So we’re getting a new employee dress code at work.
I am thrilled. Can you tell?
Actually, for the most part, I’m only academically interested since most of the specifications are ones that make sense to me and are ones I’ve been doing since forever ago anyway.
Clothing free of holes, rips, or tears.
No clothing that depicts drug use, violence, profanity, or nudity.
Denim on Fridays only.
And my favorite — Shirts and blouses must have “appropriate coverage.”
I’ve already sent the appropriate in-work contacts because I really would like a more concrete definition of what they think this means. While I certainly understand why it’s important for professionals — especially, especially professionals who work with minors — not to dress in a way that showcases titties,** I’m leery of the specific phrase “appropriate coverage.” I’ve seen it mean way too many things to different people — different enforcers.
And enforcers apply it differently to various people and bodies.
For instance, is “appropriate coverage” equivalent to the line I’ve seen in some student dress codes over the years detailing that a shirt is out of dress code if one’s bra or bra straps is visible beneath it? The shirt is one variable in that equation, but the bra is another. Generally speaking, a full cup is higher cut than a balconette, which in turn is generally higher cut than a plunge. And a full cup bra in a full bust, plus size may be downright industrial compared to a full coverage bra in a smaller size.
For some folks — read: my friends and I when we were in high school — it’s much easier to switch to lower cut bras )or no bras) than it is to wear higher cut shirts. Still following the letter of the law.
Or is “appropriate coverage” akin to “no visible cleavage,” a line I’ve also seen in dress codes? However, just as bra visibility is determined in part by the individual bra, so is visible cleavage determined in part by the individual breasts. Someone with smaller, shallower, or lower set breasts could wear a fairly deep V-neck without ever showing what is commonly considered cleavage. On the flip side, someone with larger, more projected, or higher set breasts could end up showing cleavage with a top that’s much more “covered.”
Moreover, the amount of visible breast tissue that’s noticed can vary depending on who’s doing the noticing. An uncomfortable thought at best.
My personal favorite “appropriate coverage” definition comes from a school where I student taught. Shirts and blouses were allowed to be no more than a certain number of inches (in this case, two) below the collarbone. It’s objective, concrete, measurable, and difficult to manipulate. (Changing bras is one thing; changing collarbones is quite another.) Just like in the short skirt tests I experienced in high school, rulers don’t lie.
Only, just like the short skirt tests I experienced in high school — It is possible to be told one’s clothing is “inappropriate” even when it objectively, concretely, and measurably falls within the rule. Again, two inches of someone’s larger, more projected, fuller on top, or higher set breasts look a lot different than two inches of chest with a different breast size, shape, or placement.
And what follows is a measurement ritual and resulting conversation that is more than uncomfortable. It is shaming.
And that is why I write this now.
Not because I’m looking for reasons to bare my bosoms at work.
Not because I distrust my site level administrators. (Who I am sure have higher priorities than becoming the V-neck police. Or the scoop neck police. Or the, “Why can’t you all just wear turtlenecks? Arizona in August is not that not!” police.) But a teacher new to my school may not know that yet, or — for all I know — may have had an experience with one of them that gives reason for mistrust. Moreover, I don’t know current administrators at most other schools, and I have no idea what future administrators could bring.
Knowing that my school principals (both when I was a student and when I was a teacher) could decide my clothing is inappropriate is scary and a little invasive. This has been true for me even when my clothing has been in line with a clear and explicit dress code — and when I knew my clothing has been in line with the school’s policy, when I could and did demonstrate their error. It’s scary because that’s not always enough.
And if it’s that unsettling when there’s an explicitly delineated “allowed” and “not allowed,” I can only imagine it being that much more awkward when the standard is the vague and variable “appropriate coverage.” I certainly don’t need to agree with all the rules and regulations, but knowing what they mean would be nice.
** Another reason this caught my attention: To the best of my knowledge, we don’t actually have an issue with this in our district. Unless there are egregious issues going on that I don’t know about (possible), I have to wonder if this was tossed in as an afterthought or to advance someone’s personal agenda (also possible).