Dressing To Impress Isn’t Always The Best Policy

, , , , | Working | CREDIT: Successful-Medicine9 | December 9, 2020

The shelter I’ve been working at for a couple of years now is over thirty years old and is quite notorious for keeping things the way it’s been since they opened. The daily notes are physically kept in binders, 1980s-style punitive measures are imposed on clients in conflict, and the electrical panels are labeled with cards that went through a typewriter. You get the idea.

The floor supervisor has been in the position for over twenty years. They emphasize that even though jeans are allowed, we need to strictly adhere to the dress code. That means button-up or collared shirts, no logos, only long pants/dresses, no hats unless you’re outside, no visible tattoos, etc. In other words, dress nothing like the vast majority of the people we serve.

Supervisor: “We’re meant to dress the way they should aspire to dress.”

I am told that other staff — including staff above my paygrade — have long hated the dress code and unsuccessfully tried to change it for years. None of them are bold little s***s like me, though.

Given my previous experience with underserved populations, I also know this is a terrible idea. Generally speaking, what people in these communities lack in financial resources, they make up for in their abilities to read people and navigate emotions. If they think you’re an authority figure or acting inauthentically, many will write you off outright. And for the most part, they have a great social and emotional radar.

The dress code says men’s shirts must, “…have visible buttons or a collar.” I sew two buttons near my hip on a plain T-shirt and wear it in. They say nothing the first time, but they have a meeting where they “aren’t pointing out anyone in particular” and update that specific part of the policy to prevent me from doing it again.

Next, I wear capris. After all, nothing about pant length is mentioned, either. This time, the code is updated and we are informed via email. Still, there is no one-on-one conversation about it.

A few months and minor malicious compliances later, our workplace gives us logoed T-shirts with the institution’s name and website on them. Hooray, we think! We will at least be able to wear T-shirts now. Nope. After a week of several coworkers wearing the shirts they gave us, we get an organization-wide email.

Email: “The [Company] T-shirts that were recently distributed do not comply with the dress code and should not be worn during work hours.”

Knowing me as the office rabble-rouser, several pissed off coworkers come to me independently to ask how they, too, can rebel. Enter this story’s biggest malicious compliance.

As a minimalist, I have no desire to hold onto a shirt that I would not wear. We had no input on the design or color of the shirts, and I simply do not need it taking up space in my closet. The most reasonable alternative would be to turn the shirt back in and explain that, so I do that.

[Coworker #1] is moving soon and doesn’t need an extra thing to pack, so she also turns hers in. [Coworker #2]’s partner hates dark green (the shirt’s color), so he turns his in. This happens all the way to twenty-five total employees, with some borrowing other’s excuses.

After five days, the supervisor has a box with two-dozen shirts sitting in his tiny office. He actually has to keep them on his desk, and I can hear him bumping his hand against them when he uses the mouse. Three months later, they are still there. He’s not dumb; he knows those shirts are an “F you” that lives in his office.

He cannot donate them to the shelter due to some other ridiculous handbook rule about organizational spending, and he bikes six miles to work, so driving them home isn’t a reasonable option. He’s tried putting them in general office storage, but his boss has said the shirts are the supervisor’s problem since he ordered them. Currently, he’s just stuck. We know it bothers him, but he knows he can’t bring it up since it’s his own rules that prevent us from wearing them.

There have been no dress code changes so far, but the top-of-the-year meeting regarding our handbook has “dress code” on the table. Three of the people who returned shirts are a part of that advisory board of five. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll finally be rid of some of the dumb, short-sighted elements of our dress code come February.

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