Greater Greater Washington

Stuffy dress codes hamper healthy urban choices

The dress code at many federal workplaces simply doesn't make sense anymore as the standard in professional attire. How is anyone supposed to ride a bike to work in a tailored skirt or a starched dress shirt?


Photo by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious on Flickr.

Secretaries Sebelius, LaHood, Donovan and Admini­strator Jackson: No doubt, you have plenty keeping you busy over at HHS, DOT, HUD and EPA. However, you have an opportunity to lead in promoting more health, better transportation, better cities and a sustainable planet by changing the federal employee dress code.

For a long time, convention required suits, ties and pantyhose. Before that it was a lot of gloves and hats and powdered wigs. (Don't get me started on the corsets...) But the fashion police have moved forward, leaving federal agencies hopelessly out of style and out of step with their own missions.

Environmental sustainability, smart urban growth and public wellness are at the very top of the agenda. But most of your employees can't live out the very values that they work for; they're too busy fetching their dry cleaning and keeping their shoes shined.

Let's relax the professional dress code in favor of something a little more practical.

Secretary LaHood, it would be nice to get more people out of the morning gridlock and onto a Metro, right? Employees who choose to walk or bike to work might put a dent in the diabetes and obesity numbers, isn't that true, Secretary Sebelius?

If more people chose to wait for the bus instead of hopping into a private vehicle, I bet the environment would have no objections, right Ms. Jackson? For that matter, I bet your cooling costs (and your carbon footprint) wouldn't be so high if people didn't wear wool all summer. I get warm just thinking about August in DC.

Undoubtedly, some of your employees make great choices already, out of necessity or otherwise. But you aren't making it any easier for them. And it wouldn't cost you a dime to make the change. In fact, it might save everyone a few dollars.

Of course, all of your workers would see some returns if they didn't have to suit up for work every day. In addition, a more active, health-conscious employee workforce would help to reduce your organization's insurance overhead. In turn, employees would enjoy lower premiums and, eventually, fewer reasons to see the doctor in the first place.

And, Secretary Donovan, you know better than anyone, as more and more people find themselves living in urban areas, individuals' choices regarding their health and their habitsfrom how they choose to commute to how many loads of laundry they wash in a given weekhave a larger and larger impact the way our cities develop and evolve.

The very concept of what it means to look like a "professional" needs a makeover. Lest you think that this would mean lowering standards, let me assure you on behalf of the fashion police: it would not. We love good style, and we love great clothes. But even we don't think that respect for a person's professionalism should hinge on whether he or she showed up in khakis or couture.

More often than not, when it comes to game-changing strategies, the private sector leads and the public sector follows. It's no surprise. Bold moves often require more risk than a government agency like any of yours can reasonably and responsibly agree to take on.

Here, then, is a rare opportunity. This is your chance to be taste-makers. Relax your dress codes and start a movement. Many fixes are expensive and challenging to implement. This one costs nothing at all and promises some big potential returns, from healthier, happier employees to cleaner, greener cities.

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Ksenia Kaladiouk lives in Southeast DC, where she spends her time writing, sketching, running, taking photos, scheming and studying the flying trapeze. She is particularly interested in the history of urban development, education, the effects of space on the rise and fall of cultural and commercial institutions, and vice versa. 

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[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] There's no official dress code at USDOT, and lots of people are pretty casual. And lots of cyclists (@USDOT I mean) keep a suit in their office to change into.

I really don't think its that big a deal.

Also, its possible to get a summer weight suit made of something lighter than wool.

by MStreetDenizen on Jun 20, 2012 2:06 pm • linkreport

Hmm... I bike to work in tailored skirts and blouses pretty much every day. Hasn't been a problem yet, though there are two dresses under which I wear spandex for decency (which I remove once I'm at the office).

And maybe it's for this reason, but I don't really get the larger health and environmental impacts that would come from more relaxed dress codes.

by Elle on Jun 20, 2012 2:07 pm • linkreport

does any government agency still follow business formal? We've been business casual for a while now. Perhaps formal on rare occassions if something big is going on.

Where did you get that government has a business formal dress code?

by gotryit on Jun 20, 2012 2:12 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by ceefer66 on Jun 20, 2012 2:14 pm • linkreport

There's no formal dress code anywhere in the Federal Gov't. Entirely at the discretion of individual offices.

by darren on Jun 20, 2012 2:18 pm • linkreport

"After all, how is anyone supposed to ride a bike to work in a tailored skirt or a starched dress shirt?"

Shower at work. Problem solved.

by Michael Hamilton on Jun 20, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

@ Michael Hamilton:Shower at work. Problem solved.

Indeed. It should be encouraged that employers provide changing room and showers. And yohoo! That is already a requirement for LEED status of buildings.

by Jasper on Jun 20, 2012 2:30 pm • linkreport

Another solution -- go slower! If you're sweaty you're moving too quickly.

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by charlie on Jun 20, 2012 2:32 pm • linkreport

How relaxed should the new standards become?

by Fitz on Jun 20, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

Another solution -- go slower! If you're sweaty you're moving too quickly.

A little perspective-taking may be in order here. If I live four blocks from work, I might be tempted to exhort folks who live in Gaithersburg to walk to work too. Why not? Sure they may have to leave a little earlier than they would otherwise. But if I can do it, they can too!

Similarly, for those of us who commute 20-30 miles one way, "go slower" may not be workable. Given a choice between going fast on a bike or driving, I'll take fast on a bike.

by oboe on Jun 20, 2012 2:39 pm • linkreport

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cool_Biz_campaign for what Japan did though this was more focused on cooling costs than commuting

by Steve on Jun 20, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

Shower at work. Problem solved.

Solutions that one can't implement by oneself are not necessarily solutions. I wish more places had showers at work. But that doesn't make it so.

Though I suppose you could get one of these and one of these and DIY.

by oboe on Jun 20, 2012 2:44 pm • linkreport

Taking Metro to work on the hottest days of summer inevitably means arriving at your desk sweaty. This is the simple reality of summer in DC. I often find that biking to work can be less physically demanding if I pedal slowly rather than trying to race to work and arrive in the fewest minutes as humanly possible.

by Rob P on Jun 20, 2012 2:47 pm • linkreport

"Shower at work. Problem solved.
Solutions that one can't implement by oneself are not necessarily solutions. I wish more places had showers at work. But that doesn't make it so."

but the author is referring to specific federal agencies. I KNOW USDOT has showers available to cyclists, and I would be VERY surprised if HUD and EPA (partners with USDOT on the sustainability initiative) do not.

by MStreet Denizen on Jun 20, 2012 2:57 pm • linkreport

An actual shower is often unnecessary. Occasionally I go for a run during lunch, and we don't have office showers. Instead I go to the bathroom and take 2-4 towels out of the dispenser. Half I dampen. Then, in a stall, I can take a towel-bath, change, and do my normal toilette at the sink after changing. It's not that difficult.

If things are really bad (and helmets can aggravate this some), use some dry shampoo on your hair and reapply deoderant.

by Elle on Jun 20, 2012 3:05 pm • linkreport

@2:12 and 2:18 - Many federal agencies do, in fact, have official dress codes. These are written policies which, if violated, may result in disciplinary action against employees. Although most agencies probably no longer require formal attire, the ones with the most employees (e.g., Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security) tend to be pretty formal.

by Federal Labor & Employment Attorney on Jun 20, 2012 3:11 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

I wish that many government employees took more of an interest in dressing professionally for work, rather than less so.

by Chad on Jun 20, 2012 3:12 pm • linkreport

Most of my colleagues where 'business formal' on most days - even those that bike to work. Those that either value physical fitness or enjoy biking/walking to work will ensure that they can regardless of whether the dress code makes it easier. It just may take a bit more planning and a larger bag.

Instead I think the federal government should lead the country by pushing its employees to get more fit through exercise facilities on-site, healthier lunch options,flexible work schedules to support exercise and sports teams/leagues. Essentially emulate what the Googles and Apples do. America needs to get healthy or we'll bankrupt ourselves and be unable to field a military, policy or emergency response forces.

by andy2 on Jun 20, 2012 3:15 pm • linkreport

I love this idea. It makes no sense to me that I need to wear a suit with roots in Scotland in a completely different climate.

I work harder in more casual clothing, don't dread the outdoors in casual clothing, and feel better when I can choose what I wear based on the weather rather than cultural fiat.

Thanks for putting it out there; pay the naysayers no heed.

by OctaviusIII on Jun 20, 2012 3:23 pm • linkreport

@charlie:If you're sweaty you're moving too quickly.

I don't know your genetic make-up, but my heat sensitive North-West European genes go into "sweat profusely" mode just sitting outside in weather like today.

by Jasper on Jun 20, 2012 3:50 pm • linkreport

I don't mind suits and pencil skirts. Most people have pretty bad fashion sense. A strict dress code prohibits me from being exposed to my coworkers derrieres in jeggings. I bike to work every day and change from my workout clothes to "work attire".
I would wholeheartedly support more bike friendly facilities in all offices: dedicated bike racks that are accesible only to employees and shower & locker facilities.

by nettie on Jun 20, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

Like the peacock's tail, the PURPOSE of professional attire is that it is not particularly suited for exercise, relaxing, or personal self expression. I'd rather see an effort on providing showers and places to hang clothes.

by SJE on Jun 20, 2012 4:16 pm • linkreport

Saying don't sweat or pedal slower to someone like me isn't a solution. Neither is taking a "towel-bath". The bottom line is that if my workplace didn't have a shower, I wouldn't bike to work. My shirt was clinging to me after walking around the corner for coffee this morning. I was dripping wet from my 6 1/2 mile bike commute.

by thump on Jun 20, 2012 5:05 pm • linkreport

I can tell you from personal experience that the VA/VBA, FERC, and SEC have pretty loose definitions of business attire. FERC even advises any outsiders visiting between Memorial Day and Labor Day that they should be dressed casually for the summer, too. So dress code is very much an agency-by-agency thing these days. It's a shame that some are still so formal; I think that one of the greatest benefits of working for my agency is that I'm judged on the content of my work and not on my personal appearance.

by Tom Veil on Jun 20, 2012 5:06 pm • linkreport

Is it really too much to ask that employees maintain a professional appearance, especially those being paid a professional wage? And among those who purport to do the public's business? As far as I've been able to discern many government offices have hit rock bottom in terms of dress, with decorum soon to follow. And don't get me started on what is considered "appropriate" at the courthouse these days. (On the other hand, it's really easy to spot the attorneys.) There are plenty of ways to "beat the heat" without looking like a slob or lowering standards of professional appearance.

by Paul on Jun 20, 2012 5:14 pm • linkreport

A few simple rules:
- Short sleeve dress shirts with ties are just awful.
- Flip-flops are awful.
- There's almost no advantage to shorts over lightweight pants so no shorts ever.
- Sleeveless shirts, polo shirts, and summer skirts are all fine.
- Skip the tie or keep a few in the office.
- No jackets in summer.
- Bike slowly. Or take CaBi, which is impossible to ride fast anyway.
- If necessary, change your clothes when you get to the office.

There you go, problem solved. You're welcome.

by Ward 1 Guy on Jun 20, 2012 5:36 pm • linkreport

There are plenty of ways to "beat the heat" without looking like a slob or lowering standards of professional appearance.

Paul + 1000.

I take great pride in looking formal and serious at work. When I look good, I feel good, and I get stuff done. Plus, otherwise, a lot of the higher-ups wouldn't pay any attention to me. It's culture, not policy, that might need to change.

But for me, when it gets hot out, I wear a poly-pro shirt instead of my dress shirt, cool down at my desk for a few minutes and then get professional when I'm dry. If that's not happening fast enough, I have deodorant and body powder in my bag to help accelerate the freshness.

I agree, federal policies don't need to change: people just need to get creative.

by MDE on Jun 20, 2012 5:37 pm • linkreport

Nuthin' wrong with getting profusely sweaty on the ride in, as long as you clean up. Other than not requiring a suit or sports jacket, no other clothing accomodations need be made. Dress shirts and slacks easily pack, and shiny wing-tips or loafers may be left in a drawer.

by Crickey7 on Jun 20, 2012 8:08 pm • linkreport

There are plenty of ways to "beat the heat" without looking like a slob or lowering standards of professional appearance.

I have worked in offices that insisted upon strict business formal attire, that have accepted business casual attire, and that have allowed employees to wear genuinely casual attire. From this, I can report that the clothes my co-workers were allowed to wear never had the slightest correlation to the quality of their work, positive or negative.

SJE is pretty much on the mark with the "peacock" analogy. We deem certain clothes to be "professional" and "attractive" solely because we wouldn't wear them for any practical reason -- otherwise, people would wear them without a dress code. It's a way of showing off one's social status and willingness to submit to authority, nothing more. (Yes, I have worked with a lot of scientific and technical people; why do you ask?)

That said, I can't imagine the lawyer- and bureaucrat-driven culture of DC is ready to assess the quality and value of people's work without taking into their skill at wearing impractical and over-warm clothing, so we should probably push for office showers instead. But in an ideal world we wouldn't be having this conversation, because nobody would believe that wearing an outfit of a clean t-shirt, shorts, and sandals would render someone unfit to engage in the upper-middle class professions.

by cminus on Jun 20, 2012 8:34 pm • linkreport

I wear a gad danged uniform at work and I still bike on a semi-regular basis. (actually, that makes it somewhat easier because I always change clothes at the beginning and end of each day)

by Kolohe on Jun 20, 2012 10:43 pm • linkreport

Casual dress as the standard -- Apple, Google, Facebook
Formal dress as the standard -- Government, Big Banks, Lawyers

Which is the group that performs better on virtually every measure -- productivity, innovation, success, growth, ethics, etc.?

As countless companies have shown, there is little need for professional dress to achieve professional success (other than the need to conform to prevailing standards).

by Falls Church on Jun 20, 2012 10:47 pm • linkreport

Formal dress as the standard -- Government, Big Banks, Lawyers

Back when I worked for a federal agency (granted, a scientific one), casual and business casual (at most) were the norm. I don't know of any agencies that require suits outside of congress and lawyers who show up in court.

Even private lawyers I know (granted, patent lawyers) don't wear suits unless they have a court appearance.

by Tyro on Jun 21, 2012 3:02 am • linkreport

I don't know your genetic make-up, but my heat sensitive North-West European genes go into "sweat profusely" mode just sitting outside in weather like today.

I'm glad it isn't just me. I always envy people who can expend even moderate energy outside in weather like this without getting drenched. I saw a guy in a full suit (lightweight, but still) walking along briskly yesterday afternoon, not a drop of sweat on him. Whereas I, in my polo shirt, got damp during my 3 block walk to the bank. Unfair.

And, @Ward 1 Guy - Sleeveless shirts? Really? For women, maybe, but I'm sorry, I can't think of a sleeveless shirt for a man that would be appropriate an office.

by dcd on Jun 21, 2012 6:58 am • linkreport

Federal Labor Attorney: It has not been my experience that large agencies have dress codes (though there may be some on the books somewhere that no one has seen in years). E.g., the State Department has a problem (or at least it's seen as a problem by many) of admin staff wearing tight/revealing clothing, but no one is willing to raise the issue. The professional staff dress in business attire by choice and peer pressure.

Likewise, DoD varies by work site. The Pentagon specifically requires business dress (going so far as to require military personnel to wear Class A uniforms rather than cammies/ACUs/BDUs). But many DoD sites are biz-casual.

My own opinion is that biz-caz should be the minimum. When I visited another agency and see people in jeans/sneakers or t-shirts, to me it looks sloppy and indicates a casualness that might also infect their work habits. In the hot summer, I don't think full suits are necessary, but closed-toed shoes and pants other than jeans I don't think are too much to ask.

Tank tops--good one!

by Federale on Jun 21, 2012 8:30 am • linkreport

DCD: I'd bet you a case of Old Spice that the guy in the suit *was* sweating--but it was concealed by his suit coat.

by Federale on Jun 21, 2012 8:32 am • linkreport

I'm also in the sweaty camp. Don't tell me to slow down, it won't work. I sweat when I walk in warm weather. Find a shower if you can.

Also, please don't encourage people to dress any less formally than they do now. Dressing professionally can be done while maintaining your cool. I work in one of those agencies Tom Veil mentioned above and people here dress dreadfully. One day I saw a woman in a pair of sweatpants with the brand across her butt. Come on.

by rdhd on Jun 21, 2012 8:36 am • linkreport

For what it's worth, parts of DHS, which one would think would be the most likely (with DoD) to enforce business formal, switch to business casual after Labor Day. Surprisingly reasonable.

by rowsdower on Jun 21, 2012 8:57 am • linkreport

. When I visited another agency and see people in jeans/sneakers or t-shirts, to me it looks sloppy and indicates a casualness that might also infect their work habits.

One day I saw a woman in a pair of sweatpants with the brand across her butt. Come on.

One day I saw this guy called Steve Jobs wearing jeans and sneakers. I'm pretty sure he was some loser with poor work habits who would never achieve professional success.

by Falls Church on Jun 21, 2012 9:04 am • linkreport

There is no dress code at EPA. I wear wicking polo shirts 90% of the year. Most people wear button downs...but half the time they're also in jeans.

I shower at work. I run downtown. I don't bike, I'm a bit too far for that, but if I did...no one would have a problem with how I'm dressed. You only have to dress up (to polo shirts) if you're meeting with an Assistant Administrator.

I agree with her premise...what is and is not professional has nothing to do with ones appearance. It has only to do with ones work product.

by Redline SOS on Jun 21, 2012 9:04 am • linkreport

"Even private lawyers I know (granted, patent lawyers) don't wear suits unless they have a court appearance.

Lawyers who don't wear dress shirts, ties and at least nice slacks are the exception, not the rule. And, most lawyers do still wear either a suit or blazer. Even if they don't go to court, lawyers are expected to look a certain way.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jun 21, 2012 9:32 am • linkreport

@ Paul:Is it really too much to ask that employees maintain a professional appearance, especially those being paid a professional wage? And among those who purport to do the public's business?

No. But the question is what a professional appearance actually is. You can seriously question the practicality of wearing coat and tie in a city where it is 90-100 degrees outside, with high humidity. That attire comes largely from Europe where the weather is much cooler.

Hawaiians have adapted their 'formal dress' very well to their weather: shorts and Hawaiian shirt. If you show up in a suit and tie there, you get laughed at in your face. Literally.

by Jasper on Jun 21, 2012 9:34 am • linkreport

If it's too much to come in shirt and tie, they should probably shower when they get there anyway.

by Petrus on Jun 21, 2012 9:54 am • linkreport

I had no idea there still existed such a big constituency in favor of business dress. How charmingly retro.

Basically chinos/khakis and a polo or Oxford shirt are considered workplace attire where I have worked. Suits are for when meetings where millions of dollars are at stake.

by Tyro on Jun 21, 2012 10:22 am • linkreport

"When I visited another agency and see people in jeans/sneakers or t-shirts, to me it looks sloppy and indicates a casualness that might also infect their work habits."

Federale, when I hear that someone thinks that, it indicates a lack of rational thinking and a degree of prejudice that might also infect their work. I think that's more relevant than dress preferences.

by Ivan on Jun 21, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

I worked at NSF for six years and there was no dress code so people wore anything from jeans to shorts. Also there was a gym so many people who biked just came "ready roll" meaning they showered and dressed in the gym instead of at home.

Dress codes say, I don't trust you enough to pick out your own clothes. We're adults, I think we can manage "look professional" if we have meetings with clients or outsiders. I work at a law firm now and we have a business casual policy (sundresses & khakis are ok). No one wears a jacket or tie unless they're meeting with a client or have to be in court. My BFF's firm is larger than mine & they can wear jeans nearly everyday. If law firms are mellowing out the government will too...eventually.

by Kam on Jun 21, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

@Fischy I've worked at a large law firm for 4 years, and have plenty of friends around DC (and the country) at various other large firms. Business Formal is definitely the exception, not the rule. I type this from my desk wearing khakis and a button down with no tie. I haven't seen someone wear a tie outside of a client meeting since I started working here. Don't pretend the guys you saw at the courthouse represent all of us.

by caplaw6 on Jun 21, 2012 12:12 pm • linkreport

It's very hot out, so it's no surprise the discussion has centered on how dress codes affect mobility in the summer months. What about when it snows or rains?

I work at a non-profit that allows jeans and other appropriate casual wear. I'm most grateful for it in the winter months when I can pull on a pair of warm, waterproof boots and a puffy coat. I'm comfortable walking to and from the metro (10-15 minutes on each end for me) and I don't have to take a cab if it rains or snows. Sometimes I'll change into flats when I reach the office, but I can't imagine making my commute if I were required to put on a skirt suit every day.

This isn't just about biking! Pantyhose and thunderstorms just don't mix.

by fairweatherfriend on Jun 21, 2012 12:19 pm • linkreport

I ride a bike every day with a shirt and tie. Just because you are riding doesn't mean it has to be the Tour De France. If its too hot, carry a change of clothes. There's no reason to dress down to ride.

by Erik Bootsma on Jun 21, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

leaving aside the philisophical question of what is "proper" business attire, it seems to me that its historically been the case that proper attire recognized differences in weather during the year, and differences in formality on different days of the week. Is anyone else old enough to remember khaki suits for men - acceptable only between memorial day and labor day, but for a somewhat longer season in the deep south? Preferably later in the week, thursdays and especially fridays?

Or back when business casual was confined to casual fridays? Again leaving aside the silicon valley love, it seems like theres a lot of room to dress less than full business formal for most of the week, for the months when its hottest in DC, at almost all employers, especially Federal agencies.

Interesting to see the cultural differences among fed agencies. I too am at a research focused one, with relatively informal standards.

by MStreetDenizen on Jun 21, 2012 1:09 pm • linkreport

This whole conversation is completely bizarre to me. I'm 39yo and have a great education and job/career and have never worn a suit anywhere. I wear shorts, tshirt, and running shoes pretty much every day to work.

If there's some reason to put on some drag I just put on jeans and switch to a pair of brown Merrells. Ta-Da!

The idea that the clothes someone wears tells you anything about their knowledge or skills is archaic to the point of being absurd.

by James on Jun 21, 2012 1:10 pm • linkreport

Federale, I don't think you've visited the Pentagon lately. I can't say it's all cammies, but it's mostly cammies. Day in, day out. Air Force in particular, you notice the people in flight suits. In over a year here, I've rarely seen dress uniforms, though I suppose those personnel go straight to their offices and don't go to Starbucks themselves. The majority of the staff who do walk around are in cammies.

by belinkskaya on Jun 21, 2012 1:17 pm • linkreport

There's also the notion that when you dress nicely it shows respect to others. "I think this event/meeting/occassion is important enough for me to make an effort in my appearance". Yeah, its always easier to be more casusual - i.e. the sweatpants at work sounds to me like someone came to the office in their pajamas. Thats easy. It takes more effort to wear better clothes or even cleaner or pressed clothes even if they aren't finer (more expensive). I think its a sign of respect to others if someone makes the effort to dress up rather than down, which is always easier.

by Tina on Jun 21, 2012 1:21 pm • linkreport

RE comments like this: The idea that the clothes someone wears tells you anything about their knowledge or skills is archaic to the point of being absurd.

It's interesting to me that nobody has mentioned the psychological effect that putting on work clothes has on work productivity. There is research that suggests a link between how we dress and self-perception, which could translate into productivity/focus at work. There's also the subconscious effect that your dress has on other people, which would influence the work environment as a whole. If you go to a meeting with your lawyer and it looks like he just rolled out of bed, do you think the same of him as someone who was more put-together? Many of you probably think you are "above" such prejudice but some research would say your subconscious thinks otherwise! It's the same as advertising and other subconscious forces we may feel we are able to resist.

Not saying everyone should be showing up in a suit and tie to work; it's just another side to the coin.

by MLD on Jun 21, 2012 1:33 pm • linkreport

@ MLD:If you go to a meeting with your lawyer and it looks like he just rolled out of bed, do you think the same of him as someone who was more put-together? Many of you probably think you are "above" such prejudice but some research would say your subconscious thinks otherwise!

The only lawyer I've ever had pretty much wore business casual and helped me out perfectly. Much opposed to the suit and tie types that wanted $10k first, then kill my case and restart from scratch.

I work with students, and they really show up in everything (or worse, out of everything). Yes, clothing matters in a first impression, but fairly quickly after that achievement should take over. I've had very well-dressed students who are utter slackers, and very inappropriately dressed students who are way too smart. And vice verse. In the end, your appearance says little about your work ethics. As long as clothing is not too extreme, and body odor is under control, it's pretty much ok.

Also, nobody is suggesting that everyone should work in sport clothing. What we're discussing is what is appropriate at work considering the changing way people come or want to come to work.

Quite frankly, I often find it dehumanizing how corporations demand their people are dressed. I feel bad for all the women I see change between flip flops and high heels when they walk in and out of their office buildings. I feel bad for men who have to wear full suits in extreme heat or cold.

People claim that it's for the effects you mention, but in reality it's more about conformity and exactly the opposite: It sets stature, regardless of achievement.

Look for instance how in the medical world the length of your coat determines your place in the hierarchy. Or how in car dealerships, mechanics wear overalls, while salesmen wear business casual and the manager wears a suit. Usually though, it's the suits that screw you out of your money, not the mechanics.

by Jasper on Jun 21, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

I generally think of GGW as an intelligent and forward thinking blog, but this is just silly. Is it that hard to change your clothes once you get to the office? I don't want my public officials appearing on tv in board shorts and a fanny pack. If anything we should be encouraging the federal workforce to dress more professionally, not less.

by dcredhead on Jun 21, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

I ride a bike every day with a shirt and tie. Just because you are riding doesn't mean it has to be the Tour De France.

I kept in mind all the excellent advice to "ride slow" and that "you're not in the Tour De France" we've been getting here as I rode 35 miles into work this morning, but somehow I still got all sweaty. I can't imagine what I'm doing wrong. Maybe if I traded the Lycra and Coolmax in for a dress shirt and pair of summer-weight wool trousers?

:)

by oboe on Jun 21, 2012 2:29 pm • linkreport

@Jasper
The only lawyer I've ever had pretty much wore business casual and helped me out perfectly.
I thought I specifically said, "Not saying everyone should be showing up in a suit and tie to work"? Business casual is perfectly work-appropriate. It's what I wear to work every day. And I bike to work often. But there seem to be a bunch of people commenting who are putting out "Steve Jobs" and "Silicon Valley" as the example, as if everybody should be wearing acid-washed 501s and sneakers to work. Bill Gates is Silicon Valley too and he wears business casual.

Again, the article didn't set any sort of standard so everyone is making their own. If the article was complaining that too many places require business formal, I think that's off-base since very FEW places I know of require business formal and I think the comments here back that up. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've worn a suit to the office and it was for an outside meeting every time.

@oboe
kept in mind all the excellent advice to "ride slow" and that "you're not in the Tour De France" we've been getting here as I rode 35 miles into work this morning, but somehow I still got all sweaty. I can't imagine what I'm doing wrong. Maybe if I traded the Lycra and Coolmax in for a dress shirt and pair of summer-weight wool trousers?

The people we should be targeting to bike to work, those who are the easiest to convince to do so, probably live within 4 miles of work. And the reason they can be convinced to bike to work is that it's time-competitive, convenient, and doesn't require taking a shower when you get to work. So yeah, this advice doesn't apply to you; that doesn't make it completely irrelevant. Here's a survey done a while ago: http://www.bicyclinglife.com/Library/Moritz1.htm the median distance was 6 miles.

by MLD on Jun 21, 2012 2:52 pm • linkreport

The people we should be targeting to bike to work, those who are the easiest to convince to do so, probably live within 4 miles of work. And the reason they can be convinced to bike to work is that it's time-competitive, convenient, and doesn't require taking a shower when you get to work. So yeah, this advice doesn't apply to you; that doesn't make it completely irrelevant. Here's a survey done a while ago: http://www.bicyclinglife.com/Library/Moritz1.htm the median distance was 6 miles.

Thanks for the link; interesting stuff.

Though I still think in a region where an 80 degree summer day is considered balmy, and where we commonly get up into the 100s, not having a shower is a legitimate issue. And "Slow Down Lance Armstrong" is not a helpful response.

I guarantee I was sweating my a** off by mile 5 this morning. :)

by oboe on Jun 21, 2012 3:12 pm • linkreport

I pretty much agree w/ @Jasper As long as clothing is not too extreme, and body odor is under control, it's pretty much ok.

by Tina on Jun 21, 2012 3:22 pm • linkreport

I think we have to accept that if we want to increase bike commuting most of those people are going to be fair weather bike commuters. I know I am. Lots of people are not going to want to bike on rainy dreary days and that means they have to be people who have other options like transit. And if they have other options, that means they will choose not to bike on days like today (I took the bus).

I love my bike and love riding and I ride all over this city. If you can't convince me to be a rain cape-decked road warrior commuter I don't think you're going to convince many new people to go that far. I think there is a disconnect between what some current bike commuters think we should be pushing for and what is realistic. Some current bike commuters think "bike commuter" means "I bike to work every single day no matter what the weather" and I think we need to be opening things up a little bit more, even if those people may not show up in census journey-to-work data (which has problems).

by MLD on Jun 21, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

Is it really too much to ask that employees maintain a professional appearance, especially those being paid a professional wage?

Yes. It is. It is a burden that serves no real purpose.

by David C on Jun 21, 2012 3:41 pm • linkreport

I think its silly to try to determine the functionality that dress standards serve in every different organization. Not every firm is a tech firm - in some hierarchy is functional, in some (especially many govt agencies) signalling respect for rules is functional. All drive productitivy differently. What the author raised was the situation at certain large federal agencies, notably DOT, HUD, EPA, and HHS. I think we have established that most of these (at least USDOT and EPA) do not require coat and tie on any day of the week, any time of the year. They may frown on wearing shorts instead of long pants - I personally would rather my colleauges not wear shorts. I don't think wearing light long pants is going to be a problem for most bike commuters, and if it is, I think all those agencies have the facilities to accommodate changing to long pants.

So I don't think theres any issue here, in terms of what the author raised. We all know this is a warm city in the summer, and its getting warmer. But I think the agencies in question have responded to that. I don't see long discussions about how to make a K Street law firm more like Apple particularly relevant.

and for the folks with LONG bike commutes, in high temps, they are mostly going to want showers whatever the dress standards are, I suspect

by MStreetDenizen on Jun 21, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

+1 MLD.

What is great about working around the World Bank IMF is you see governmental (albeit non-US) workers biking to work in suits, usual attire and dealing with the summer.

Again, if you're biking 30+ miles to work you're doing it wrong. Find a job a bit closer to work -- say two miles. Otherwise give up on your biking. Rather like government jobs that tolerate people commuting in from WV or Fredericksburg. Bad idea.

by charlie on Jun 21, 2012 3:57 pm • linkreport

Clothes and hair styles are a huge obstacle to biking to work for women. I used to leave my office clothes at the office and carry the smaller items to work with me. A lot of people commute that way - even on the subway - in the summer.

by Capt. Hilts on Jun 21, 2012 4:08 pm • linkreport

@charlie
Don't conflate our opinions. I wouldn't say biking 30 miles to work is a "bad idea," it's a perfectly good idea if you want to do it. But most people won't. I have no idea why you would think getting that much exercise every day could be a bad thing though. That's just ridiculous.

by MLD on Jun 21, 2012 4:15 pm • linkreport

@charlie Find a job a bit closer to work

My job is extremely close to work.

by David C on Jun 21, 2012 4:19 pm • linkreport

@ MLD:I think we have to accept that if we want to increase bike commuting most of those people are going to be fair weather bike commuters.

It's interesting you mention that. It actually rarely rains in DC. I've actually kept tabs on this for a ull year, and found that during an entire year, I had to flee to a shuttle service 7 times due to (massive) rain. The rest of the year, I walked for 25 minutes twice a day. I got rained on once while walking.

The problem here is that weather forecasters have an interest in making the weather sound much worse than it is, so that you check back with them. They use these terms as 'chance of rain' or 'scattered T-storms' to make it sound we're all drowning. Government provided weather watches and warnings confirm this nonsense. Unfortunately, a lot of people trust their weather forecast or weatherbug on their desk top more than a look out of the window.

So, as long as you don't need more than half an hour or so, you can very safely bet that you're gonna be ok in the vast majority of cases.

by Jasper on Jun 21, 2012 4:21 pm • linkreport

Why is there always a double standard when it comes to the Federal workforce? I'm not talking about public officials, but rather civil servants. Why would you expect business formal attire from government employees but not of private sector employees? I don't see anyone in my office walking around in sweatpants or anything inappropriate. If that did happen, why not address the issue directly with the offender? Why is it necessary for men to wear a suit? What about khakis and a polo shirt screams unprofessional? I'm an adult. I know when I need to dress up. Just another (albeit minor) reason why a government career is unappealing to Gen Y.

by JoshFed on Jun 21, 2012 6:09 pm • linkreport

For women wishing to wear pencil skirts, use this pattern to "convert your skirt" for bike-friendliness: http://skirtsonabike.blogspot.com/

(also featured here: http://letsgorideabike.com/blog/2012/04/convert-your-skirt/)

by E A on Jun 21, 2012 7:31 pm • linkreport

Federal dress code? That has to be an oxymoron.

by Joe Flood on Jun 22, 2012 9:58 am • linkreport

Office dress codes are already relaxed as it is. Are we going to come in in jeans, polos and shorts next? I also don't see how business formal and business casual can't be worn while bicycling. I do it. It's fine.

by Kyle on Jun 22, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

Again, if you're biking 30+ miles to work you're doing it wrong. Find a job a bit closer to work -- say two miles. Otherwise give up on your biking.

First of all, I only live about 18 miles from work. The remaining dozen or so miles were completely superfluous.

Second of all, clearly different folks have different ideas about what it means to be "doing it wrong". Heh.

by oboe on Jun 22, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

@ Kyle:Are we going to come in in jeans, polos and shorts next?

Why not?

by Jasper on Jun 22, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

We don't have a dress code. In the time I have been here, which will be 28 years next week, things have gotten much more relaxed. Business casual is the norm.

I also commute by bike, every day, year-round. I shower and change at the office -- even if I could wear shorts and T-shirt for my job, I'd be too sweaty.

I wear a shirt and tie every day. I take my shirts to the cleaners up the street. (More often than not, I'm not going to iron them at home, so taking them to the cleaners in DC is just as easy.)

by jd on Jun 25, 2012 7:22 am • linkreport

Thanks for the blog post - It's not so much the official dress code but also the norm around here (DC). For those that can bike in a light suit easily, that's fine if you don't have more than a few miles to go each way. To expand the ability for those further-out-areas that have a 4-9 mi commute each way, it'd be nice to know that how I dress because of how I commute doesn't hinder my ability to be seen as a serious professional. Access to convenient* shower (*in the building at a reasonable price) is also important.

by Michelle on Jun 25, 2012 10:35 am • linkreport

From skimming the comments, I surmise that most cyclists can find creative ways to ride to work and still meet their employers' expectations about attire.

When I worked in the Federal Government over a decade ago, my agency had a dress code, but very few people consistently followed it. Because this agency is located close to Capitol Hill, I expected guys to at least wear ties, and many did, but others would show up in football jerseys and jeans. If this agancy were in Germantown, I would have different expectations.

However, do office professionals really want to come to work dressed like a construction worker or a tourist?

I believe that the degradation of office attire is being accompanied by degradation of etiquette and ethics, but I don't know of any studies that have confirmed this.

by The Civic Center on Jun 25, 2012 11:29 pm • linkreport

What would save more money and get people to bike to work is to eliminate the parking subsidy that many federal workers enjoy. Those savings could be used to retrofit buildings with showers so people can get their workout going to work and still wear a suit if the want to or need to.

by Steve on Jun 26, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport

RE: Monitored Comments:

After seeing my original comment deleted and noticing that my next 2 comments didn't make it past the censor, I guess I can assume that only "supportive" or "nice" comments are being allowed to be posted here.

But I will say this. As a co-owner of a government consulting firm, we have a dress code.

You want to bike to work? Fine. It's your choice. But you had better show up for work dressed properly. We're not lowering our standards - and client expectations - to suit your lifestyle. End of story.

by ceefer66 on Jun 27, 2012 10:53 am • linkreport

I agree with that comment, ceefer66, I just kept my workclothes at work.

What you bike in should have NO affect on what you work in. I cannot imagine working in the clothes I biked in.

by Capt. Hilts on Jun 27, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

The team from the consulting firm I co-own (NYSE: ACN) shows up at our agency clad in business causal or ill-tailored suits. Does the Restonian dress code account for the quality of their work? Would some morning fresh air and exercise help these temporary employees function better downtown? If so, we'd cheerfully provide access to showers, and allow them to wear whatever they wanted. I’ll bring it up at the next shareholders’ meeting.

by Sydney on Jun 27, 2012 3:03 pm • linkreport

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