Pencil Skirts vs. Leggings: Dress Codes and Generations

Pencil Skirts vs. Leggings: Dress Codes and Generations

I (Dr. Kristen) remember when I was in college and preparing to go into “the adult world” as a young woman and getting told to buy high heels and pantyhose and pantsuits. There was a lot of talk of tailoring and hairspray and not a lot about comfort. Now there seems to be a much wider range of the understanding of “professional dress” and it definitely seems to breakdown not only along industry lines, but along generational ones.

In some industries, clothing is an easy issue. Laborers, companies that require uniforms, medical professionals, laboratory workers, etc – these decisions are largely taken from the workforce. But offices? Sometimes can be trickier.

What do you consider ‘professional’? Can someone be in leggings, boots, and an over-sized sweater and count for you? Are you in the “leggings are fine, but their butt has to be covered” camp? How do you feel about tattoos? (Oh, there’s a whole other thing, isn’t there?!)  There is a great likelihood that how different people feel about different aspects of fashion and professionalism have a lot to do with generations.

They also have to do with culture, of course, and potentially with religious beliefs, and maybe to do with…

You know what? Humans are complicated and beautiful combinations of so many things and what we wear is just a great example of how many combine each day as we live our lives. But we know it can cause strife at work – so here are three quick tips for navigating different interpretations of ‘professional dress’.

  1. Be clear about your office’s understanding of ‘professional dress’ and that’s it’s fairly applied to all genders and individuals.
  2. Be understanding about the cost of wardrobes for fresh-out-of-college folks (and not so fresh!) in demanding a certain type of clothing
  3. Remember that just because a standard was once important doesn’t mean it still is, and vice versa. Communicate expectations and be flexible.

That’s all for now – we’ll see you next week for continuing coverage of managing generational differences.



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