Dress code: clashing print day!

This WSJ article depicts a Japanese brokerage firm’s efforts to incorporate American employees of the now-defunct Lehman Brothers. Here’s an excerpt from the article, which shows the difficulties of integrating companies and practices:

“Some Nomura managers interpreted strictly the company’s dress code for women. They told women joining from Lehman to remove highlights from their hair, to wear sleeves no shorter than midbicep and to avoid brightly colored clothing, according to several people who joined from Lehman. Several women were sent home from the trading floor for dressing “inappropriately,” these people say.

“I was sent home for wearing a short-sleeve dress, even though I was wearing a jacket,” says one woman who says she plans to leave as soon as she receives her final guaranteed bonus payment.

Nomura’s human-resources department changed some women’s email addresses to their married names, from their maiden names, without asking which names they used professionally, according to the people who joined from Lehman.

The Nomura spokeswoman says the dress code is displayed on the company’s intranet and is intended to ensure that clients and colleagues don’t feel uncomfortable. The email addresses were changed because of a problem during the transition process, she says, adding that she doesn’t know whether the complaints about them have been addressed.”

I could comment about many things about these reported practices. For instance, Nomura seems to suffer from over-organizing’s coercive control: the gendered responsibilities, the sanctioning of those who don’t conform to a strict dress code, and the changing the maiden name to a married name (in academia, many of us don’t change our last names, in part, because we have a professional identity as published researchers).

However, since I am in NYC, a fashion and finance capital, I will focus only on the dress code issue. Obviously, the Nomura managers have never tried to shop for women’s career wear – if they had, they would know the difficulties of finding flattering items sans color. A lack of official dress code is one of the many reasons why I chose to work in academia – a stint at a discount retailer store, in which I had to wear pantyhose, made me swear that I would never, ever work at a place that demanded hosiery as part of its dress code. Life is just too short to stuff yourself into plastic, unless it’s for, uh, fun.

Just for contrast: instead of “casual Fridays,” the Burning Man organization had “animal print” or “clashing print” days.

Tip for the Lehman folks under the new regime – want subtle ways of dissenting at work and undermining an overbearing boss? Read:
Yuko Ogasawara’s (1998) Office Ladies and Salaried Men: Power, Gender, and Work in Japanese Companies. Berkeley: University of California Press.

2 Replies to “Dress code: clashing print day!”

  1. In an overarching sense, it’s nice to have the rules actually specified in print, that way they can be legitimately and legally contested. In many, if not *most* situations, the rules are vague and unspoken, and one is required to have the social sense that they are being broken. Not having that social sense becomes a reflection on one’s sense of judgment, and lack of fashion judgment is rightly or wrongly used to imply lack of professional judgment.

  2. Jim is right about how specified rules can help protect people, as well as provide a basis for starting a dialogue about what’s in/appropriate.

    In under-organized workplaces where rules are not specified, employees have little guidance. They may unknowingly break an unspoken norm and then suffer the consequences. Or, they cannot demand accountability from management because rules or procedures do not yet exist.

    On the other hand, in over-organized workplaces, some people will selectively use rules to punish others or stall activities, demoralizing would-be agents of change.

    Ensuring that rules enable people’s efforts is a tricky balance.

    – Katherine

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