clothes with holes into the office, but I think so many people are pushing back because based on what the LW is saying, she has a much different idea of what “excessively rumpled” is. She appears to think her boss’ appearance is slovenly because of jeans and an untucked t-shirt, which most people aren’t going to bat an eye at. It makes me (and I’m guessing the other commenters) wonder if most of her other complaints are along the same lines.

    11. Observer*

      The only thing the OP has standing to push back on at this point is “no visible holes”.

      For the rest? Demanding that people buy new clothes is a really, really big step especially when you are talking about part timers. And especially since it’s widely accepted throughout the office.

  17. zebra*

    Please consider that a dress code change will be asking 15 people to spend quite a bit of money on new clothes and we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. How well paid are your staff? Are their salaries high enough that you know for certain all of them could afford to go shopping this weekend for ten new outfits at a regular store? People always say that it’s possible to dress more formally on a budget by spending a lot of time thrifting, buying consignment, having alterations done — but a great deal of people are uninterested or unable to spend all that time on shopping, or they may be of sizes that are next to impossible to find in those places. Your employees are dealing with an unprecedented amount of stress, maybe homeschooling their kids, caring for sick family members, struggling with bills, helping out family with their bills — for petes sake, don’t add new clothes to the list of things anyone needs to worry about right now.

    1. Double A*

      I think you’re maybe implying this, but also right now people may not feel safe thrifting. I love, love, love thrifting, and I haven’t been to a thrift store in months.

      1. OyHiOh*

        I attempted a wander through a thrift store around the beginning of Dec – my favorite store which, in Before Times, felt clean, organized, and well run. The actual environment of the store has not changed a bit, but felt dirty, crowded, and stinky. As much as I used to love thrifting, I’m not sure if or when I’ll return to the habit.

      2. Nea*

        Me too. I used to haunt a local store every other payday just to see what I could find. I miss it, but I’m not risking getting plague for a $3 blouse.

      3. Autistic AF*

        Not being able to try clothes on is an issue, too. I love thrifting, but I need clothing that fits (which also tends to be dress code verbiage…).

    2. PolarVortex*

      Oh to add to that: I am jealous of people who can find 10 new outfits on a trip to the store. I try on 30 pairs of jeans to find one that fits, so shopping for a whole new wardrobe is much more than just the expense but also the time/trouble it takes to find decent clothes that fit properly.

      1. Filosofickle*

        If I find one good item, that’s a successful shopping trip. Online orders, same. Even with a strong sense of what fits me and brands I know, my online orders have about an 80% return rate. And I’m fine with that! That’s what it takes to get clothes that fit my body. It’s a process. I’ve never been someone who could just wear anything. Unlike my partner, who has apparently the ideal body shape and shoe size. Everything just fits him.

        p.s. I took a last minute business trip to Taiwan, and was struggling to quickly find a dress appropriate for financial meetings in insane heat/humidity. Bless his heart, my friend/colleague suggested we just go on a fun shopping spree in Taipei and buy it there. I’m a size 16 American. Can you imagine trying to find something to fit in Taipei?!

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        There is literally one place that carries jeans that fit my waist to hip ratio. It’s online only and they’re an investment on my budget. If I needed business pants… god I guess I’d be making them myself. Which last time I tried ended in tears over fitting issues.

  18. Louise*

    I once had upper management at a job tell my direct managers to give me feedback about not looking professional enough while working at the front desk of a preschool when I was wearing skirts and dresses every day. My direct managers never actually passed along the feedback, because they agreed it was ridiculous. I found out about it through some back channels and honestly? It was one more reason to quit. At the time, I was dealing with some severe depression (caused in part by the job), was a recent college grad, and had already spend over $200 on the professional clothes I *did* have. Honestly I just don’t think the CEO liked my personal style (I look very obviously queer and it was a pretty conservative preschool). I still get mad thinking about the situation.

    You asked if you’re being a snob. You’re passing judgement on people based on their appearance — that (at least in my book) is definitive snobby behavior. The obsession with looking a certain way at work is steeped in classism and racism. I’d ruminate for a while as to why it upsets you personally to see people dressing in a different way than you deem acceptable.

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      But don’t you know it, reception of a pre-school is basically like negotiating multi-lateral agreements at the UN or arguing a case in front of the High Court.

      1. Louise*

        The weirdest part was I CONSTANTLY had parents complement my style! The company genuinely had “be the Four Seasons of preschools” as part of the business ethos. The one time I wore a genuinely fancy dress (think summer cocktail wedding attendee dress), a toddler threw up all over it and I had to go home and change. Oh, and I was making less than $35k/year.

  19. Phony Genius*

    Regardless of the culture, a rule against wearing t-shirts with holes is reasonable. Beyond that, your boss can provide better information.

    It reminds me of somebody I worked with 20 years ago. We have no specific dress code, but he sometimes wore a flesh-colored Star Trek t-shirt to work. It had been through the laundry so many times, the fabric was now only one molecule thick, making it practically transparent. It still gives me nightmares today. If I was his boss, I’d have said something, even with no dress code.

    1. Observer*

      Regardless of the culture, a rule against wearing t-shirts with holes is reasonable. Beyond that, your boss can provide better information.

      I think this sums it up pretty well.

  20. SushiRoll*

    I don’t think it would be overreach to come to the conclusion that people would not be allowed to wear holey or dirty clothes to work. Clean and non-holey clothes can be found in abundance at thrift stores if the people wearing these items actually do not own any non-stained or damaged clothing and money is an issue. But unless this organization happens to employ a large number of very economically disadvantaged folks I find it hard to believe their closets only contain ruined clothing. I would personally also argue against things like sweatpants in an office setting but I also don’t have a huge issue with an actual business casual dress code (although I would prefer the ability to wear jeans) and did not have an issue when I had to do years of business professional either, besides now I own a bunch of suits that are just sitting there gathering dust.

    1. SwitchingGenres*

      No way I’m going to a thrift store in a pandemic. Plus fitting rooms are closed most places, so buying pants would be an impossibility for someone oddly-shaped like me.

  21. Night*

    Wrinkled cargo short and a shirt with holes in it certainly seems like not the right outfit for an office. But what does the office’s social media presence have to do with dress code? Are staff being frequently photographed and posted on the social media sites? Otherwise why does that impact the dress code? Unless you can show how it’s negatively affecting the work output/the company (like Alison said), sounds like it’s a you problem.

    1. Allypopx*

      Social media presence is also fairly curated, so my guess is that if the staff ARE being photographed a) they’ll skip the guy who clearly overslept and picked the first clothes he found on the floor (my personal read on cargo shorts guy) and b) maybe that casual, approachable vibe is what they WANT to be portraying.

  22. DivineMissL*

    I would go nuts if suddenly my boss decided that I had to buy a new wardrobe that I can’t afford. I’ve got my work clothes (business casual) and my play clothes (jeans and sweaters) – there’s no way I can afford to suddenly change to dresses, blazers and heels, just because my supervisor “enjoys dressing up for work.” I think if the OP’s boss confirms that this is the way folks dress at this non-profit, then OP needs to adapt to the workplace norms. That being said, here at my business-casual workplace, there are a handful of folks who dress a little more formally and some who dress less formally (with adjustments made for important meetings or functions). The work still gets done.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      ” just because my supervisor “enjoys dressing up for work.””

      Yes, just because. That’s the only reason the OP suggested it. Right.

      But you doing a service to the OP by exemplifying how people may respond.

      1. Observer*

        Actually, that is pretty much what the OP says – she enjoys dressing up for work and she can’t can’t stand when people show up “unpolished” to work.

        If she had stuck to the holes, that would be a different kettle of fish. But the rest? Definitely her problem.

    2. Sparkle*

      Plus the timing of a change can be an issue. A workplace that allowed shorts and jeans changed it to men had to wear slacks and women had to wear slacks, capris, skirts, or dresses. The men asked for shorts (nice ones) because women had more hot weather options. The response was “no” and capris were taken away from the women to make things more fair. For the women who didn’t like skirts/dresses it was very difficult find affordable slacks because it was summer in a beach resort area. A lot of women’s stores weren’t carrying them at all.

  23. Roscoe*

    Well, if you want your team to not like you, go right ahead and enforce that. I can tell you from experience how much it sucks when there are different arbitrary rules for different departments. Plus, even if you are the new boss, no one likes people who come in needing to put their own stamp on everything.

    That said, nothing is stopping YOU from dressing nicer. And I’d wager if you started doing that, you’d probably gradually see a change in your employees. It may not get to YOUR level, but it may make people rethink it.

    But, its not about being a snob or not (but my answer to your question would be yes), its about the type of relationship you want to have with your subordinates. Doing this will definitely damage it, or start it off on a bad foot

  24. Double A*

    Even if this is something you tackle, I would under no circumstances make it the FIRST thing you tackle. It will make you look like you care for style over substance. Lay groundwork with, first off, learning about your department from the people who work there, and moving forward with good initiatives. Changes to dress code are really something you need to build up capital before you enact, unless you’re really coming in and cleaning house due to performance issues or something.

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      Right?! OP says she’s been in this position FIVE MONTHS. Unless you were brought in to the organization with the clear understanding that you were there to make major sweeping & immediate changes, you are way too new to be pushing something so inconsequential. Wear what you want to wear, but until you have some credibility you need to leave others alone.

    2. hbc*

      That goes double because she’s already dressing out of sync with the dress culture. Jeans-and-t-shirt wearing OP could pretty easily say “we’re casual, but holes are a bit much” while dress-and-blouse OP is going to have people saying, “Oh, so I’ve got to wear pearls now?”

    3. Marillenbaum*

      That’s a good point. It may not be an inappropriate or unnecessary change to make–but make sure of that first, and make sure you have the capital and support to enact it at the appropriate time.

  25. Jady*

    You have to remember the backlash you will get from the employees, cause it can and will be significant. I would be one of those people who would be very upset to go from very casual to business casual.

    I think it’s fine to say things like “don’t wear clothes with holes in them”. Basically to raise the minimum bar from ‘slob’ to ‘ultra casual’. People should understand that.

    But my opinion is that it is NOT fine to change a clearly established long culture of casual clothing which is a huge perk to a lot of people just because *you don’t like it*.

    You’re going to also breed resentment when your employees have to change, but everyone else is still in sweatpants.

    I personally disagree strongly with Allison on this one. Beyond setting some minor minimum restrictions, I would recommend you let this go.

  26. CCSF*

    If you have to ask yourself whether you’re being a snob, the answer the majority of the time is going to be yes.

    Is it reasonable to expect clothing without holes? Probably yes. But that’s not what this letter is about. It’s not about one employee with holes in their shirt, it’s about jeans and an untucked shirt and sweatpants—without a single word about the actual WORK these folks are doing.

    Judgement words like “slob” and “unpolished” along with being driven nuts are giveaways that the issue may actually be the LW being elitist.

    Also, as an aside, I had to go buy new all new (and likely not inexpensive) clothes for my nonprofit, *part-time* job, I’d quit. In a heartbeat.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Also, someone who is horrified at an untucked shirt (with jeans even!) Makes me think they are exaggerating about the holes/dirt because this person’s view of clothing norms is so different than everyone else’s.

      1. Observer*

        This is exactly what I was thinking. Had she just written in about the holes, I would have reacted very differently. But the hyperbolic dismissal of how everyone dresses makes me wonder about her ability to actually appropriately judge what people are wearing.

    2. Mr Jingles*

      +1000 You put in words the exact thing that made me fees askew about the letter! Yes! There’s no word about anything that actually counts. It’s all just appearance! Like the boss who once told me to swwep the flor seven! times just to make me look busy while there was nothing to do. All about appearance, is that efficent? Who cares!

  27. Sara without an H*

    Be careful, OP. If even your supervisor ignores the dress code, you risk burning professional capital you don’t have yet at this organization. Alison is right, you need to find out more about the context before you try to make changes in culture, especially when you’re so new.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, this. This is not a hill you want to die on. If I had gotten used to dressing a specific way and then I was told I had to buy a whole new wardrobe by my new boss, I would super resentful of that new boss for a long long time. If you can’t point to a specific work related reason for the changes, I would avoid them.

  28. clogerati*

    My job technically has a strict dress code, much of our work is client-facing, but on days where we don’t meet with clients, everything goes out the window. We hired a new HR person (who did not last long…) that I shared an office with. She made a lot of comments about my dress (I’ve never been as sloppy as the people described in this letter, but I will wear a spaghetti strap sundress with a cardigan in the summer and I frequently wear sneakers and jeans when I don’t need to be face to face with clients). Her comments soured our relationship, especially when she realized that the head of the company happily wears leggings and sweatshirts in the office on days when she doesn’t meet with clients and then started dressing casually herself. It’s always best to read the damn room and figure out how things actually work when you’re new to an organization!

    1. Batgirl*

      I enjoy embracing a similar attitude to casualwear now, but when I first joined a workplace like this, it was when I had a wardrobe full of shift dresses and blazers. To go from that to somewhere you could quite easily wear a beach cover up and no one would give a damn…. It’s actually quite disconcerting. Despite the evidence of your own eyes, you don’t feel “allowed” to just follow suit and put on leggings in case everyone else but you is wrong! (so you consult the staff handbook which is pointless since casual cultures are very often unwritten and unspoken ones). You feel like you need to buy new stuff to fit in, wasting your own lovely (and expensive) stuff. You also don’t feel in “work mode” if you do go more casual.
      OP, give it time. There’s a lot to be said for a workplace where people are given freedoms in this way. The day will come when a pair of comfy shoes or your favourite sweater will be a much needed boost, even if you never make it a daily habit.
      You’ll find a way to either look past it, or, if it truly affects the work you’ll be more informed on how and why you would improve things. You can always make a point of modelling an example of good business casual and complimenting other people whenever you see something you do like. I’m still much dressier than my colleagues but they simply view it as expression and I get compliments as well as sometimes getting copied! This week though, Covid has battered us all and I’m reaching for the leggings.

  29. KCgirl*

    I’m also a chronic over-dresser for work but as a manager I’ve decided to focus on work outputs. The only exceptions being if a clothing choice is dangerous (open-toe shoes in a warehouse) or egregiously out of place (a staffer who had “wardrobe malfunctions” but insisted they didn’t mind if anyone saw their body — ok but other people do mind?? sheesh).
    Additionally I know what it’s like to have a manager who is obsessed with dress code to the point that you wonder if really you just aren’t attractive enough for them to respect you. Which is sometimes accurate, sadly. Plus many dress code enforcements can end up colliding with wealth, (dis)ability and/or racial lines, even in unintentionally, which is something to be aware of.

    1. Des*

      >(a staffer who had “wardrobe malfunctions” but insisted they didn’t mind if anyone saw their body — ok but other people do mind?? sheesh).

      thanks for a laugh

    2. Nice Try, FBI*

      The racial thing is a good point. I let my hair go natural (I’m black), and my boss made it clear she thought my baby afro was unprofessional. I really did not appreciate that, and it was the beginning of the end of my time working for her.

      1. The Original K.*

        I have natural hair and I would absolutely quit over being told that it was unprofessional. That’s racist.

        1. The Original K.*

          “Where are your panties?” “It’s casual day!” said all exasperated, as though being bottomless is akin to wearing jeans. I don’t even really like The Office that much, but that was funny.

  30. NQ*

    I dress more fancily than most for work, and I agree on my own personal account too – wading in without wide and deep knowledge of the situation is unwise.

    It probably doesn’t appear so to outsiders, since I wear similar things daily (decent shirt and half-decent trousers with a belt and safety boots), but what to wear stresses me out, sometimes a lot. At my old workplace, where there was a lot of sexism, that was heightened & I’d up my style (decent to nice shirt, fancy trousers, belt, and fancy shoes to change into safety boots only when needed). Whenever I get stressed about gender things, this is my #1 response. Clamping down on it stresses me a lot more, because as a queer woman in a team of men, I already feel very restricted and judged on my clothing. It’s possible that’s just me, though.

  31. Rachel*

    I currently work at home (since March 2020) so couldn’t be more casual these days. But when I was in office at different jobs with different dress codes, I found thrift stores/secondhand stores/church bazaars to be my best friends.
    When I had to wear a ‘uniform’ of white button down and black slacks – thrift store.
    When I had to go more professional, blazer and slacks – thrift store.
    When I went to business casual – thrift store! (you get my drift)
    You can get very gently used, often never worn, new/newish styles in any color/style/size. My local stores also have daily sales where certain items are 50% off. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt each time and never spend more than $20 on a bag.

    1. LuckyClover*

      Thrifting is fun and a nice way to get clothes if you can, but this isn’t a realistic solution for everyone. I love thrifting but have very little success with clothes. Part of that is due to my size or maybe it’s also due to my location. I’d never be able to source a full wardrobe from thrift – let alone 3 separate work appropriate ones. I’d be so defeated if my employer made a sudden dress code change and then told me to thrift if I can’t afford new clothes.

    2. sally*

      As other people have noted, if you are larger/smaller/taller/shorter than the average, it becomes a lot more difficult to find decent clothes at a thrift store. I’m a plus-sized woman and my more average-sized family members LOVE to thrift – if I join them, we will spend hours, they will find bags & bags worth of cute clothes, and I might be lucky to find one or two things. Not to mention the fact that in-person shopping in general, and possibly especially thrift shopping, isn’t exactly the safest option right now.

      1. starsaphire*

        I especially hated when it became trendy to go to thrift stores, buy “oversized” clothing, and then remake.

        Like, I get that it’s good for the planet to upcycle clothing, and I’m happy for you that you have a cute new shirtdress, but that was literally the only shirt in this store that I could wear…

      2. Cat Tree*

        Thrift stores and even regular discount/overstock stores are useless for plus sizes. But then, even regular department stores are only marginally better than useless for plus sizes.

        I’ve also noticed in the past few years that even plus size specialty stores seem to sell 1,000 different shirts but hardly any pants.

        1. sally*

          I’ve also noticed a shift in plus-sized retailers where the vast majority of their clothes are way more “casual” than “business” – even places like Lane Bryant where the clientele seems to be older, more professional women (as opposed to places like Torrid and Forever 21+ where the clientele leans younger). I have a hell of a time finding professional tops for spring and summer when I can’t wear sweaters. It’s literally impossible for me to find a button-down blouse that fits correctly (granted I am very busty even for a plus-sized woman), and other types of traditionally “professional-looking” tops are increasingly hard to find in larger sizes. I have mostly resorted to tops that are a step above a t-shirt (thinner, “fancier” fabrics but essentially the same shape) with a cardigan to make it seem a little dressier. Thankfully I work in a fairly casual office – if I worked in an office that held to OP’s dress standards I’d be in trouble.

          1. Cat Tree*

            Ugh, the large breasts are such a pain, and were a problem even when I wasn’t plus size. To this day (well, until Covid) my mom will tell me about bras on sale at some department store and encourage me to buy some. I tell her that they don’t carry my size and every time she just says, “well, the large sizes look really big”.

            Anyway, the one benefit to always being cold is that I wear sweaters year-round.

      3. lazuli*

        Plus, some of us just don’t enjoy clothes shopping. “The thrill of the hunt” does not exist for me in clothing shops. It’s boring and frustrating. Even if I had a room full of clothes that looked fabulous on me and were free, I would find it boring and frustrating. It’s a piece of capitalist culture that I have specifically opted out of as much as I can. I think it’s great when people use fashion as a way to express their creativity, but in the same that I think requiring everyone to spend hours on weekends composing music or painting would be a weird work requirement, I think asking everyone to be excited about clothes shopping is too much just on its own.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, this. I’ve switched to pretty exclusively buying from one store for plus-sized women. It’s not the cheapest store, but at least I can find clothes in my size there. I’m also not in the least fashion-conscious, so when I buy clothes, I’d rather pay a bit more for something I genuinely like and know that I’ll be wearing for at least a year if not more than that, than cheap stuff that has to be thrown out after a couple of washes. I’m just too environmentally conscious to want to do that. I have items that I still wear that I bought 10 years ago. The only reason I get rid of old clothes is that they either get worn out or I’ve gained or lost weight and they don’t fit anymore. I go out of my way to avoid clothes that look too fashionable, because they’ll only be out of style long before I’m ready to stop wearing them.

    3. earl grey aficionado*

      I get what you’re saying, since I’m also a thrift store evangelist, but I’m wary of bringing up thrifting in response to this letter at all. The OP isn’t asking where they can buy more clothes of their own to meet their workplace’s dress code, they’re asking whether or not it’s fair to hold their employees to the same highly polished standard they prefer. If the OP does go ahead with enforcing a dress code, that’s going to be unpopular enough (not necessarily the wrong choice for all the reasons Alison points out, but DEFINITELY unpopular), and I think tacking on a “if you can’t afford nicer clothes, go thrift shopping!” message to the end of it is going to go over like a lead balloon.

      1. Autistic AF*

        The pandemic creates issues there, too. Shopping in-store isn’t necessarily possible, nor is trying anything on.

        1. earl grey aficionado*

          Absolutely! I was trying to keep my comment focused but I 100% agree with all the other critiques down- and upthread of why thrift shopping isn’t a great answer to this question. I’m a fat short hairy gender non-conforming person, and while I adore thrift shopping, it’s hit or miss for professional clothes for me at the best of times. I can’t even imagine trying it during the pandemic. I just think issue #1 here is that the OP needs to be focusing on evaluating whether or not the dress code enforcement is even necessary – not focusing on whether or not thrift shopping (or any other option) is the right place for their employees to theoretically overhaul their wardrobes.

    4. Megalosaurus*

      I love thrifting as well, and having thrifted in several cities at several different points in my life that led to looking for moderately different sizes, location and size matter an enormous amount. When I lived on the Main Line in Philadelphia and was very thin, I could have picked up an entire work wardrobe for about $300 in a few trips. Shopping for average sizes clothes in Houston, I could look for months and be SOL.

    5. Colette*

      Not everyone has the time or interest to devote to looking for clothes that are appropriate, comfortable, and the right size – particularly during a pandemic. Even if they were, the people who would need that suggestion are not the ones who wrote in.

      1. Julie*

        I don’t know what your point is re the interest part of your comment. Plenty of things don’t interest plenty of people. “Have interest in” and “have to do” are not the same thing.

    6. Just Another Zebra*

      In addition to what everyone else said… pandemic? There’s a good number of people not comfortable with brick-and-mortar shopping right now. Cost aside, it’s just not the most realistic suggestion at the moment.

    7. Elenna*

      In addition to what others have said about the pandemic and about the difficulty of thrifting when you’re not a “mainstream” body size, $20 per item can be a lot when you need to buy a full wardrobe at once!

      Like, if it’s a uniform, okay, maybe you can wear the same thing a few days in a row (although OP would probably object to that). But if you want a week’s worth of nice tops and a week’s worth of nice pants and a nice bag and a pair or two of nice shoes, all at once, that adds up to what, 10-15 items? At least? So, $200-$300.

      For most part-time, nonprofit employees (i.e. people generally not being paid much), I imagine suddenly spending $200-$300 would be a noticable financial strain. Heck, I’m a full-time entry level worker being paid what I think is decently well, and although right now I’m living with my parents, when I move out $200-$300 will be most of what’s left each month after paying for rent, food, pension plan, and utilities. Sure, I could technically afford it, but that’s one month when I can’t save for a nice vacation, or go out to eat, or anything that I actually want to spend my money on. And I don’t even have to pay for dependents or medical expenses or any other hidden expenses OP’s employees might have.

      Thrifting can be a great, fun hobby! But it’s not the answer to this question.

    8. AnotherLibrarian*

      I think thrifting a great option for a lot of people, but the issue here isn’t the cost of a new wardrobe, it is really if this even a topic that the Letterwriter should take on. Handbooks often contain outdated information and what people wear isn’t just an issue of cost. It’s often much more intimately connected to someone’s identity then I think people realize. As Alison points out, context is a huge issue here, as is the resentment this will likely cause with staff if there isn’t a super good reason for it to be enforced.

    9. Observer*

      My local stores also have daily sales where certain items are 50% off. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt each time and never spend more than $20 on a bag.

      Which is totally not relevant to the issue at hand.

      $20 per bag still means more than pocket change when you factor in the reality that “a bag” is not going to cover a new wardrobe. Beyond that not everyone has access to YOUR local stores that have daily 50% off sales on reasonably priced items (50% off a $150 shirt doesn’t do a lot of us much good) even in non-pandemic times.

      Furthermore, not every one enjoys “the hunt”. More importantly not everyone has the resources for that, even in non-pandemic time. This is not a “not everyone can have sandwiches problem” – it’s a widespread issue. People with time commitments, people with mobility issues, people who don’t live near lots of good shopping collectively make up a large part of the population, and these are all things that make the kind of shopping you describe difficult. Then, there is the overlapping significant proportion of the population that is not so easy to fit, and they need to do multiple trips where others need to do one / and or need to pay more for their clothes. This is an added burden for them, too.

      I’m not suggesting that a business causal dress code should never be instituted. But it’s a huge mistake to think that the kind of upgrade under discussion is not likely to cause a significant burden for a lot of people.

      1. Self Employed*

        And during the pandemic, I am NOT going thrifting.

        I had pretty much stopped thrifting before the pandemic for two reasons: perfume allergies and fear of bedbugs.

        I thrifted for 3 decades and didn’t have problems with stores using Febreze or Tide on the clothes, but suddenly most of the shops in my city were dousing everything in scented products. I couldn’t wash it out well enough to wear and ended up re-donating a lot of stuff.

        And maybe the scented products were to cover up the smell of insecticide, or they were washing everything on HOT with Tide in case donations had bedbugs. My city suddenly had outbreaks of bedbugs, and a neighbor bought some infested furniture at a thrift store. He had to have his entire apartment treated multiple times, the pest control company had to inspect everyone else’s apartments, and it was mosquito season so I had to keep playing “is this a mosquito bite or what do bedbug bites look like anyhow?” A friend lived in a building where they never did get rid of all the bedbugs because tenants kept bringing furniture back in the building that their neighbors had thrown out. (Management should’ve started using a dumpster they could lock after discarding infested stuff, but they were not very competent.)

        I used to like thrifting, but between the scent, the bedbug phobia, and most of the stuff being “fast fashion” junk nowadays I probably won’t go back to thrifting even when it’s safe.

  32. Jessica*

    I’d be REALLY curious to find out what kind of nonprofit work the OP’s organization does, and also which *side* of public-facing nonprofit work her department does. Because if your main interaction is with donors, then sure, wearing nice clothes is usually necessary. But if your main interaction is with people being helped by the nonprofit, wearing expensive clothing can emphasize (or even create an illusion of) class differences that make it more difficult to connect with and be trusted by the people the employees are working with.

    Individuals may have problems, but collectively, I’d trust people in the trenches, doing the work, to know how they need to present themselves in order to do their work effectively more than I’d trust a new manager from outside the organization.

    1. PT*

      This. I worked at a nonprofit where we had people who had more physical/hands on jobs where casual or athletic attire was required, and people who had more office/desk jobs where business attire was more appropriate.

      Having one dress code for everyone, did not make sense. It especially did not make sense in the winter, when half of us had to trudge through epic snow on the way in (one year, we had 9 feet!) and people would get crap for coming in boots and jeans and then changing into work appropriate bottoms when they arrived. The person whose job requires business attire, can’t go to meetings in salt-stained pants. The person whose job requires athletic shorts, cannot trudge a mile through the snow in shorts.

    2. Just Another HR Pro*

      “But if your main interaction is with people being helped by the nonprofit, wearing expensive clothing can emphasize (or even create an illusion of) class differences that make it more difficult to connect with and be trusted by the people the employees are working with”

      That is a VERY good point. I am not too familiar with non-profits so that would never have occurred to me.

      1. Allypopx*

        Assuming OP has any kind of career in non-profits and it’s not a random lateral move, it should occur to her though. This is a huge thing in non-profit culture. I work with…a class of volunteer that enjoys feeling like they’re part of something a little classy (think academia) so if I’m in the office or at a volunteer event, I’m wearing a blazer. But if I’m working with the public, that’s way too formal to be appropriate and can even be quite off-putting. The fact that she works in a non-profit and this is clearly a pervasive culture tells me that it’s probably the right culture for that organization, for a variety of very valid reasons. More than most places I’ve worked, non-profits are very aware of the image they’re portraying.

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          It may not occure to her because it can really depend on the nonprofit. I interned at an environmental nonprofit, so we weren’t serving underprivileged people. More we were protecting land, restoring land, and asking people to donate their land to the conservancy to protect it. So we were working with a lot of rich farmers. But we were a small nonprofit, like less than 12 people total, not counting the board. Most people wore nice jeans, shirts. Director wore fancy business clothes but if we were working in the field (literal field, like outside) would wear clothes jeans, booths, etc. stuff you can get dirty in.

          1. Allypopx*

            That’s still knowing your nonprofit and knowing your audience though. People are associating you with working with the conservancy, and with working with the land, so jeans-and-sweater levels of dressy is perfectly appropriate, and obviously if you’re getting dirty you dress for that. And the director dressed for her job. I’m certainly not saying all people in non-profits dress down, but the cultures tend to adapt to the work that you’re doing and the image you want to portray.

      2. Flutter*

        I worked at one where I was seen with kids in the community (doctor, therapist, school meetings, etc.) Dressing up screams “case worker”, jeans and a t-shirt and I could be mom, auntie, the nanny, a family friend, etc. More than once I let people draw the conclusion I was a nanny.

    3. AS*

      This! If I wear business casual, my clients think of me as a probation officer which impedes my ability to do my job. It’s a relevant piece of the puzzle to note what kind of work and clients these employees are facing.

  33. MissNMS*

    I wish I could dress up more. My job requires some outdoor site visits. I suspect dress to impress is becoming dated, unfortunately. It’s getting harder and harder to find things in stores to try on, and pants giving way to leggings has made dress pants harder to find.

    1. PlainJane*

      There’s that, too. I went shopping for work clothes and told a store clerk that I couldn’t wear leggings per dress code, and she just looked gobsmacked and said, “Um… you maybe should talk to your bosses about that, because that’s what’s going on in the world.”

  34. LuckyClover*

    I had a job that had the dress code change when the director changed- and let me tell you it accomplished nothing. The boss was so adamant about us looking a certain way that the bigger picture of what we do wasn’t getting attention from him.

    I didn’t stay in that job long – and it wasn’t because of the dress code change BUT it was about the realization that the new director didn’t have the needs of our org prioritized properly and I saw the signs of things going downhill. 80% of the staff left that year.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      My company still talks about the guy who was our VP of Sales for six months back in 2018. He instituted a “full suits and ties” dress code for sales when the rest of the company was on the more casual side of business casual. This was a huge hit to their morale for several reasons, not least of which being it was extremely rare for anyone in the company to have face to face meetings with a client. He got fired for not closing a single deal in the entire time he was with the company and in hindsight it became clear that he had no idea what he was doing (all his experience was in an unrelated industry) and made sweeping changes to look like he was accomplishing something.

      1. LuckyClover*

        “Sweeping changes to make it look like he’s accomplishing something” is exactly what it was. Sure, we all suddenly looked nice but that had absolutely nothing to do with what we accomplished or did as an org. And that’s really what hurt everyone’s morale.

  35. OyHiOh*

    I am a big fan of business casual clothes for work – I’m wearing dress trousers, an oxford style shirt, blazer, and lace up flats right this minute actually – and find that my brain switches to work functions much better when I dress for work, even when I WFH (I usually go to my office as I’m very blessed with solid walls, a proper door, no roommate, and well observed COVID precautions but sometimes, I stay home for various reasons). I dress how I want and don’t think more or less of the people I work with in the office or virtually who have different standards.

    On the other hand, y’all, my boss!!! Today, he’s across the hall in his office wearing faded jeans and a sweater that looks to be about thirty years old. The graphics are cracking off, that’s how bad it is. My first day of work – similar outfit to today’s – we said hello, headed upstairs, and the next phrase out of his mouth was “you’re way overdressed for this office.” Duly noted, thanks for noticing (did not say that out loud!). He regularly shows up in college sweaters, faded flannels, beat up sneakers, and a range of the faded-on-purpose jeans. I know he’s got a meeting when he pairs the off-trend jeans with an oxford shirt, lol. But the man is a beast, professionally. He’s efficient and effective, a good mentor, etc, etc, and so forth. If he weren’t, I might have cause to wonder if the casual dress code was a flag for casual, messy work, but it’s not. Occasionally, I mentally raise my eyebrows over his clothing choices, but that’s as far as it goes.

  36. kwagner*

    Comments on how I’m dressing, especially when it’s in line with all my other coworkers, is probably the last thing I would want to hear from a new manager mid-pandemic. Also a new boss changing as something as truly inconsequential as the commonly accepted dress in the office when they’ve been there less than a year would breed a ton of resentment in my mind. If this truly bothers you so much, LW, please at least table it until we’re not mid-pandemic.

    1. Allypopx*

      Absolutely agree. It comes off as super tone deaf – especially if you’re asking people to upgrade their wardrobes. You employing people doesn’t mean they aren’t taking a financial hit, or a mental health hit (which can definitely impact/be impacted by what you wear), and fashion is definitely not on the top of most people’s priority list right now. Even if I wasn’t in a position where it impacted me much personally, I would seriously be side-eyeing a manager who made that her big hill to die on during all of this.

  37. PlainJane*

    Unless there’s a problem with customers or productivity, I’d let it go. In other words, as a supervisor, it’s just your taste level. If, on the other hand, customers are routinely complaining about it, that might be legitimate. Or if a competitor with a strictly enforced dress code is more subtly taking customers who find the casual dress code off-putting… but I kind of doubt that. The amount of money going into new clothes, combined with the inconvenience of shopping right now… yeah. This is not a good time to tell people to get a whole new wardrobe.

  38. Occasional Commenter*

    I fully believe you dress for the job/salary. Non-profits are notorious for low salaries. Asking people to fork out more money is going to be tough (for many reasons already mentioned). Depending on clientele, maybe a business casual environment will seem out of touch.

    I totally get not liking clothes with holes or sweats. Maybe there is a way to compromise and make it more jeans and nice shirts without breaking people’s banks? A lot of businesses are moving to this attire now, with the exception to financial institutions. Not all, but several I have worked at have started to adopt a more jeans and nice shirt mentality, even when customer facing.

    1. Ashley*

      Yes on the clientele. You want to be approachable.
      Nonprofits can also risk looking out of touch with who they serve if everyone is over dressed, and even to their donor base if the office staff is always really nicely dressed.
      At best I would do a slow address with someone client facing if their clothes really do look like a regular persons yard work clothes about maybe suggesting no holes in revealing locations.

    2. Drago Cucina*

      Yes, there are ways to do both. At previous job no non-library or literary related t-shirts were allowed. When people were hired the first thing we did was give them 2 library t-shirts. We had started only giving one, but two allowed for rotation. Every year we tried to give a new shirt to all employees. While the local government rules were only outdoor workers could wear jeans I allowed it as long as there were no holes (even fashionable ones). Many of our high school employees had worked fast food and owned the ubiquitous khakis.

  39. Nea*

    OP, I do understand where you’re coming from, I do. I don’t think anyone here is going to argue that rumpled clothing or visible holes are acceptable work wear.

    But at the same time, if you try to enforce a dress code in your department that no one else in the entire organization needs to uphold just because you don’t like the current standards… that’s not going to make you popular, and that will affect how your reports see you.

    And – how are you planning on enforcing this new departmental dress code if you get it? Seriously, how are you planning on handling infractions – sending people home, PIPs for their wardrobe, bad reviews? Because I have to admit, I’m strongly reminded of the manager who chose only high-effort physical fitness events for team bonding because that’s what she liked. The manager who refused to consider alternatives and put disparaging remarks in the performance reviews of people who physically could not participate in the things she enjoyed.

    People are going through things that you don’t know. Take care before you spend their money on a new wardrobe, or insist on things that may not be achievable. For instance, what kind of shoes are acceptable for women in skirts? If you mandate heels, you’re going to immediately run into pushback based on health.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      This is a great point – say you “win” the new dress code. What are the consequences? Because you’re going to end up with people who are not just angry, but are penalized for their financial situation in the middle of a pandemic. I think at this moment (and because you are so new) that this is a wildly unreasonable ask. Clean clothes with no holes? For sure. Full out dress code overhaul? Nope.

    2. Self Employed*

      I wrecked my arches wearing “work-appropriate” shoes for 15 years even though I wore the lowest heels I could get away with–usually 1.5″. But when I finally went to a podiatrist, he said that I have a type of foot that just can’t wear heels or I’ll get plantar fasciitis. (This was in the early 2000s so I don’t remember the technical terms.) He said I should’ve gotten a doctor’s note for an accommodation, which of course I didn’t know until it was too late.

      I don’t know how women wear stilettos.

  40. Choggy*

    This reminds me of the day one of our field techs came in to pick up a computer or for training, can’t remember which one, and he was wearing a bright pink t-shirt and really short denim cut offs. I stopped dead in my tracks for a full minute but everyone just laughed and said “Oh, that’s just “Joe”.” and no one else batted an eye. Of course our field personnel wear jeans and company t-shirts, which I’m used to seeing, but he was quite a sight. I was glad that he felt comfortable to wear that ensemble especially because we are a water utility, not a fortune 500 company, and prefer to work in that kind of environment.

  41. Des*

    I enjoy dressing professionally for work (business casual) but that’s on me. I don’t think forcing people to update their wardrobes is warranted (especially in these crazy times) unless there’s a good business case for it. However, one caveat is that it doesn’t sound like they’re merely dressed casually (e.g. t-shirt and jeans are casual) but rather that they’re dressed shabbily (holes, rumpled clothing etc). I think looking that unprofessional would be a problem.

  42. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    OP, even if you want to enforce a more formal dress code, you may not end up with people looking more polished. It’s a letter vs. spirit issue. You can tell people to wear suit separates but that won’t necessarily prevent them from looking rumpled or wearing ill-fitting clothing. They’re following the letter, but maybe not the intended spirit, and there won’t be much you can reasonably do about it.

    1. Metadata minion*

      And heck, if you have even slightly unusual proportions, you may not have much of a choice about the poorly-fitting part unless you want to shell out even *more* money to get your clothing properly tailored! It was so eye-opening when I learned that many business-formal-wearing people aren’t just somehow Better At Clothes than me; it’s an unspoken expectation that you’ll get your clothing tailored so it actually fits you.

  43. Hoodie Please!*

    The vast majority of my company is working from home with just a few of us back in the office even semi-regularly. I’m definitely not a suit person, and pre-covid my “uniform” was a casual button up and nice dark jeans— all appropriate per the handbook and in line with what others were doing.

    Now that only a few of us are here, HR was nice enough to explicitly say “no dress code other than close-toed shoes.” I still find myself struggling to wear a hoodie to work. My boss wears a hoodie. Our CEO wears a hoodie. I don’t care in the slightest what anybody else is wearing. But I have this mental block that insists that “nobody will respect you if you wear a hoodie.” Most days I tell my brain to sh and just wear the dang hoodie.

    1. introverted af*

      My work used to have a business casual requirement, and since we do non-profit fundraising, the development staff tends to dress nicer overall. However, since the pandemic, the dress code has been casual (still not hoodies, but jeans and decent tops and the like) with the expectation that if you did have an external meeting you would dress for the occasion, and it has been sooooooo nice

      1. Ashley*

        I am really hoping post pandemic dress codes stay on the more casual side. Long sleeve t-shirts are so much more comfortable then dress shirts! And way cheaper to replace.

    2. Sal*

      I work in government and on the rare occasions I go into the office now, it is sweatpants and shorts depending on the weather. (This org is usually bus-cas to frequently full suits for men and women.) I would *never* have dreamed of wearing anything like that pre-covid–I just feel like any time I go into the office now, it’s weekend-dress-code rules, which is basically nothing that I personally would be subjectively embarrassed to be seen in. [shrug emoji]

  44. Just Another HR Pro*

    This may or may not be relevant – but if the dress code is out of date, I wonder about the rest of the company handbook as well.

    Our dress code has been relaxed due to COVID, but thankfully not that relaxed. I too enjoy dressing up, and feel awkward dressing up when nobody else is, so I can’t wait to wear my normal work clothes again (mainly because I am feeling like I paid good money for clothes, shoes and purses currently sitting in my closet collecting dust). BUT I am also thankful as working from home for the last 10 months has rendered some of my clothes too small at the moment. :/

  45. Firecat*

    I think it can help too if you let go of the judgement. Saying “everyone dresses like a slob” is a bit harsh when your first example was some crumpled cargo shorts. That’s not what I would consider slovenly dress.

    Sweats have become more socially acceptable as well – some of the new sweats are made to be outwear. It reminds me of the athletic pants craze of the late 90s early 00s.

  46. I can never decide on a lasting name*

    In my country, many see job happiness (not just satisfaction) as an important factor in creating high quality of work. I think it is visible from many of the above comments, that dress codes matter to job happiness and thus quality. It would matter a lot to mine!

    OP, you have not mentioned the purpose and clientele of the non-profit, and both will matter quite a lot. As Alison indicates, you might create a barrier between users and staff, if users feel that staff are less approachable or if they start fearing that they might be judged for their clothes and means.

    You bring up professionalism, and I hope that in being professional you see include ability to distinguish between what is relevant / necessary to do the job and your own preferences.

    Many mention a holed shirt – is it possible that this shirt is a coveted fashion item or is it just a shirt with a hole in it?

    1. Allypopx*

      I don’t know where the OP is from, but I think that mindset is starting to become more prevalent in the US too! Though we’re obviously behind the curve and it’s not ubiquitous, there’s a looooot of data about people staying in jobs over things we used to consider inconsequential perks, like just letting people wear jeans.

  47. Kimmybear*

    If I were in the office, I would be wearing black pants, black shoes and a shirt and/or sweater. I rarely wear skirts because I very well may need to climb on or under a table to deal with plugs and equipment. That’s what you need to keep in mind for your staff…what do they need to accomplish?

  48. introverted af*

    One thing that wasn’t mentioned by anyone else yet that seems relevant to me is that 15 of these people are part-time. That doesn’t mean you can’t hold them to certain expectations, but it just adds another layer. For example, frankly, are you paying your part-timers enough to expect business level dress out of them? Does the full time staff dress more according to the handbook than PT, and/or is the FT staff in front of the public more?

    Sure, even a part time retail or hospitality staff is gonna have some kind of uniform, but it’s also much more likely to be a certain color pants and a certain color shirt, or certain color pants and a company polo than business dress. Heck, Walmart even changed theirs to just be a vest, that’s provided (if I remember right). Especially given that part of staff is part time, I would be even more hesitant about upping the expectations. Maybe I’m just young and prefer more casual clothes anyways, but I would have a real hard time if any of my part time jobs changed the expectations like what the LW is describing.

  49. AB*

    There are a few things that I’m sure everyone has thought of, but as someone who prefers to be more dressed up than the office standard that is expected:

    1) It looks a little out of touch, especially during a pandemic, to be this focused on what people are wearing at work as long as it’s not supremely inappropriate: you can be casual with clothing in good repair. Everything just needs to be covered and meet any necessary safety standards.

    2) Is how everyone else is dressed actually relevant to their job role? Does their casual state of attire prevent them from performing their jobs? My guess is no, and I have a thought on what precisely is bothering you (point three).

    3) As other commenters and Alison have mentioned, “business attire” even when it’s the more casual side of things, can be pretty expensive. Are these workers actually making enough to have that type of clothing? What is their age group? Older? Recent college graduates? Business attire clothing can also be very uncomfortable for people with chronic conditions or disabilities. It’s entirely possible there are circumstances you’re not clued into that would easily explain why it’s a casual office. Assuming that everyone else is a slob for not being dressed to your standard comes across as a bit classist as well. Allowing the office to remain as is, provided the clothes are clean and in good repair, allows for better worker inclusion than requiring everyone to dress up to your standard.

    It’s one thing if you’re asking people to dress up a bit more for an occasional work event or site visit from upper management. It’s another thing entirely if you’re demanding it every day.

  50. Enigma Alpaca*

    We had a similar dress code war in my large nonprofit a few years back. 90% of the employees wore t-shirt + jeans + sneakers to work every day. The CEO would wear a button down with jeans or dress pants and sneakers. We are located in a notoriously casual urban area. The head of my dept, who was 35+ years older than most of his staff, came from a much more conservative city and industry where “business casual” means you don’t have to wear a tie. Things he hated included: sneakers, “blue” denim, and tattoos. He was clueless about women’s fashion, so he tried to inscribe in the dress code that you couldn’t wear short or sleeveless tops (which would have eliminated most of my femme-leaning wardrobe). In the meeting where the dress code was announced, I (wearing sleeveless top) was sitting next to a male colleague in a short-sleeved button down. Colleague asked if my outfit was okay and if so, why his wouldn’t be. You could literally see Boss’s brain glitching for a few seconds before he ignored the question and moved on to the next agenda item.

    I don’t give a sh*t about what other people wear to work as long as it’s clean and free of tears/holes/stains, but I had also come from a more formal/conservative industry so my style tended to lean more in that direction, and I watched the two factions war with bemused detachment. Among some of the claims by the millennial-aged workforce were that the prohibition on blue jeans violated their freedom of gender expression and that they couldn’t afford a business casual wardrobe (everyone was exempt and the lowest paid job started at $45k annually with full benefits–though admittedly it is a high cost of living area). Once one of my colleagues came to work in jeans & sneakers (because she had to do physical labor later in the day) and boss immediately sent a passive-aggressive email to the entire dept reminding them of the dress code–it was the beginning of the day and they were the only 2 people in the office.

    At the end of the day the millennial faction won out and the dress code was amended to “dress for your day.”

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      The head of my dept, who was 35+ years older than most of his staff, came from a much more conservative city and industry where “business casual” means you don’t have to wear a tie. Things he hated included: sneakers, “blue” denim, and tattoos.

      OldJob had a CEO who once sent out a companywide email banning jeans. Apparently, on a Wednesday, the CEO had wandered into a breakroom, where he ran into an employee wearing jeans, and was upset by that. The email closed with “A wise person said that jeans are only appropriate when you are getting on or off a horse. When I start seeing horses at (company), jeans will be allowed, but not until then.” A year later, CEO was terminated from his job and guess who wore jeans to work the next day? Freaking everybody.

      1. Enigma Alpaca*

        Yikes. Was he an old white man on the verge of retirement, by any chance? I hope they set him a picture of the staff all wearing jeans with his final check!

      2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        This is just asking for his office to be mysteriously filled with toy horses the next time he’s offsite for the day, or some someone to start hiding them around the office.

      3. Tinker*

        I mean of course I’d probably do the sensible thing and kick myself for the rest of my life for passing up the straight line but…

        … it is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a pair of English riding pants is not wearing jeans to work, *but could be*.

    2. AJ*

      Male HR director wrote a policy requiring women to wear a pantsuit, suit, or dress for certain job functions. For the same functions men could wear slacks and a shirt. The women asked why they couldn’t wear slacks and a shirt. Turned out the male HR director didn’t know what a pantsuit actually was and thought he was allowing slacks and a shirt.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I had a female HR director once tell me (in the late 90s/early 00s) that she found pantsuits unprofessional and refused to hire anyone who didn’t wear a skirt suit to the interview. I do not miss her at all.

    3. Self Employed*

      How high a cost of living area? Because where I live, if someone were making $45K a few years ago, they would not have qualified to rent a studio apartment by themselves. They’d probably have to rent a room in a house, unless they lucked out and made it up the waiting list at a low-income apartment complex ($45K would’ve been right around 50% of our Area Median Income.)

      1. Enigma Alpaca*

        Top 10 in the US for COL. It’s very very common here to have 1 or more roommates (more common than renting a studio by yourself), and you can find a room in a shared apt/house for less than $1,000 month.

        12 years ago I was making $45k and paying $1,200 for a 1-bed + over $300 in transportation expenses + $300 in student loans and still managed to pay down debts/save money.

  51. TootsNYC*

    Particularly in some types of social service work, some traditional ideas of “professionalism” can create problematic distance between staff and the people they’re serving.

    This can be true. But you can also have a situation in which your clientele doesn’t trust your staff to be effective if they see YOU in T-shirts with holes, because you don’t come across like someone who will have any clout when you interact with others on their behalf.

    There’s a lot of nuance, and it’s fair to require people to dress in a way that furthers the company’s goals. And if it truly doesn’t matter, it’s nice to allow your staff to dress casually.

    (that said, as an employee, I might find it demoralizing to have a colleague come to work in a shirt with holes in it)

    1. Jennifer*

      Yeah it would be a bit offputting to see an office full of people in holey clothes if I was going there to get help.

  52. Temperance*

    Not an elitist, but shockingly out-of-touch. If you push the issue, LW, your reports are very likely going to cool towards you, because it will be very clear who made the push.

    Rumpled cargs and holey shirts? Okay, that’s objectively bad. But “slacks and blazers” is a far, far cry from that.

  53. AC*

    OP here. Tough crowd! For the record:
    -I have not once commented to any of my employees on their clothing, made disparaging remarks on people’s appearance, etc.
    -I do not care about how much items cost, brands, or designers. Right now my entire outfit (black slacks and a blouse) came from Marshall’s.
    -I do not expect everyone to go full-on business formal or even dress like me. I DO expect people to not wear ripped or rumpled clothes.
    -My team works directly with both the public and donors. We are frequently photographed or appear in media.

    1. OyHiOh*

      How do your established and potential donors dress? When your staff are interacting with these groups, it is reasonable to establish a similar level of polish from staff members

      When your staff are photographed pursuant to professional duties, it’s reasonable to establish and expect a higher level of polish.

      Addressing the immediate issue, it’s pretty simple to revise the dress code to include “no rips, holes, or faded articles”

      Knowing how wildly the term “business casual” is interpreted across the US, are you possibly someone who comes from an area with a more polished interpretation of the term, relocating to somewhere where business casual functionally means something completely different? I usually wear dressy trousers, patterned oxford shirts, and soft-structured blazars. If I lived in an east coast city, in some environments, I would look like I do not understand what business casual is. In a west coast city, I would look wildly overdressed for many positions. In my western, landlocked state, business casual starts at jeans and flip flops and travels up to approximately how I dress.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        There are so many different interpretations of business casual that I feel like the term is useless now. My last boss told me to wear “nice business clothes,” which to her meant khaki capris and Converse sneakers? I came from a suits-and-ties environment, so to me, business casual is stopping just short of a full-on suit.

        1. Self Employed*

          Hey, the Vice President wore Converse sneakers at her campaign events! But the rest of her outfit was sharper than “khaki capris.”

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      While I can appreciate this, please consider that these people likely have other expenses – especially now! – and may not be able to afford a full out business wardrobe. Even if they shop at a place like Marshall’s, each outfit might cost them in the range of $20. That’s $100 for a week’s worth of clothing, and may be wildly out of people’s budgets.
      If your concern is more about how your organization might appear in the media, then perhaps speak to your boss about how “ripped or rumpled clothes” might negatively affect the organization’s image. Maybe send out new press-release dress guidelines.
      Beyond that… yeah, if my new manager asked me to upend my entire wardrobe, I’d be salty, too.

      1. Enigma Alpaca*

        It sounds like OP is in development, which is usually the highest-paid dept in any nonprofit. In my high cost of living area, even the most junior full-time development employee makes $50k+ annually. Part time development positions are rare.

        1. Allypopx*

          In my high COL area part-time development positions or development positions that paid 40k or less are common. These things vary.

        2. Jennifer Strange*

          I worked full-time in development at a DC non-profit and I made less than $40K annually (and this was only three years ago) so that is not always the case.

      2. Self Employed*

        I haven’t been to Marshall’s since about 2019, but I don’t think I could’ve found a work outfit for under $25-30 unless I wanted to wear gross polyester stuff that wouldn’t last more than a couple of months (and would be so uncomfortable I’d be distracted at work).

        Would your organization be able to budget a purchase of nice polo shirts with the organization’s logo embroidered on them so that everyone has something decent for photo ops?

    3. sally*

      I worked at TJ Maxx for a while in college (basically the same store as Marshall’s, maybe slightly more high-end, but definitely still considered an inexpensive place to shop), and unless your part-time staff is being paid VERY well and getting almost-full-time hours (assuming that they’re paid hourly) . . . replacing their entire work wardrobe even at Marshall’s or a similar store is probably still going to be out of budget. I don’t think “clean and in good repair” is an unreasonable line to draw in the sand, but I wouldn’t push any further than that for part-time staff unless it’s an absolute necessity from a business perspective (not just your own personal preference). Probably not even for full-time staff if it would be out of line with the rest of your organization, which it sounds like it would.

    4. Sas*

      Hi OP, on days with the media/frequently photographed bits, I think your concerns are fair and maybe that’s another angle to take once you’ve done the groundwork Allison mentioned.
      And on the days that are not like that, bare minimum should be no holes or excessively crumpled.
      I don’t think you’re elitist. We all just have different standards.

    5. Philly Redhead*

      You seem set on changing the dress code for the entire organization (or at the very least, the entire department), and yet you’re fixating on two examples you provided in the OP. Why is that?

      Also, I’m of aver age weight (size 12), but with VERY long legs. There are NO pants that fit me at Marshall’s.

      1. WellRed*

        Why ARE pants so damn short these days? I’m a long legged 5’5 so hardly an Amazon. 31 inch inseams are not long, clothing makers.

        1. Loredena*

          And at 4’9” capris are an inch too short to be slacks on me yet too long to look like proper capris! I’m wearing rolled up jeans an awful lot lately

        2. Long torso*

          I’m the same height as you and prefer my inseam to be 28″-30″! Most of the pants I find have a 32″ inseam and practically cover my entire foot.

    6. Clogs and Cardigans*

      I hesitated to jump in, because I agree with you more than the commenters. I have worked in multiple settings where there were dress code changes, and most of the staff was able to roll with them. Some were in retail, where corporate management made changes that did affect the college kids running the register at their stores, and some were in smaller organizations, where a new director didn’t like people wearing blue jeans.

      I think you can make small changes, or at least ask why people don’t follow the current dress code. I think it is okay to say if you are going to be working with the public you need to adhere to the dress code, or at least have some guidelines. I would just give everyone time to adjust as many people have said, you don’t know if this is there only options, and if they are able to even shop right now.

      Also, I can’t believe how many people are bring up maybe people can’t afford it, I do get it, but I remember being a broke college student who had to buy khaki pants because of a work dress code changing, and I just dealt with it. Is this no longer what people do? Maybe I should have pushed back more…

      1. Allypopx*

        Even if the staff was able to roll with the changes, you don’t know what it took on their end to do so, and we’re not in an environment right now where people can necessarily roll with changes as easily as they once could.

      2. Jenn*

        “Is this no longer what people do?”

        Chiming in late here but as a member of Gen X (and enforcer of a dress code) I think what’s happened is people have become more aware of how a seemingly small rule, or a series of them, can create ongoing inequities.

        When I had to “deal with it,” I had parents with funds, and a credit card, and my rent was not 65% of my income. But even at a time that housing was more reasonable, there were probably other people who would have either not been able to work, been penalized, or would have self-screened out of the jobs I started in.

        Anyways, at my workplace we have a dress code (company-supplied shirt and black professional pants, i.e. no sweatpants, yoga pants unless they are the kind with pockets that don’t read as yoga pants, or leggings), and we give a clothing grant to get people started if they need it.

    7. Allypopx*

      Then specifically ripped or rumpled clothing is what you address, with the individual when it happens, not the whole dress code or dress culture.

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, this is a case where shooting for the moon just gets you nowhere. Deal with specific individuals and specific concerns (“dress appropriately if you’re in public or have a media appearance”, “no ripped clothing or holes”, etc), but don’t try to change the entire culture unless you want to get super frustrated.

    8. Not So NewReader*

      Eh, if you want to change things, then change it. But you asked about it, so people are answering.

      Here’s what can happen:

      I worked for an NPO, where my peers were on food stamps. I was lucky to have my husband’s income.
      TPTB dressed nicely. It was noticed. We estimated their outfits ran around $500-800. One cohort used to estimate the gold jewelry and watches. The CEO was wearing a $1500. Remember, a good percentage of his employees are on food stamps.

      Someone some where decided that CERTAIN people should dress better. One woman was told to dress better. The delivery of the message must have not been good because she was in tears. A few folks talked to her quietly about where to thrift shop. Eventually they let her go after all this and hired some woman who was much prettier, very stylish and had a cute figure. In other words, everything the previous woman was not. All of us laughed at TPTB for their sexism.
      In another example they told a man to dress better. He was barely covering his basic bills with what he was being paid. So quietly a bunch of people got together and bought him new shirts and pants. The disgust with TPTB reached all time highs. He didn’t last much longer either.
      And this are just some of the stories I know about.

      It almost feels like you want to here -go ahead do this. And clearly, you can do as you wish. Just remember you have no control with how people respond to your choices. You see the flack here. I can almost promise you that it will not be better at work. Matter of fact, from having lived it, this here is very, very tame.

    9. sb51*

      Even if you decide to go through with this, do not ask them to update until we’re out of this pandemic. I haven’t set foot in a clothing store in a year and would not feel safe doing so right now, and am oddly-shaped enough that if I cannot re-buy exactly an item I already own, I would need to shop in person to do so.

    10. MeepMeep*

      Where do you get your clothes dry-cleaned? How much does it cost you each time, and how often do you have to do it?

      How much do your part-timers get paid? Will they get a “business clothes” bonus to pay for the changes that you want them to make to their wardrobe, and a raise to pay for all the dry-cleaning they will now have to do?

      If I were working part-time for a nonprofit (i.e. poverty wages) and my boss wanted me to do this without compensating me for it, I’d look for another job. How many of your employees can you afford to lose?

    11. Two Dog Night*

      Your last bullet: “My team works directly with both the public and donors. We are frequently photographed or appear in media.”

      I think you need to be clear on what the impact is if people dress too casually. Will the public think you’re unprofessional? Will donors not have enough confidence in your organization to donate? If the casual dress has consequences, you’re more likely to get buy-in on requiring your people to dress up more, at least in certain circumstances. But if their dress truly doesn’t matter, you’re better off leaving it alone, especially since pretty much all your staff is part-time.

      If one of your employees is wearing something obviously torn, you could probably point that out as being inappropriate, especially if they are meeting with a donor or the media. But given how your boss dresses, I’d be pretty judicious about doing that.

      1. Batgirl*

        Its so hard to tell without knowing the culture. There are tons of work cultures where casual dress, is actually kind of central to the culture and they would want you photographed looking that way! I mean, you shouldn’t look like you got lost in the woods but a few artful rips (Im thinking Hollister or vintage Levi) and looking like you don’t own an iron are stripes worn proudly in some cases, which drives my mother absolutely bonkers. She irons. Sweats… I’m more with you on that one. They can so easily look like you went to bed in them.

    12. NotAnotherManager!*

      I think your last point is the one to bring up with your boss, using the framing AAM gave you. You’ve noticed a disparity between the handbook/your expectations and the current organizational culture and take your boss’s temperature. Raise the concern about donor perception and being photographed and see what they think. Who knows, maybe your boss is going to tell you this is something they brought you in to resolve and go right ahead with resetting your team’s expectations?

      I do think you need to take the point many people have made about the cost of a new wardrobe. Things that are affordable or easy to find for you may not be for everyone else, especially part-time employees. I would not take the, “But it’s so easy!” or “But it’s not expensive!” tact with the staff because it may be both difficult and too expensive for them, especially right now.

      I’ve nearly always worked in an office environment with varying expectations of business or business casual, so clothing with holes or that is dirty would be a no-go in my day-to-day. But I do think when you join a new organization, you need to observe and learn for a little while before you make significant changes, and you need to make sure that the changes you want to make are for the right business reasons and not your own personal preferences.

    13. EventPlannerGal*

      Honestly this would all drive me crazy as well (holes??? Really???). I don’t think you’re ever going to change the entire dress code culture for this place, but you could start with encouraging people to leave the hole-filled garments at home on days when you know you’re going to be photographed. That is a pretty legit reason for them to dress a little nicer, and it might bring it to their attention in a way that will make them more aware of the holes, wrinkles etc. on their own. I feel like this probably isn’t a “I just love wearing clothes with holes in them so damn much and I will die on this hill!” situation but more that the prevailing standards of dress are so casual that your staff just aren’t really noticing things like holes and wrinkles, and might be perfectly willing to tidy up a little if nudged.

      I definitely wouldn’t order people or tell them to change their entire wardrobe. Stick to small things that have a good reason and phrase it in a positive way (“I want us to give a really good impression of the org at this event”, not “your clothes are manky”). You might also consider meeting them halfway dress-wise – if they’re in ripped trackies and you’re in a skirt suit you’re probably just going to come across as stuffy/out of touch.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        (And +1 to all the comments advising to leave it alone until you see how things shake out post-pandemic. Do they even dress like this normally?)

    14. Tinker*

      You’re saying that you haven’t “made disparaging remarks on people’s appearance”, but also in the letter you seem to have said “everyone here dresses like a slob”. Which, of course, is not the same as saying it to a person’s face, but it fairly raises the spectre that you might have done, and it also raises concern about your mindset.

      The thing is, if you walk into a room and everyone else is dressed similarly to each other and dissimilarly to you, you are the outlier. If your manager is dressed one way and you are dressed another way, “dress for the job you want not the job you have” would suggest that you go forth and get you some jeans and a T-shirt to not tuck in. And regardless of what the text of the written dress code says, there is clearly a pragmatic dress code in place that currently has one violator: you.

      That’s not to say that you’d better go out and cut holes in your clothes. However, the danger here is that working from the perspective that your mode of dress is objectively superior might cause you to cross lines without realizing it. I’ve seen fairly commonly when this issue has been discussed before that folks will say things like “dress like you care about your job” as the high-level overview of the contrast between themselves and others, seemingly unaware that they’re implicitly insulting the people they’re talking to.

      Telling your boss you think they’re not a professional and don’t care about their work, if it is to be done, is best done on purpose. Employ caution accordingly.

      1. a sound engineer*

        Yeah, I second this. “I haven’t made disparaging remarks on people’s appearance” is kind of a low bar…it’s pretty standard that you wouldn’t do that to their faces (and hopefully in general). If I were OP I would be worrying about whether the judgement about other people’s clothing is showing through in other ways. The attitude in the letter comes through very strongly.

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        As so often happens, Tinker has taken everything I was thinking and feeling about this topic and spelled it out in a concise, clear and kind manner.

    15. a sound engineer*

      I am someone who has a couple nice button down dress shirts, and otherwise jeans and t-shirts in my closet. Picking up a several new, complete work outfits – top, bottoms, and shoes – from somewhere like TJ Max or Marshall’s would have been about a week’s pay at my part-time nonprofit job, AND easier said than done because clothes at those stores often don’t fit me well anyway. It would have been extremely unreasonable to expect me to run out and spend that money.

      No ripped clothing or holes is a reasonable ask. Trying to raise the dress bar significantly above what the existing culture is, especially as a new manager trying to build credibility and rapport, seems like an unfortunate hill to die on to me.

    16. Kapers*

      Allocate some funds to get tees with your org’s logo for everyone! Invest in high quality cotton, offer a wide variety of sizes and colors, and get everyone a couple of them so on media days everyone looks coordinated as presentable, and they’re just as casual as they prefer to be.

      1. Kapers*

        Also, “slob” is a fairly harsh word (ask any overweight woman) and I know my own reaction to this letter was stronger than it would’ve been if you hadn’t used it.

      2. BusyBee*

        I like this! My org has polos, tees, and zip-front shirts that we can choose from. Generally the field team wear tees, while ancillary functions might wear polos or similar. I think we always look sharp, and the shirts are actually really popular with employees. Only caveat, as you mention above, is to make sure you have a good range of sizes.

      3. Drago Cucina*

        I recommended this in another comment. Organizational t-shirts are great. You can sometimes work with a local company and arrange to have a variety of polos or other tops to have the logo added–At organization expense. Or, give everyone $x credit to spend in an shop you set up at Custom Ink (or other business). That gives logo standardization, but isn’t one style of top.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        We do company shirts. You don’t just offer it in a wide variety of sizes, you get everyone’s personal order and then you don’t have to have them scramble to just pick something off a shelf. Otherwise you run out of the right sizes. Then you get a couple of extras for “newbies” who come in before you do another round of purchasing of logo’ed swag.

      5. CommanderBanana*

        Maybe ask if people want to wear corporate tees first? I 100% would not want to. I hate branded clothing and I don’t wear T-shirts.

    17. Mookie*

      What did your team wear in these photographs before you were hired? I’d say that’s the clearest indication of your organization’s needs and wants. When you were applying for the role, did you come across these images? If so, what role did they play, if any, in pursuing and accepting the job?

    18. Metadata minion*

      I can definitely see where wearing that type of ultra-casual clothing doesn’t look great when meeting with donors or in official publicity shots, but what strikes me is that this level of casual seems to be pretty universal and sounds like it’s been going on for a while (given the pandemic I can see people not wanting to go shopping to instantly replace a slightly damaged shirt, but people don’t go from snappy business casual to rumpled t-shirts in less than a year, so I assume this isn’t *just* because of current circumstances). Is your organization struggling in general, modulo the fact that nearly every nonprofit is struggling more than usual given the pandemic? Have you heard complaints from donors/the public/etc? If not, it seems like ultra-casual works for this organization.

    19. H2*

      OP, I’m shocked at some of the comments you’ve gotten. I thought the rule is to take the letter writers at their word…

      I’m going to assume that ideas that you somehow don’t realize that some of your employees are doing manual labor or whatever don’t apply. And that holes are big enough to be easily seen, etc.

      It seems to me that this is an issue of caring. I might ask myself why the employees care so little about their jobs that they don’t bother with minimal standards of professionalism. Because I just don’t see that wearing sweats to work is professional (in person). Even for clients you might be trying to establish rapport with, wearing sweats sends a message that you don’t care. Jeans and a “cute” shirt, sure, maybe, depending. I guess if I were you I would worry that people are just not invested in it, and I would try to solve that problem.

      Beyond that, I would maybe start with the idea that when people are meeting with donors they need to look more professional. Maybe on days or for people who aren’t as much donor facing people can be more casual. I would for sure phase that in over time, but I would encourage people to meet minimum standards immediately. Clothes should be clean and in good repair, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say no sweats. You may never get the standard above jeans and a nice shirt/cargo shorts and a nice shirt, but I think you can slowly raise the bar.

      1. Frustrated Employee*

        Why do you think that someone dressing casually means that they don’t care about their jobs?

        1. Autistic AF*

          …and why do you think that requiring employees to dress less casually will make them care about their jobs more?

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        I would argue that commenters ARE taking OP at her word. She called the employees slobs. She’s complaining about a dress code that even her manager seems to be on board with (see the comment about the horror of an untucked t-shirt). She’s asking about changing the dress code, and to an extent, the culture, of a job she’s been at less than a year. Most people are reacting to the apparent disdain OP is projecting based on the clothing her staff wears, and her desire to overhaul what very well might be a “working during the pandemic” perk. OP asked for advice and opinions; for most people, asking your part time staff to overhaul their wardrobe from jeans and tees to trousers and blouses is a big ask.

      3. ele4phant*

        So, I think not everyone agrees that you show respect or investment by how you dress.

        I don’t know your age, but this does seem a generational divide. I’m a millennial and I don’t think how I appear has anything to do with the quality of my work. I used to dress business casual, since the pandemic I’ve been in joggers 100% of time and the quality of my work has not declined. My mother is completely confused as to how this is working.

        And certainly, enforcing rules that fly in the face of the established culture without a clearly articulated reason is not going to make people care more about their jobs, if that is even the issue.

        I agree with Alison, maybe there’s a case to be made for asking her employees to meet the existing dress code, but if so, she hasn’t articulated it yet.

        “Because I prefer it and I perceive casual dressing as a lack of investment” is not a solid, performance based reason, it’s a personal preference. Again, maybe there is an objective reason, but she’s not explained it.

      4. Timothy (TRiG)*

        I might ask myself why the employees care so little about their jobs that they don’t bother with minimal standards of professionalism.

        I work as a programmer. I sit at a desk all day. I fail to see how my clothes affect that at all, one way or another. I generally wear shorts and a t-shirt, as I find this comfortable (and hence, less distracting, and so better for my concentration).

        The idea that wearing comfortable clothes indicates that you don’t care about your job is really weird. Where did you get it from?

  54. Me2*

    My sister bought a dress from them to wear to my son’s wedding and it was fabulous! I was going to borrow it for a cruise that never happened thanks to 2020, but I live in hope.

  55. Pidgeot*

    As a new boss, people are still forming their opinion of you. Don’t make that opinion be “gets really hung up on something that doesn’t matter to our work”

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      This. I had a manager once who was more concerned about whether the tops of the windowsills were dusted than the integrity of our customer samples. You may not find it nitpicky, OP, but the staff certainly will.

      1. Loredena*

        I’m short and fat. I’ve bought a lot of clothes at Marshall’s over the years but it’s really hit or miss. And every pair of slacks has an add on cost of hemming. I’m a consultant so I can afford it and expect to need to dress nicely. I’d be livid as a part timer though — at least jeans I can roll a cuff! As to the holes are they worn out or that new pre-torn look? I’m buying my clothes online right now and have twice unexpectedly received pre-ripped because I didn’t notice in the photos

        1. Loredena*

          Sorry, this was supposed to be a reply to the OPs comment that her wardrobe is from Marshall’s!

  56. Spicy Tuna*

    I’m self employed now so I wear what I want, but I have had people at two different jobs speak to me about my work wardrobe and it really feels terrible to be on the receiving end. Especially since I was not technically in violation of any dress code rules; my clothing just didn’t fit great (too large, never too tight!) and I don’t iron. I loathe shopping and I have an oddly shaped body where nothing fits off the rack. I don’t have time, interest or budget in getting clothing tailored (shopping for it is traumatic enough for me). I always look like a kid playing dress up. And it’s NEVER gotten in the way of me being a super high performer. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) the hours and stress level at my last job were so high that people always looked rumpled and disheveled and no one cared!

  57. Sled dog mama*

    I’m really confused Letter Writer, was this manner of dress not something that you could see during an interview? I get that you wouldn’t know the dress code but unless someone told people dress up! We have a candidate interviewing today! Were people not wearing jeans, untucked shirts, etc during your interview.
    It’s one thing if they led you to believe or flat out told you the dress code was different but how could you not notice what they were actually wearing.
    *OK yes I am assuming that LW had at least a video interview but it sounds like the company is not having people work from home so I am assuming that the LW got to at least see a video of the place/some coworkers before accepting. If that’s not the case my reaction is lessened but if it’s that big a deal to the LW why not ask what do people typically wear in the interview.

  58. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    I’ve worked in places where you were required to have pantyhose and closed toe shoes. (no blinging out your flip flops and calling them sandals.) I’ve also worked places where no one batted an eye at pj bottoms as pants. At one place we banned the kids from wearing crocks and then had to explain to the staff that they couldn’t wear them either. What ever the dress code is make sure you enforce it fairly. I’m seen so much grief, resentment, and turn over caused by this. If one department says on jean material and another department wears denim everything it will cause problems. If you call out the curvy girl for wearing leggings as pants and walk right by someone thinner in the same outfit, it will cause problems. And what ever the dress code is it should be practical. Don’t expect people who stand on concrete all day to wear uncomfortable shoes.

  59. Been there done that*

    Be cautious here for sure. Setting an expectation for your team different than the rest of the office is just awful. When I started my last job my whole office was casual (jeans). I worked in the office full time but was the only person reporting to a particular managed who happened to be off site. She told me in clear terms she didn’t care what others did I was not allowed to wear jeans other than Fridays. She was close enough to the office that she would drop in occasionally unannounced. For over a year I was the only person dressed up and uncomfortable. My peers who were all in jeans would ask me all the time why I was dressed up. Put me in a really weird spot. I didn’t fit in because I was dressed weird and wasn’t on there team Altho I did adjacent work. Luckily after 2 years I had a manager change and could fall into what the rest of the office was doing!

  60. Just Another Zebra*

    OP, something I noticed is you say you started this job 5 months ago – during the pandemic. My job is usually business casual for office staff (we have field techs as well, with a different dress code), but since we’ve been deemed essential and cannot work from home, our boss extended casual Friday throughout the whole week. It’s been 10 months of jeans everyday. When the new year started, he announced that this would be our dress code going forward, unless someone “important” came in for a meeting (this happens maybe once a year). Is it possible this is also the case at your job?

    Also something to bear in mind – these employees work at a non-profit, an industry notorious for underpaying employees. I worry that enforcing business casual dress code may result in some VERY high turnover. Or, barring that, a significant drop in morale.

    If the work is getting done, I’d drop it. What they wear is not that big of a deal.

  61. WolverineEggplant*

    Whenever someone brings up dress codes at work, I think of the GM dress code that Mary Barra implemented: Dress appropriately. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.

    1. nnn*

      Reminds me of when I started at my current job, we were told “We don’t have a dress code because you’re all professionals, and we trust you to be professional.”

      We see a wide variability in dress from person to person and from day to day, depending on context and personal variables, but I’ve never once seen any problems resulting from what someone was wearing.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      The problem with this is that “appropriately” is highly subjective, and most dress codes are written to remove ambiguity, especially when you work in an office where there are large stratifications in pay. When I worked in a law firm, there were definitely lawyers who thought that, for their staff to be dressed “appropriately”, they should be wearing clothing similar to the junior attorneys, even though a first-year attorney was paid about four times what a seasoned legal secretary was or that one was in court or with clients often and the other rarely was.

      Using subjective criteria also reinforce the idea that people who don’t know these unwritten professional norms don’t fit in with the culture. Better to tell than expect people to guess.

    3. Rez123*

      I have never heared about a written down dresscode until I found this website. I find the concept really odd at work and in schools.

    4. Metadata minion*

      Honestly that would really stress me out, as someone who doesn’t always pick up on unspoken social rules. If I’m not in a job where there are obvious safety concerns, a rule like that means there *is* an appropriate type of dress, but you’re not going to just come out and tell me what it is. I can try to triangulate from what other people are wearing, but that doesn’t always work.

  62. NYC Taxi*

    I have always dressed up for work, that’s my Thing. I like to do it. Even now, during WFH. As a long-time manager I expect people to be properly attired for work which can mean anything from jeans to a suit. As long as its clean and not full of holes, I really don’t care. The only time in 15 years I’ve told someone they couldn’t wear something to work was when one of my people came in wearing pajama pants. The kind with the open fly in the front.

  63. Me (I think)*

    All this, and we’re talking about part timers at a nonprofit, unlikely the highest paid folks in the workforce.

    1. a sound engineer*

      Every time I’ve worked part-time at a nonprofit it’s been enough to pay for rent, maybe. (While living with roommates). And that’s about it.

    2. Jenn*

      Yeah the ratio of FT to PT reminds me of a non-profit my niece worked at where a lot of the fundraisers were out on the street collecting petitions or donations and…it was incredibly exploitative, preying on young people’s enthusiasm for the cause.

  64. Beth*

    Yes, you’re being a major dress code snob. It sounds like your strong feelings on this are mostly based on personal preference; maybe you can find a legitimate work reason to justify acting on those feelings, but let’s be honest, that isn’t currently your motivation.

    The idea that there’s a certain level of sartorial formality that equals ‘professional’ is pretty outdated. Some fields do require formal clothing; others don’t. The latter aren’t ‘less professional’; they just have different norms and different work needs, and expect their employees’ wardrobes to reflect those differences. If you do have legitimate concerns about your team members’ ability to function in their roles due to their wardrobe, by all means address that specific concern! But otherwise, keep your concern over clothing focused on your own wardrobe, and let them do what’s been working for them.

  65. Lifelong student*

    Let me respond from the other angle. Early in my career I was in a para-professional position. At that time, the general theory was that one should dress for the job you want, not the one you have. I moved on to a professional position around the time that business casual became the thing. I owned 15 or so suits, nice dresses, etc. I was chastised by others about “overdressing.” My response- I spent many years building this wardrobe of classic styles and I wasn’t going to throw them all out and spend money just because fashion had changed. I began a new job- at a not-for-profit where the prevailing style was business casual. It took me two years to stop wearing hose and another two years to start wearing sandals. I still wore dresses and suits. I later began teaching at a university- with the same wardrobe style and received nice comments on the fact that I was nicely dressed all the time. There is prejudice on both sides of the style spectrum. Rather than looking down on people for not responding to trends which the OP- and often others- may object to- perhaps the strategy might be to suggest to those who are perceived as unprofessional that they may want to consider what image they want to present to others. I have been told that I dressed up too much. I found that offensive. I have thought wearing jeans inappropriate in any professional office enviornment- but I don’t live or work in any area which could be called progressive.

    TLDR- jeans, sweats, tshirts, do not belong in a professional enviornment.

    1. Roscoe*

      Your TLDR is pretty old fashioned. What companies do you consider professional. I have friends who work for Google, Chase, and Facebook to name a few. All of them wear jeans to work occasionally.

      When you own a company, you can decide what does and doesn’t belong in a professional enviornment. But right now, a company can be plenty professional while also letting people be comfortable.

      1. Sunny*

        My brother and father both work for Google. (Extremely different divisions, they have nothing to do with each other.) My brother mostly wears cargo shorts and T-shirts with various nerdy jokes on them; my father mostly wears sweatpants and different nerdy T-shirts. Only the legal department wears suits to work.

    2. pretzelgirl*

      Def highly disagree. I don’t dress up now and I love it. It has not impacted my organization or me in any way bc of it.

    3. James*

      I have a coworker that loves to dress up in the office. I’ll admit, I was worried at first–our job involves a lot of field work, and nice cloths don’t mix well with hazardous waste. She turned out to be okay, though. Rugged when necessary, fancy when she gets the chance.

      I will say that I disagree with your TLDR. I routinely show up to meetings with regulators and clients in jeans, boots, and t-shirts or flannel. (I do make sure the t-shirts are nice and the jeans don’t have holes in them.) It’s the nature of my job. I’ve put a lot of thought into my wardrobe, and have opted for a style of dress that, at least in my field, says “I’ve done the grunt work, I can do it if I need to, but I’m leading the team now.” I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I showed up at a meeting in a suit and tie; they’d consider me wildly out of touch and likely a safety hazard. If someone ever came to one of my sites in a skirt I’d throw them off site, or at least require them to stay outside the Contamination Reduction Zone. (I have told people to change out of shorts, which have the same problem, but shorts aren’t considered formal.)

      What you wear is part of how you communicate. You need to communicate in such a way that your audience understands your message. That’s going to vary from job to job. One should err on the side of more formality if one is unsure, but once you get a handle on the workplace you should follow the norms of that culture.

    4. Louise*

      I would like to introduce you to this tiny sector called “tech” and this little-known city called “San Francisco.” I promise you CEOs and founders making millions a year are wearing jean, sweats, and tshirts every day.

      1. James*

        Even if we disregard Silicon Valley as an outlier, there’s a well-established trend, especially in the USA, of increasingly casual behavior, dress, and speech. What we consider business-casual was, two generations ago, just how people of a certain class dressed. It’s really clear with speech; even the sounds we use to make words change in ways that are increasingly lazy and laid-back over time. People have been complaining about this since before the USA existed. In the past Americans took a certain amount of pride in these accusations.

        You can buck the trend, but it’s unlikely anyone else will follow you. And in this case I think it’s a good thing. We can no longer use how one dresses as a shortcut for evaluating performance. The fewer shortcuts we can take, the more we rely on actual performance when evaluating performance. Plus, it allows for a certain amount of self-expression. There’s nothing intrinsic about a suit and tie being formal; it’s just a random outfit we as a society chose (the history of which is pretty interesting). The choice changes with the culture–and our culture has said, loud and clear, that we don’t care what you wear so long as you get the work done well.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      Even my uptight, DC-conservative professional services organization lets us wear jeans on Fridays and other occasions. I’ve not once noticed that sporting denim made anyone suddenly forget their area of expertise, work ethic, or collegial professional behavior.

      Your TLDR is really that you have a conception of what professional dress and are offended that organizations don’t comport with your expectations and wardrobe. You don’t get to simultaneously say you’re going to wear what you want, regardless of fashion or company culture, get offended when people comment you’re overdressed, and then call another style unprofessional.

    6. Loredena*

      I’m a consultant and we recently changed our business casual to include nice jeans when it was pointed out that a good pair of jeans was more expensive than slacks.

      It reminded me of a prior consulting firm 29 years ago who changed the dress code to ‘at least as nice as your client’ after our ops manager met the CEO of a client on his factory floor Former in suit with silk handkerchief. Latter in jeans and boots. Clients comment: you’re a bit of a dandy aren’t you

    7. Blanking on a good name*

      This is empirically untrue. I just checked the 2020 Fortune 10, and 3 of the 10 – so 33% – I know for a fact allow jeans to be worn in their offices.

      1. Blanking on a good name*

        Replying to my comment to clarify that it wasn’t supposed to go here, it was supposed to go under the person with the TLDR that said jeans were never appropriate in a professional office

    8. Not So NewReader*

      “TLDR- jeans, sweats, tshirts, do not belong in a professional enviornment.”

      I will call up the jeans-wearing-attorneys I know and let them know they are doing it wrong.

      This advice worked 40 years ago. But now very few people care that much. It’s more about the quality of the work and how it compares to what others are doing than it is about the clothes on your back.

    9. Batgirl*

      I wouldn’t disagree entirely with your TLDR as it’s fairly useful as a basic starting point. I’d tell someone who was going into a new environment blind to avoid those things; certainly for an interview. However, it will be considered a very basic rule book level of understanding in some cultures. Many places will see it as out of touch and inflexible if you can’t adapt and move with the general consensus. Not only that, but it’s legitimately helpful for some professions, like social work.

    10. judyjudyjudy*

      I think this view is really outdated. You should wear your dressy clothes because you like them, but it doesn’t make you more professional than someone else who dressed more casually. Many biotech companies, chocked full of PhDs and MBAs and even MDs, allow casual dress every day even for customer-facing and administrative rolls. The quality of work should matter the most to the company, not rolling your eyes over sneakers and jeans.

      1. Self Employed*

        Things have changed, then. I was looking for a biotech job out of grad school in 2010, and all the “Women in Tech” groups were advising new grads to dress for success because the managers don’t know how to evaluate our work–just that we look like we would fit into management, therefore we must be doing a better job than the slob in corduroys. I was furious. First, I had been told that biology was the kind of field where everyone just wears lab coats over whatever at the bench so I could wear flats (busted feet from wearing heels) and something decent and temperature-appropriate. Second, why would I want to work for someone who has no idea whether or not I’m DOING MY JOB RIGHT? Third, we were supposed to put about as much effort into “building our personal brand” as we did actually working–dressing professionally, wearing heels, talking about our accomplishments, networking–and these are things I just can’t do as well as people who aren’t disabled.

    11. londonedit*

      I work in book publishing and jeans have always been acceptable in every office I’ve worked in. I don’t think I’ve ever worked anywhere with a formal dress code – if there is guidance, it’s usually something like ‘excessively worn or soiled clothing is not appropriate’ – and everywhere I’ve worked there’s been a whole range of styles, depending on the person in question. If I have (or had, in the Normal Times) a meeting with an author, I’d dress slightly smarter than usual (a smart/casual dress, or a nice pair of jeans and a smart top) but for everyday office wear it would depend on the weather, my mood, or on whether I was going out after work, or whatever. Sometimes it’d be a sweatshirt and jeans and trainers, sometimes a dress and flat shoes. I don’t think any of that is ‘unprofessional’.

  66. Hiring Mgr*

    What you could do is tell the employees that this directive has come directly from the CEO and gauge their reaction. If they seem ok with it, then fine you’ve got your new dress code. If not, you can then tell them that you feel the same way and battled the CEO intensely and he agreed to see it your way – then you will be the hero who preserved the sweatpants.

    Just kidding, don’t do any of that and leave the clothing as is for all the reasons stated..

  67. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    I say this as someone who is literally wearing a blazer right now, while working from home, on a day when I have no meetings: Let it go.

    I like to wear different things for work and leisure because it helps me get my head in the game and put on a professional persona. (No, really: wearing hard shoes helps me remember not to swear.)

    But I don’t need to impose that on other people absent a work reason, because I can imagine how bad it would feel to have this turned around on me: If someone told me I had to start wearing leggings and sweatpants to work, I would feel really self-conscious and uncomfortable and would struggle to focus and adjust. So fair’s fair, and I’m not going to ask someone wearing a track suit to switch to an actual suit.

  68. Observer*

    OP, as someone who thinks people should be properly dressed at work, I still want to highlight this from Allison’s answer:

    get really clear on the problem you’re trying to solve. That problem can’t be “it drives me nuts when people look unpolished and unprofessional at work.”

    Dress code, especially for part timers and in most non-profits, should not be about what a supervisor likes or doesn’t like. That goes 10x over for significant CHANGES to dress code.

  69. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    If almost everyone, including your own supervisor, is dressing more casually than you like, your supervisor probably won’t like it if you demand that your team dress more formally, no matter what’s in the handbook.

    One possible outcome of trying to enforce the current written dress code would be for them to update the handbook to match how people are dressing right now, and for your supervisor to tell you to dress more casually. That’s not how dress codes usually work, but if an employer can have a dress code, they could write one to ban, rather than require, blazers.

    “I don’t like looking at people who are dressed so much more casually than I am” could sound like “I don’t like standing out,” and one way for you not to stand out would be to change your own work wardrobe.

  70. Suz*

    I think Alison hit the nail on the head regarding the employee handbook being out of date. My company used to be business casual. When we moved into our new building, they changed it to casual. It’s been almost 5 years and the handbook still says business casual.

  71. pretzelgirl*

    I echo all of the above and would personally just let it go. I had a very short lived job at a temp agency right after college. Among MANY other dysfunctional things (like being left entirely on my own for my 2nd day with no previous experience at all) I was told to “wear a suit”. I wore nice pants and and a dressy top every day. I thought it was quite strange since literally everyone else in the office did not wear a suit. I was the most junior person there, with little no client interaction. The guys in the office work polos and khakis. The receptionist wore khakis and a nicer top. I told her I don’t have a huge selection of suits but I can try. She told me to go to Goodwill. I asked why I had to wear a suit when no one else did and she didn’t give me an answer. I only lasted another week.

    It was hands down the worst working experience of my LIFE. It still leaves me scratching my head some 13 years later…

  72. C-nonymous*

    As someone who has worked at different levels of a nonprofit orgs my whole career, I want to add that in addition to examining the culture and whether or not there is a work-related reason for request your employees to pay closer attention to the dress code, you really need examine what your organization is paying these employees before you require your mostly PART-TIME employees to purchase and where nicer clothes to work.

    I no joke could barely afford to feed myself in my first two full-time nonprofit gigs because the pay was so minimal (and I was in fundraising – one of the better paying np gigs out there!).

    1. a sound engineer*

      I just finished up a part-time nonprofit job, like the employees described in the letters. On what I was getting paid, picking up a couple new “nice, professional” work outfits would probably be a week’s worth of my pay. Even from a discount store.

  73. The Rural Juror*

    It used to drive me nuts that a coworker work flip flops to work all the time and generally dressed pretty slobbishly. This person was in sales, so you would think they would want to put a better foot forward (if not their best). Their messy, mismatched clothes weren’t the real issue, though – the flip flops were!

    We worked in a showroom next to a warehouse and pretty often would walk around the warehouse with clients. So wearing open-toed shoes was a safety hazard. But my boss was conflict-avoidant and would never say anything to this person, even after I insisted he write some sort of dress code to wear clothing suitable for safety reasons. One of the many reasons that workplace was toxic and I couldn’t wait to get away from there.

    I enjoy working for a company now where I can still dress casually, like I did at that job before. My dress code now is super casual on days when I have no meetings and semi-casual (nicer jeans, nicer top) on days when I do have meetings. And there’s a pair of close-toed shoes that live in my car just in case. Safety first!

  74. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    If this is a recent letter (not something sent in last March) then OP you’ve been at the organization for 5 months. You’ve only ever seen this organization in the middle of a pandemic. To be honest I’m a little astonished that this is even on your mind right now! Unless the clothing is actively preventing people from doing their jobs well, and you’d need some pretty solid evidence that this was the case, I think this is something you need to drop until *at least* after you’ve been there a year. Non-profits are somewhat notorious (see the AAM archives) for poor management, ill-advised priorities, and funding issues. I can almost guarantee that there’s something else going on in your organization that would benefit more from your focus than the state of the employee’s clothing.

  75. Dammit Dawg!*

    If it’s THAT important, maybe you can suggest some type of “uniform” meaning nice non faded, holey jeans and then provide comfortable T-shirt type fabric tops. I’m not talking about matching T-shirts for all, just nice shirts for everyone. If you do this, PLEASE don’t go with unisex shirts. Provide shirts made for a woman’s figure. Also, provide both long sleeve and short sleeve shirts. Or better yet, provide everyone with a nice jacket. My employer gave out light weight zippered hoodies with nice deep pockets. They provided both men and women’s sizes. They are a bit on the casual side, but they can also be worn in a more formal setting.

    1. Batgirl*

      The uniform solution has always been ghastly whenever I’ve seen it done. The manager should just put up a sign saying “I give up”.

    2. a sound engineer*

      I’m so jealous! The places I’ve worked with uniforms decline to buy women’s sizing at all, and I’m very small, so I end up looking like a sack…

  76. Cascadia*

    I used to work at a place that could totally fit this definition. It was a school, and I ran the after school care program. I had part-time employees, mostly college students, who worked 3 hours a day playing with kiddos outside, helping with homework, doing art projects, etc. Our school had a dress code of “no blue jeans” for some reason. It was a huge pain and I couldn’t fathom why we had it. Especially as people who are literally playing in a sandbox with 5 year olds, and you want them to dress business casual? What? I finally found out from a teacher that the dress code was implemented a few years before I came because there was a teacher who used to wear low rise jeans and often her thong would show. I was flabbergasted that they created a whole dress code just to enforce one person not showing their underwear – instead of just letting the person know their underwear was showing? Ironically, many of my staff, myself included, had to buy cheap, poorly fitting pants since jeans were out, and definitely looked less professional, instead of if we had just been able to wear jeans. UGH.

    1. EchoGirl*

      What strikes me about your story is that even if they did feel the need to create a dress code to address the issue, I would think just making it a rule that underwear needs to be covered would suffice, as opposed to ruling out an entire category of pants.

  77. Lucious*

    From what I can tell, it is the dress code document that is broken- not the behavior of the employees.

  78. KR*

    I think it’s also worth taking into account the population you serve and what type of work your employees are doing at the nonprofit. There’s a chance their casual clothes fit the people they are serving and make those people more comfortable.

  79. Shannon*

    There’s a lot of classism, and often sexism and racism woven throughout “professional norms” including dress code. This person may not know that, or may not be intentionally perpetuating it, but it’s important to consider. I can understand wanting clothes that are clean and without holes (and would want to know if the pay is enough to purchase clothes – truly, if this is minimum wage or just above, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for excess spending beyond food and a roof over a head, if that).

    Not all roles have this option, but I’ve been working remotely for 10 months, much of it on my couch in sweatpants, and I do excellent work. It’s important not to conflate looks, norms, and habits too much with actual productivity and meeting goals.

  80. Gertie*

    Also, do these people do work that is hard on their clothes? That makes it even more expensive for people who are probably not paid well.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      No. Tucked in t-shirts look weird.
      Anything without tails on it, are meant to be worn untucked. I said what I said.

    2. Louise*

      I wear my tshirt tucked in but that’s just because I need every other lesbian to know that I too am a lesbian. (Tucked tshirts are very in for sapphics these days.)

    3. Batgirl*

      You’re fine. Most tops are made to be untucked now anyway. The half tuck at work is kind of driving me bonkers though. It’s absolutely my own weird peeve, but it’s like they went to this huge effort to make it look like someone pulled out their shirt on one side? The even weirder thing is, I think it looks fine at the weekend!

    4. :)*

      Wear whatever you want! That being said, it’s in style to wear t shirts tucked in if that’s your thing.

  81. Jean*

    From the way you’ve described the culture of this place, I suspect you’re going to come off as nitpicking if you start making an issue out people’s appearance. I know I don’t have fond memories of a former manager who liked to criticize our team members’ makeup colors, hairstyles, and other such things that were 100% none of her concern. It just comes off as rude (and, yes, SNOBBY).

  82. dress code disappearing*

    I work in a place where the dress code has devolved from business casual (no visible shoulders, no jeans except sometimes on Fridays, no shorts unless working outdoors, etc) to jeans every day (great) to office manager shows up in sweaty workout clothes “fresh” from the gym and sometimes does not change out of them at all, but oftentimes is just wearing sweats to work. Also have a coworker who regularly wears low-rise jeans in which you can see her underwear and a significant portion of the crack of her ass when she is leaning over the desk to show people something. And when I mentioned this was bothering me, I got a reply that was basically “yeah, but your cleavage (in your modest v-neck t-shirt) is also bothering people”. I gave up, but now it doesn’t matter in COVID-season!

  83. Jessica*

    Once upon a time I was a bank teller. The teller workforce at my bank were all under 30. some full and some part time. One day in early summer we all got told at a staff meeting not to wear sleeveless clothes, because some of the women had been wearing sleeveless sundresses. This meeting occurred AFTER people had segued to their summer wardrobes, and mere days after I had spent a significant amount of money (for me at the time) on a lovely, but sleeveless, dress that I wouldn’t have bought if I had known I couldn’t wear it to work. Also, the sundress-wearing tellers didn’t stop wearing sundresses; everyone just started wearing T-shirts under sleeveless sundresses, which probably did not make us look sharp and professional.

    My point is that I’m still bitter about this 30 years later.

    1. Clogs and Cardigans*

      This is like the boss I had who hated denim in any form, and she added “no denim” to the dress code. She banned a fabric, not a style of pants, even though it was the shape of the pants she had an issue with. She asked me one day if I though my pants were appropriate, and I said, they are green corduroys, not blue jeans, so yes. Shortly after “5-pocket style pants” were added to the “no wear” list.

    2. Rez123*

      I also feel that “sleeveless” is a weird guideline. There are tons of sleeveless shirts/dresses that I would consider appropriate even to a conservative office.

      1. allathian*

        I’m pretty laid back on what’s appropriate to wear at work and what isn’t, and vastly prefer a casual environment where jeans and t-shirts are fine, but I don’t think sleeveless dresses look very professional, at least not unless they have wide straps. Otherwise there’s a risk of the bra strap showing, or of people starting to speculate whether somebody’s wearing a strapless bra or no bra at all. I’m busty enough that I can’t wear a strapless bra. Not showing any underwear should be a minimum standard for clothes that are appropriate for the office. So no ultra low-slung jeans that show your underwear, or worse, your butt, and no tops that show your bra.

        Another issue entirely is that, IMO, sleeveless dresses look very unflattering on most people. I definitely wouldn’t wear one to work, because my upper arms look so ugly. It’s also not appropriate to hold less attractive people to a stricter standard than more attractive ones.

        1. Rez123*

          My arms are not designed for sleeveless anything so it’s not a personal problem. While I’m not a fan of dress codes and I really don’t mind bra straps showing, but looking at online shops and the range that is “sleeveless” I’s day that it also covers a lot of things that I do think is appropriate. I say this as a very jelous woman who works in the same company with her SIL who is a kick ass professional lawyer and looks so good in sleeveless dresses and shirt-skirt combos.

        2. Observer*

          Another issue entirely is that, IMO, sleeveless dresses look very unflattering on most people . . It’s also not appropriate to hold less attractive people to a stricter standard than more attractive ones.

          Why is it anyone’s business how flattering something looks on someone? And how is this holding people to different standards based on how attractive they are? Unless you are suggesting that the alternative to banning sleeveless tops for everyone is banning them for unattractive people, rather than just allowing them.

  84. ElizabethJane*

    I also think in general people get super uppity about the “clothes with holes” thing in a way that’s really wasteful. I mend my clothes when they tear. If my dress pants get a small hole I’m patching it and I’m going to continue to wear them.

    (and I’m damn good at mending – I have a small side business making custom women’s clothing, I am a master member of a quilting guild, and a costuming guild. This isn’t to brag, I just want to say I am qualified to patch my clothes in a way that will last and also doesn’t look like it was done by a kindergartener with a glue stick and iron on patches)

    Stylistically I generally prefer to do some sort of visible mending where the patch or sewn fix becomes it’s own design element. And I have definitely had people say “Your pants got a hole in them? Just buy new ones”. Why. These are perfectly good, there is absolutely 0 reason to further burden the environment by treating clothes like they are disposable. Stop being elitist and deal with the fact that sometimes people wear clothes more than a season.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      I have no problem if you brag about that! It’s super cool and a great set of post-apocalypse skills :)

      I can’t sew for bupkis. I wish I could mend things.

    2. Willis*

      I agree that mending clothing is fine and a useful way to extend its life, when the hole is anomaly and the rest of the garment is in pretty good shape. I have a few shirts that I’ve accidentally torn or had come unsewn that my mom fixed and I continue to wear, no problem. But a “t-shirt with holes in it” could also be something that’s so worn that it’s threadbare/hole-y…which is sort of a different animal and something that seems fair to consider outside the bounds of an office dress code. (Of course defining that boundary is still up to others in the office, not just the OP’s preference.)

    3. Coda*

      I have a personal love of keyhole tops and shirts with shoulder cut-outs. Technically these are holes but these also nice blouses that I wear to work as a software developer in the finance industry.

    4. Claire*

      Yes, this is such a good point! I often feel that (especially in the US) “professionalism” is deemed more important than just about anything else—including the environment. Even when it has no impact on actual productivity!

  85. ele4phant*

    So, no judgement, just curiosity, but where are you working where you’ve been in-person for the last five months?

    Is this an old letter?

    I have a number of non-profit clients, many who provide human services, and aside from just the critical staff that actual provides the services. All the internal and media people (whom I work directly with as a consultant), have been working from home for nearly a year now.

    I know my little slice of the world isn’t representative, but who has been called back into office work?

      1. ele4phant*

        Yeah, again, I don’t mean this at all in a judgmental or shamey way.

        I am just ensconced here in my white collar job in a very liberal city bubble, so it’s kind of blowing my mind, is all.

        1. H2*

          Yeah, that’s really problematic, though. People are working in person to get food grown, transported, sold, medicines manufactured, transported, distributed, research, healthcare, animals, roads, utilities, education, support for those fields (people are still servicing tractors, cleaning schools, etc.), the list goes on and on. And people without internet and people with illnesses, humane societies, environmental groups, etc are all still working and a lot of that work can’t be at home. It’s not you, but it’s just that a lot of people on here totally forget that there is an army of people out there, working in person, making sure that people in cities have electricity, food and wi-fi to work from home. It’s very dismissive, at best.

          1. H2*

            Actually, I apologize–in re-reading I see that you specified office jobs, and that’s a more reasonable question. I do still think that a lot of people are in offices for logistical reasons (or other reasons), but I was wrong to rant at you.

    1. Lentils*

      I mean, my old job (private security financial department) was really squirrely about WFH and didn’t allow it for my department at all, because the higher-ups thought it would be a “security risk” for us to WFH and also because they didn’t believe the pandemic was a big deal. They exploited a loophole that declared security “essential” and made everyone in the office come in unless you could prove you were high-risk or without childcare. So. I’d hope this wouldn’t be the case with a non-profit, but they might be doing something similar?

    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      I’m working white collar office work (accounting) and we got called back in June. We do 50% WFH to cut down on people in the office, but we’ve been going into the office on a semi-regular basis since early June.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It depends on the size of the office. And the fact this is so many part timers. So they’re not all in the office at once. Even in a very liberal area with all the major tech corporations still very much WFH, it’s not the case across the board!

      Rush hour reminds me that people are indeed working outside of the home a lot more than back during the major stay at home orders were in place.

    4. SG*

      Aside from periodic lockdowns and WFH in mid-2020, most of New Zealand and Australia has been operating in-person for quite some time. Western Australia had zero lockdowns. One of the few benefits of being an incredibly isolated part of the world.

      1. Kvothe*

        There are parts of Canada with extremely low covid counts that are basically open for business pretty much as normal too

  86. ele4phant*

    To add to Alison’s thoughts – the person who comes in and says “These are the rules, we’re going to follow them even if they fly in the face of what is clearly the accepted culture” is not going to be received well.

    You are going to come across as tone deaf and unnecessarily rigid. Which, for someone who is tasked with communication, is not going to inspire confidence in your ability to do the job globally if you can’t read a room and modulate your response based on the existing culture.

  87. DaisyQueen*

    I used to work in data processing for an insurance company and we were casual. Jeans, t-shirts, etc. Our sister building received customers so they had to be business casual–no jeans, etc. They found out that we could wear jeans daily and threw such a fit that they tried to get our casual dress code taken away. We got paid quite a bit less than they did and the dress code was one of the trade-offs we took. We fought back and said if we had to dress up more we needed raises. Management let us keep our dress code, no raises, but shut the processing center down several years later when things became more automated. I was long gone by then though.
    I’m at a finance center now where we’re business casual except jeans on Friday. I wear jeans and polo shirt with our company logo that day and save my more physical work for Fridays–filings, sorting files, etc. I wish every day were Friday.

  88. Something Clever*

    This is a non-profit, so I assume the pay sucks for even the full time employees and especially the part timers. For the OP who enjoys dressing up: do you have dependents at home? Because people who do typically don’t have a lot of discretionary income for a nice wardrobe and dry cleaning expenses. In my area, you pay at least $15 to clean a suit jacket, and at least $8 for a pair of pants. I’d be livid if my low paying job required large out of pocket expenses for the organization’s image. How public facing are these people, really? There is a big difference between actually meeting face to face with donors and working with impoverished clients or posting things on social media.

    1. Jennifer*

      I don’t see anyone saying everyone should dress up. Just be clean and wear clothes without holes.

      1. sally*

        The OP is, that’s the point. The question wasn’t just about holes and dirt, but the fact that people in the office (including OP’s supervisor) are wearing jeans, tshirts, and cargo pants. I don’t think most people here have an issue with the dirt/holes issue, although a few have questioned how noticeable the holes might be. The clothes themselves seem to be a concern for OP, and that’s what most of the commenters are addressing as problematic.

        1. ele4phant*

          I don’t know, sounds like the OP wants to enforce the dress code that’s on the books, which is business casual no jeans, no sneakers, ect.

          Which, perhaps there’s some room to insist people wear clean and hole-less clothes, but the OP will have an uphill battle if they try to enforce a dress code that has a huge gap between what’s happening in the day to day reality, and is only being enforced in her department.

          1. sally*

            Right, that’s what I was saying – most commenters are on board with OP asking her staff to be dressed in clean and non-holey clothes, but are stating that asking the staff (especially part-time) to overhaul their entire wardrobe from “very casual” to “much less casual” is a big ask that seems out of step with the culture and will likely face a lot of pushback, even if it is technically on the books. Jennifer was arguing that OP’s only concern was with the dirtiness/holeyness of the clothes and not the casualness (“I don’t see anyone saying that everyone should dress up”); I was pointing out that that’s EXACTLY what the OP was saying (or asking Alison if she could say).

      2. Observer*

        That’s actually not the case. The OP explicitly says that they want people to come in looking “polished and professional” and to ban jeans, tee-shirts, sneakers etc.

        That’s waaaay beyond “clean and no holes”

    2. Observer*

      I think that what the OP wants is not reasonable. But let’s cut they hyperbole. You don’t need to dry clean a lot of “business casual” stuff. Really.

  89. Jennifer*

    Another reason why this is irksome to me is because it’s actually a privileged position to be able to dress like a slob and still be taken seriously at work or in the world in general. POCs generally can’t get away with this.

  90. egallison*

    I think Alison hits it on the head at the end! Nuance! There are a lost of steps between what the dress codee says and what the LW says folks are wearing.

    Nicer jeans and a henley (or similarly casual shirt), can look nice and approachable and presentable, and still be comfortable and not break the bank for employees. It’s not the dress code, but its clean and clothing without holes, or what-have-you.

  91. Super Casual*

    I worked at a nonprofit with a super casual dress code– I would often wear jeans and sandals, and our CEO would come in in yoga pants and running shoes unless we had an external facing meeting and then we would dress up a bit. We hired a woman who dressed on the fancy side of business casual every single day and it made everyone feel a bit uncomfortable and definitely signaled that she was out of step with our office.

  92. Free Meerkats*

    blockquote>Particularly in some types of social service work, some traditional ideas of “professionalism” can create problematic distance between staff and the people they’re serving.

    You’re typical work wardrobe is for a lot of people, Sunday got to meeting clothes. You’re new, don’t make your employees hate you from the get go.

  93. Cj*

    In the linked article about wearing short, which was from May 2019, Alison said: “Think of the common advice to dress in work clothes when you’re working from home, to get yourself into a work “mindset.” That sort of went out the window in less than a year!

  94. JustaClarifier*

    This honestly feels to me like how I felt in school when that one kid would raise their hand and go, “TEACHER! You forgot to give us the pop quiz today!” Don’t be that person, OP. You don’t know peoples’ financial situations, and many long for a looser dress code. Nothing is stopping you from dressing nicer on your own, but don’t make an issue out of something that isn’t for literally everyone else.

  95. Mystic*

    I… would probably be a snob and at least ask that t-shirts not have holes in them.
    Admittedly, I’ve only worked retail and a couple of office jobs, one where my Dad was the owner, so I had to follow dress code.

  96. LizM*

    Honestly, OP may want to think about how she’s coming across to her team if she’s significantly more formal than everyone else. I work for an agency that is incredibly informal. We have employees who spend time out in the field (like, literally, hiking through the woods sometimes), so most people wear jeans and hiking gear most of the time, even on days in the office. I’m a manager, so I tend to dress a little nicer on meeting days, but a lot of times that’s a knit dress or nice jeans and a blouse. The managers who transfer from our Headquarters in DC who show up in a suit on their first day stick out like a sore thumb, and lack credibility with the staff.

    If you’re used to coming to work in jeans every day, someone in business dress may seem unapproachable, and I may question the advice I’m getting as they may seem out of sync with the organization’s culture.

  97. LGC*

    The other thing is…if this letter is anywhere near recent (as in, this hasn’t been sitting in Alison’s inbox for the past year), we are in the middle of a pandemic. (Yes, even if you’re in New Zealand.) And while I’m kind of annoyed by “nope, pandemic” sometimes myself…it could be that standards relaxed either officially or by default because it’s stressful.

    Our senior manager normally dressed in business casual pre-plague; nowadays, he’s usually in jeans and a button-down. Some of of our employees show up in sweatpants, and while I would have said something in the Before Times, the most I do is an internal eyeroll now. Maybe (in…like, 2030) when we’re back to normal I might start caring about the dress code again, but it might be a temporary relaxing of standards.

  98. HailRobonia*

    The t-shirt comment reminds me of a joke my mom told me: “Your shirt’s got holes” “no it doesn’t” “then how do your arms and head stick out?”

  99. Rich*

    There’s a lot of great advice here. I’d suggest this is an opportunity, at best, to lead by example. I’ve been working in business casual environments for decades, and I (male) personally tend to the more “up” end of business casual when I go to the office. Nice, often elaborately decroative shirts, nice pants, carefully chosen shoes for a particular look or purpose. I entirely get the appeal.

    I would hate – HATE – to have that imposed on me. If it doesn’t have an impact on the team’s ability to perform, you must let it slide, regardless of your preferences.

    However, if you want to make a point of dressing more “up”, go for it. Go big! You will change the standard, because people will, to the degree they are comfortable and able, follow your lead. Modeling behavior is a part of leadership, and smart employees pay attention to those queues. Don’t mislead them if they ask: “No, dressing up isn’t required, it’s just what works for me.” And treat your people as if you believe that.

    But if you model the behavior and lead well, people will follow.

  100. AthenaC*

    Total side issue: My closet is full of dresses, blazers, skirts, suits, and high heels. None of which has been worn in about a year at this point.

    Let that tell you how I choose to present myself at work, since I’m in client service. Plus, every time I walk into a room, I’m in charge and I like to look the part.

    At the moment, my “dress code” is leggings, fluffy socks, and a sweatshirt. So very sad.

  101. Wrinky Pug*

    Sometimes the dress code in the rule book doesn’t reflect the reality of the workplace.
    I worked in a Christian run Community Centre and the manual stated that we were to dress business casual, no jeans, no branded clothing, no sneakers/runners, and to dress ‘modestly’.
    So I turned up to my first day to work in appropriate office attire, only to find that pretty much all the staff, including the Manager, wore jeans, t-shirts and Nike runners. During summer my manager even wore a short summer dress above knee length and showed a little cleavage!.

    So my point to OP is to observe the culture of the workplace before doing anything drastic.

  102. Ulf*

    I’m sure the headline was written by Alison and not the OP, but in my experience the answer to the question “am I being a ——- snob?” is always, always “yes.”

  103. Coverage Associate*

    One more factor: I am one of several people that I know who can’t fit into our old business clothes because gyms and parks were closed all summer. Gyms are still closed; parks are intermittent. Any exercise outside was dangerous for weeks too due to air quality. My office is seriously considering a relaxed dress code for some period when we return to the office to give people time to lose weight or spread out the new clothes expenses.

    I did just buy a few suits on eBay because I can’t not have a suit that fits, though. But, I am a well paid litigation attorney.

    1. Jennifer*

      I guess I don’t get this? I do get that some people may not be able to fit their old clothes for a variety of reasons. A year is a long time. And some people may have been so overwhelmed by stress they may not have the desire to work out right now. But if they do want to work out there are ample opportunities to do so without going to a gym or park. Again, not bashing anyone for not wanting to exercise or gaining weight for any other reason. I just don’t think it’s true that people have been unable to exercise for a year.

      1. James*

        I know at least one person (my wife) who can’t fit into her old cloths because this whole mess gave her a chance to work out more. She was working out before the pandemic, but this allowed her to hit it much harder, do more karate and yoga, take part in some school challenges, and generally working on her physical health more.

        Still, if you lose 100 lbs your old cloths aren’t going to fit. Fortunately we can afford new cloths for her. But imagine someone working part time doing something like this. They’d look a bit sloppy for a bit as they purchased new cloths.

      2. Observer*

        And those universally available opportunities are?

        In some parts of California, it actually was NOT possible to work out AT ALL outside for a chunk of the summer. Read a bit about the wildfires and the effects they had for some more information.

        In large parts of NYC, if you don’t have access to a gym or park, you don’t have a place to work out unless you have the resources to have some sort of home gym or good exercise equipment in your home. Given how many people share apartments and the size of many NYC places, that’s just not a viable option.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Outside of extreme examples like the wildfires or dangerous heat, going for a walk or run seems to be a fairly universal option. I don’t know what the culture is in NYC, but people jog on the streets of DC all the time. Of course there are exceptions to this, but our family, like a lot in our community, is walking/jogging around our neighborhood for exercise with the lack of gym and community center options. Some of the other families in our neighborhood pooled their money to hire a personal trainer to run outdoor, socially distant exercises sessions for a handful of the neighborhood kids with the money they would have used for gym memberships. Amazon/Dicks/Target/Wal-Mart can ship an inexpensive set of resistance bands or wrist/ankle/hand weights. Not the same as professional gym equipment, but if working out is mission critical for someone, there are a number of options, including workouts in limited space. Most people I know have fallen into the more-time-to-exercise camp since they’re not commuting for hours every day and because they want to keep their kids active. (And then there are my spouse’s awful coworkers who go to gyms that are secretly operating against public health rules, but they suck.)

          1. Observer*

            Coverage Associate explicitly mentioned air quality issues making it impossible to exercise outdoors. Jennifer blew right past that. And a run is not actually a great option for a lot of people. I have no idea what it’s like in DC, but I can tell you that it’s NOT a good idea (at least for a woman) to go running in much of NYC after dark. And it’s not so easy in many parts of the depending on where you want to run. For a short while, there were some changes make to allow people to walk in the roads, but that went away along time ago and now traffic lights in most parts of the city are synced to best suit cars with no thought for pedestrians. New York’s grid and stop lights have a lot of advantages, but when the lights are synced this way, they do make running a lot harder.

            The point here is not that NO ONE can go running, but there is a fairly significant portion of the population it’s just not all that practical. In addition, it’s not appropriate to just ignore the explicit problem someone mentions.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              My point is more that people who are really wedded to their fitness routine are finding ways to make it work other ways to make it work in current circumstances and, as other posters noted, this no-one-is-able-to-exercise-at-all assertion is far from a universal experience. I don’t fit in my clothes because I’ve lost 35 lbs. since the pandemic has given me more time to be mindful of my eating and to work in light exercise (I don’t run unless a bear is chasing me), which has been the case for a number of my friends/coworkers, given what a DC commute usually entails. You get a couple hours back in your day, and it’s amazing what you can fit in, if it’s important to you. It’s harder for some people, but it’s made fitness far easier for others – I would definitely find it weird of my business casual environment suspended the dress code specifically to allow for post-pandemic weight loss.

            2. Jennifer (2)*

              I work out at home. I take zoom fitness classes. I do youtube videos. I really have no idea what you’re talking about.

                1. Jennifer*

                  I live in an apartment too. Tons of workouts online labeled as apartment friendly that don’t require jumping.

  104. LavaLamp*

    You really have to look at the place you’re trying to change. I used to work in construction as an office worker. 80% of my coworkers had sleeved tattoos, extraneous piercings, and I tend to dress on the gothic side. No one, including the president of the company cared, and he was ex military. There is more to work than how you look as long as all private bits are covered and you’re dressing safely for the work your doing.

  105. Dee*

    Oof… If my department was the only one singled out to have a new, more expensive dress code, then I would be looking at every way I could jump ship to a different department or organization ASAP.

  106. RagingADHD*


    There’s a lot of folks railing about not wanting to buy a whole new wardrobe, when the LW is talking about people showing up for work with holes in their T shirts.

    A new t-shirt without holes in it can be bought online for about $5.

    A sewing kit to sew up the holes can be picked up at most stores you have to visit anyway (grocery, pharmacy) for even less.

    It’s a pretty low bar.

    1. James*

      One person was mentioned wearing a shirt with holes.

      The rest were mentioned wearing jeans, sweat pants, “the type of clothing I’d usually reserve for yard work”, and t-shirts. In other words, the majority of the issue is the style of clothing, not its condition.

      1. PT*

        I mean, what sort of holes are they describing? Ripped jeans bought from a fast-fashion store? Those tiny claw-holes that every cat owner has to put up with? The swiss-cheese holes that happen when your shirt has been washed too many times? The gaping holes you get when your clothes unravel, or get caught on something and rip?

        There’s a spectrum.

  107. Ladycrim*

    ‘but public-facing can mean “won’t be trusted if we’re not in suits” or it can mean “won’t be trusted if we are in suits” and all kinds of variations in between.’

    That’s key, especially for a non-profit. I work for a union, and we don’t dress up because we represent the line workers and suits = management. Even our CEO doesn’t go beyond a collared shirt unless he’s actually meeting WITH management.

  108. a sound engineer*

    As someone who just finished up a part-time job at a nonprofit:

    1) I would be really mad if I had been required to acquire a whole new wardrobe (or even just a couple of outfits) in order to work. The money I made barely even covered my rent, and purchasing new clothing would eat up a significant chunk of that. Not to mention the pandemic – I have much, much bigger expenses to worry about than what is in my closet. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume working part-time at a nonprofit. Even picking up some extra clothes at Marshall’s would have been a big ask, and probably a week of my salary. Seeing that as an acceptable solution and something that should be no big deal to seems out of touch about what people’s financial situations may look like, ESPECIALLY right now.

    2) If I had been told “We have a very high standard of dress, but expect you to purchase your wardrobe yourself” when I had been offered this job, I probably wouldn’t have taken it. If a new supervisor had come in halfway several months into this part-time job and announced that the dress code was changing to something much higher than the current work culture, we were on the hook for all new clothes, and all the other teams would get to keep dressing as normal, it would have bred intense resentment among my coworkers and myself. Decide if this is really a hill you want to die on.

  109. Lizzo*

    OP – I read your reply in the comments above, and it sounds like you work in development/fundraising? I’ve worked in fundraising-adjacent but also public-facing roles, and I get it: a professional appearance matters. However, the definition of professional is going to vary from organization to organization. I might suggest talking to your boss about employee dress **as it relates to outside perceptions of professionalism**, e.g. how potential funders might perceive the organization, and following that, have a realistic discussion about expectations, how these expectations tie to staff/organizational performance, and staff capacity to comply with these expectations. You’ll get a much better picture of the organizational culture and figure out where you could make small, incremental changes that are more likely to be successful in the long run.

    I recall a private conversation I had with a member of our nonprofit’s board years ago when I was near the start of my professional career. I was struggling with gaining the respect of our membership, despite being very good at what I did. He pointed out that our members’ profession was one that respected years of experience. I had the distinct disadvantage of being 1) 20+ younger than most of the folks I was working with, 2) looking MUCH younger than I actually was, and 3) sounding very young on the phone.

    He very wisely suggested that if I compensated for this by overdressing for in-person meetings, it would benefit me professionally…and he was right! But in order for this to succeed I needed to be on board, and also have the funds available to purchase a week’s worth of business clothes. Thankfully, I had both, but that is definitely not the case for everyone, especially right now. I also received his advice well because I had a relationship with him and respected his opinion, and knew he had my best interests in mind with respect to my career. If you don’t have that rapport with your staff, any conversation about this is not going to go over well.

    Also, to the point of “know your audience”, and to echo what many others have already said: I now work for a nonprofit with a VERY casual member crowd (jeans, t-shirts, flannel, sneakers). I make it a point to dress up enough to look put together and be perceived as professional and trustworthy, but not too fancy to be unrelatable. Consider how you might adjust your own style to connect effectively with all the audiences you interact with.

  110. Just Another Admin*

    In my work place, concern over dress code is usually a mask for something else. Our formal dress code is business casual. Our district director relaxed it to…I don’t remember what she called it..,but nice jeans and a blouse or button down shirt is fine. Keep a blazer nearby. Anyway, for the 7 years I’ve been here, both managing teams and being just one more team member, dress code violations were never brought up unless management was actively managing someone out. When I lead a team, if upper management expressed concern over one of my team members dress, they typically had a different problem with that employee (attitude, perceived work output, etc). But it came out as “Sadie seems unable to meet the dress code please coach her and monitor the situation “. I never coached anyone on their clothes, but I did a whole lot of coaching on time management, perceptions, process speed and all sorts of other things.

    So my question to you is…what is your real problem with this non profit? Do you have some class bias that’s being challenged by being here?

  111. ANC*

    Wow! A lot of people are coming down hard on this letter writer. It’s one thing to “like to dress up” for work and another to have public raving employees with holes in their shirts or walking around in sweatpants. I’ve worked for nonprofits my entire life. The current organization I work trains low income youth to be work ready. Part of the training is- you need to be presentable at work. This doesn’t mean you need to spend hundreds of dollars on a wardrobe- it can mean finding a part of simple pants at a thrift store or “splurging” on a blazer on sale at Old Navy for $12.99. Nonprofit employees aren’t paid well, but we can show up to work somewhat out together.

    1. RagingADHD*

      I want to know how all these commenters have apparently gone their entire adult lives with absolutely nothing in their closets but cargo shorts, sweatpants, and ripped t-shirts? Because that’s what the LW mentioned, but so many people would need a “whole new wardrobe?”

      1. Tinker*

        I think the issue is that other people are looking at the issue more generally than you seem to be.

        I don’t live exclusively in ripped T-shirts and sweatpants, but I also don’t have an alternate set of work clothing waiting in the wings other than what it is that I do currently wear to work. If someone were to change the dress code to exclude my current work clothes, I would either be dressed in medieval-ish fantasy costuming with a side of wizard school or I would need to buy a different set of work clothes.

        It’s not necessary for what I wear to work to be the exact same thing that these folks wear, although I actually do happen to dress a bit like OP’s manager, for me to consider that they might be in a similar boat.

        Additionally, you’re treating the examples of ripped T-shirts and such like as if they are the full extent of what OP objects to, but OP is proposing to enforce a dress code that bans T-shirts, jeans, sneakers, and “etc” in any state of repair, not just the extreme examples you highlighted, and they’re saying that in this company of roughly 130 people nobody, including their own manager, is in their view acceptably dressed. That latter might be beyond what OP wants to actually require, but the content and tone there are still part of the letter and can reasonably be expected to influence people’s reactions.

        1. londonedit*

          Same – I wear the same clothes to work as I do at the weekend. Those clothes are mainly smart/casual, but I don’t have a separate ‘work wardrobe’. If someone told me I suddenly had to start wearing traditional ‘business clothes’ to work then I’d have to buy new things. And I would hate it, because formal skirts and trousers and shirts with buttons are not my style at all, and I struggle to find clothes like that to fit me.

        2. Self Employed*

          I think OP is a bad fit for the organization and should consider looking for a new job with a more formal work culture.

      2. James*

        Several of us have brought up the fact that certain jobs require more rugged clothing than others. Even public-facing roles could involve the type of work that damages clothing rapidly. Expecting the employee to constantly buy new shirts or pants when they’re working part time and the job is what caused the damage is unreasonable.

        The other issue is that the LW is perpetuating old norms, when the world is moving on to a new set of standards. There’s an Old Guard vs New thing going on here. The idea that you need to dress up for work is frankly outdated, and it’s worth pointing that out. My father would be horrified to see what I routinely wear to the office, yet I am routinely one of the better-dressed people there. That’s how things go; the world isn’t the same today as it was in 1983. People simply don’t care as much about how one dresses. The rise of the tech giants taught us as a culture that sometimes the person wears sweat pants and a t-shirt because they’re too busy doing their work to be bothered to worry about how they dress.

        It’s also worth noting that the tone of the LW was hostile. “Slob” is not a nice word. You don’t get to come out swinging and then complain that people swing back. Every one of us has a story about someone with too little work to do, too much time on their hands, looking to cause trouble and calling someone out on a petty dress code violation, and frankly that’s what the LW comes across as. Remember, it’s not one or two employees dressing this way–it’s established company culture. Like it or not, that means the null hypothesis is that the LW is wrong, and the burden of proof is on her to show that she’s right. Her reasons are 1) it’s public facing (no mention of whether the current culture affects business or not), and 2) “I don’t like it”. (We can dismiss the handbook because obviously it’s not being enforced and is therefore outdated.) That’s not sufficient.

        To be clear: This doesn’t mean the LW is wrong necessarily. It does, however, mean she is not a good fit for the organization. Maybe this is an issue that can be overcome, or that can be endured for other benefits. That’s for the LW and her bosses to decide. But at the same time, everyone else in the company isn’t wrong either. Company culture is one of those things where there is no objectively right answer.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      The holes and sweatpants were mentioned as egregious examples. OP is also citing the employee handbook requiring business casual (which does not appear to match what ALL the employees are currently wearing) as well as criticizing her boss for wearing jeans and an untucked shirt. And wants to require her staff to adhere to the manual rather than what they’re currently wearing, despite that appearing to fly in the face of current expectations, after only five months. She needs to discuss this with her boss before making changes that may be out of step with organizational culture of this particular nonprofit. “Presentable” for work is organization-specific, and there may be a reason that this particular nonprofit’s dress code is so lax.

      And, with regard to the comment about not having a work wardrobe, people who’ve not been required to purchase work clothing may not have them or may not have them in their current size. I have lost more than 35 lbs in quarantine and am not even sure which of my work clothes that I last wore a year ago still fit well enough to wear to work. My spouse does not presently own a suit that fits or a pair of khakis without frayed hems (despite wearing both in a prior work life) because his employer of the past 12 years allows the staff to wear jeans and to telework liberally. We do not attend church and dress-up occasions are rare. If he took a job in a business casual office, we’d have to buy him a new work wardrobe – and he has a professional position in a fairly staid region. We are in a financial position to do this, but neither of us works part-time at a nonprofit. (My father-in-law’s good clothes are a pair of jeans without holes or fraying and a golf shirt that is so retro it might be coming back in style, but he’s a farmer, and the cows aren’t offended by stains, holes, and wrinkles.)

  112. Delphine*

    It’s entirely possible to dress casual and still be polished. Holes, stains, pronounced wrinkles…that isn’t casual dress. I’ve seen flip flops and graphic t-shirts at my office and everyone still looked clean and tidy.

  113. HotPriestess*

    I understand wanting people to dress in an appropriate way but I really hate the ‘no holes’ thing. I have two reasons. The first is environmental. It is insane to through out perfectly wearable clothes and buy new clothes once they have a few holes. What are the employees supposed to do with these clothes now? It’s all landfill. This feeds the culture of consumption of resources that is 100% not necessary. Like I get a huge,, functional issue is a problem, but a small tear let it go. And for everyone who will respond about mending, I hear you, I try and mend my clothes. I save my old leggings and use them to reinforce my new ones. But many people cannot because they lack the skills or lack the time. The second reason it’s terrible is that it reinforces classism. People cannot afford new clothes constantly. Don’t tell them to invest in new clothes, it’s all a crapshoot. There are very few brands (if any) that can hold up to being worn every day or every other day. That is what people of limited income need. Instead we have cheaper goods that break down easier and fuel a cycle of repurchase. Don’t get me started if you are not standard size. The clothes are more expensive and also fall apart. I am not advocating some 90s grunge resurgence, but surely everyone can ignore a tear at the elbow.

  114. Musereader*

    My Job used to be business causal 3 years ago, so black/grey trousers, blouses or shirts no jeans, tie optional, but the office relaxed the dress code one summer year before last as the air conditioning system was broken and it was getting too hot in the office, its never changed back. After about 2 months of it being dress down our office boss said performance was staying level and there was no need to change it back. We all wear jeans and tshirt, only people visiting other offices need to dress up. This is UK Civil service, lowest level benefit office on the phone to customer.

    It might have been changed for a reason and never changed back.

  115. Manchmal*

    Has everyone else in this office been working there for awhile? Sometimes offices can develop habits or cultures that can veer into the gray area and it can take a fresh set of eyes to take note of it. That might be what’s happening in the OP’s office. There’s a world of difference between formal business clothing and ripped up, ratty clothes. For a public-facing office that regularly deals with donors, that dial might not need to be set to three-piece suit but it certainly warrants nicer than what the OP describes. I think a conversation with the manager is a good place to start, and a discreet conversation with the worst offenders might be in order. Don’t wear clothes with holes to work is a low bar.

  116. Quandong*

    OP, it’s okay for you to enjoy wearing your work clothes and to get a sense of pride in how you present yourself.

    But it’s not okay for you to impose your standards on the other people at your workplace purely because it’s a deep source of irritation to you, a relative newcomer, that they are wearing less formal clothing.

    It sounds like a big mismatch between you and people you work with. I hope you aren’t also considering imposing changes on people like how they wear their hair, or whether they wear makeup or not, just because it irks you to not see people exactly like you.

    I encourage you to resolve this in a way that doesn’t create a burden for other people; whether that’s the financial burden of buying new clothes, or time and energy for same, or time to do more ironing, during a pandemic. This is very obviously a you-problem, not an everyone-else problem.

    Would you have the same objection to rumpled clothing if it were linen outfits? What about if you knew the clothing was very expensive, fair-trade, made by people paid a good wage? Would you object if you knew people wore less structured clothing than you because they require accommodations for disabilities? What if you knew the clothing cost a lot due to fat tax, but you didn’t like the drape of the fabric on a fat body? What if you discovered that the French tuck was highly prized?

    It does sound like you are a snob from the way you describe the clothes worn by people in your workplace. You sound like you don’t have a great deal of respect for them, and that you’re falling into a trap of making classist assumptions.

    If your attitude about clothes is permeating your overall perception of your coworkers (and supervisors) professionalism, maybe it’s not the right place for you.

  117. Erika*

    I work at an office setting. We’re pretty casual but one thing several of my co-workers noticed that some workers wear the same pair of pants 2-3 times a week. Is that normal? I mean, I own several pairs of jeans, blouses, etc and I do wear them on consecutive days since I’m a clean person.

    Hell, I like to wear jeans to work and I wear the same ones to work almost everydaay.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I think that is pretty normal. Many people only have or can afford a few nice pairs of work pants. Also, depending on living situation some people might not have their own laundry in their house and either have to go to a laundry mat or use common facilities at their apartment. When I had to pay for laundry I would wear my pants as many times as I could and spot clean.

    2. Tinker*

      I tend to wear pants 2-3 days before washing, generally consecutively or near-consecutively — these are jean-like cotton pants and tech pants in mostly neutral colors. A lot of my shirts are wool-blend, and those I tend to also wear 2-3 times — leaning somewhat more to 2 — and letting them air for at least a day between wearings. Cotton T-shirts and tech shirts I tend to wear just once, and anything I exercise or otherwise do something dirty in I don’t tend to wear again after. Reusing underwear or socks is an occasional act of camping-trip desperation, and I mostly let my shoes rest for a day between wearings so that they last longer.

      It’s a bit shocking to me that there seem to be a lot of people who wash everything after every wear. I’ve always been taught that most things that are at least a bit out from the body have rewearing potential, and the things that I do have to wash every time I wear them — my riding clothes, for instance; last week a horse shit down the neck of my hoodie, and I think I’m not into rewearing that — feel less ‘put together’ than similar clothes I don’t do that to because of how much quicker they age.

    3. Bear Shark*

      That sounds pretty normal. I generally wear my work pants 2-3 times between washes. If they get dirty or I spill something I wash them sooner. I often change out of my work clothes when I get home from the office so I’m not wearing them full days anyway. Right now my work pants are all very similar looking black pants anyway.

    4. micklethwaite*

      Completely normal to me. I generally reckon that jeans are good for a couple of wearings before washing anyway, assuming no spills. It’s also entirely likely that I’ll wear a pair, get home, wash and dry them and put them back on the next day. If someone looks clean and doesn’t have BO, I can’t really fathom taking note of how often they wear a particular garment.

      I also buy multiples of something if it fits really well. My last job I had two pairs of identical ‘good’ dark jeans and two pairs of identical navy chinos, and wore one or other of those 95% of the time.

    5. Timothy (TRiG)*

      How do you notice that? Some people must have a different kind of eye than I do. There’s no way I’d notice if a coworker wore the same clothes every day of the year.

  118. I'm just here for the cats*

    The LW says that the Handbook says business casual. but does it specifically say no jeans, sneakers, etc. Or does it say business casual and she thinks business casual means no jeans, sneakers, etc.

    Also, what’s wrong with sneakers? Heals and flats hurt! I have problems with my feet, knees, and back. Tennis shoes are the most comfortable. And I’ve found some very nice ones that are not “athletic” looking. And if our incoming vice-president can wear converse chucks why can’t the rest of us?

  119. Toodie*

    Most ridiculous dress code ever, for a job at a soft-serve ice cream place: All girls and women had to wear white nurse’s dress and nylons. Not sure if the white nurses shoes were required or not–that might’ve just been good learning on my part. All boys/men could wear jeans and t-shirts. 1980, a parttime job in rural America. Freaking nuts. But I did it for two years in high school.

  120. micklethwaite*

    LW, it’s nice that you like dressing up for work, but a lot of people don’t. I hate work wear. Really hate it. It makes me feel uncomfortable, like I’m dressing up as someone else. The items I can afford rarely fit me well. It makes me feel self conscious all day long, I’m less productive and more anxious, it just…sucks.

    If you’re public facing then cracking down on holes and stains in clothing could make sense, but beyond that, is this actually causing a problem for anything except your own sensibilities? Because marching into a place and changing the culture purely to suit your personal preference is going to brew a lot of resentment among your staff.

  121. hufflepuff hobbit*

    LW — I am a (recovering) dress code snob. Yes, you are being a dress code snob. I’ve made this mistake (to a much smaller scale than you are contemplating) when I was new at one of my jobs — DON’T DO IT!

  122. lazy intellectual*

    You’re being elitist. Don’t ask your part time employees to buy new, fancy clothes.

    While I don’t think I dress like a slob, I’ve never been a huge clothes person and much prefer style over comfortable. I dress simply but put together, without too many layers or accessories. I get really annoyed by snide comments about how plainly I dress. Fashion isn’t everyone’s priority or favorite form of self expression. Also, the fashion industry is terrible, but that is for another rant.

  123. Slipping The Leash*

    OP, 22 years ago I graduated from college and sold my car for $750, which was my entire nest egg to fund a move to NYC, where I slept on a friend’s couch until I found work. Do I really have to explain my overwhelming relief at finding a job that required us to keep a business outfit in the closet at the office just in case something client-facing came up, but otherwise was totally fine with us wearing anything we liked? My Dr Martins, ragged jeans and old Ramones t-shirts were just fine. There was a guy who wore so much Yankees gear I would ask him at least weekly if he’d gotten called up to the bigs. Didn’t in any way negatively impact the fantastic work we put out. Get over yourself.

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