Stamp out sexist dress codes

Amelia Bartrip

Nicola Thorp, a receptionist at accounting and consultancy giant PwC, has bravely spoken out after management sent her home without pay for refusing to wear high heels.

It is debilitating to work on your feet in high heels. It is also sexist, requiring women to conform to a restrictive and stereotyped ideal of feminine appearance. Portico – the employment agency which provides PwC’s receptionists – sets these guidelines for women only, not men.

Like many women, I have also experienced discriminatory guidelines regarding my appearance at work.

When I was a temporary worker at Harrods – like Nicola, recruited through an agency – men and women were told to maintain a high standard of personal grooming. But it was only women who the agency told to turn up on their first day with “immaculate makeup”.

Harrods also provided new staff with a “style guide”. Women were told to set aside time for grooming, keep trousers long “for a slimmer bodyline”, manicure nails, avoid fake tan, keep eye makeup light to avoid looking “vampish”, and encouraged to wear red lip-stick.


Apparently bad breath is an exclusively female condition, as only women were advised to “brush your teeth or use mouthwash”.

I was on a low-hour contract, only guaranteed ten hours a week. But I had to use several hours’ of hard-earned money to keep up with Harrods’ unrealistic standards.

I knew I could do my job just as well without makeup, but thought if I did not conform then other workers would be prioritised for shifts over me. In the current climate, lots of women are in precarious employment, which makes it difficult for us to challenge discriminatory practices.

It is essential that women participate in combative trade unions.

Dress codes should only exist where they are essential to be able to carry out the job properly and safely. But bosses use dress codes against both women and men workers as just another way to assert control.

By organising together through trade unions workers can take back control, including pushing back these sexist, outdated practices.