Dress code

For the 2000 film released on video as The Dress Code, see Bruno (2000 film).

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Cannes Film Festival has a dress-code that requires men to wear tuxedos and women to wear gowns and high heel shoes.[1]

A dress code is a set of rules, often written, with regards to clothing. Dress codes are created out of social perceptions and norms, and vary based on purpose, circumstances and occasions. Different societies and cultures are likely to have different dress codes.

Dress codes are symbolic indications of different social ideas, including social class, cultural identity, attitude towards comfort, tradition and political or religious affiliations.


  • 1 Western history
    • 1.1 Europe
    • 1.2 The Americas
  • 2 Social signifiers
    • 2.1 Gender
    • 2.2 Social status
    • 2.3 Occupation
    • 2.4 Ethnic affiliation
    • 2.5 Religious affiliation
    • 2.6 Marital status
  • 3 Laws and social norms
  • 4 Private dress codes
    • 4.1 Workplace
    • 4.2 Formal wear
    • 4.3 Business casual
  • 5 Education system
    • 5.1 United States education
      • 5.1.1 Dress code violations
      • 5.1.2 Dress code backlash
    • 5.2 Canadian education
      • 5.2.1 Dress code backlash
  • 6 Rebellion against dress codes
  • 7 Inverse dress codes
  • 8 See also
  • 9 References
  • 10 External links

Western history


See also: Western dress codes, Sumptuary laws, and English medieval clothing

In seventh through the 9th centuries the European royalty and nobility used a dress code to differentiate themselves from other classes of people. All classes generally wore the same clothing, although distinctions among the social hierarchy began to become more noticeable through ornamented garments. Common pieces of clothing worn by peasants and the working class included plain tunics, cloaks, jackets, pants, and shoes. According to rank, embellishments adorned the collar of the tunic, waist or border. Examples of these decorations included, as James Planché states, “gold and silver chains and crosses, bracelets of gold, silver or ivory, golden and jeweled belts, strings of amber and other beads, rings, brooches, [and] buckles”.[2] The nobility tended to wear longer tunics than the lower social classes.[2]

While dress codes of modern-day Europeans are less strict, there are some exception. It is possible to ban certain types of clothing in the workplace, as exemplified by the European Court of Justice’s verdict that “a ban on Islamic headscarves at work can be lawful”. [3]

The Americas

The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast had a complex social hierarchy which consisted of slaves, commoners and nobles, with dress codes indicating these social distinctions. John R. Jewitt, an Englishman who wrote a memoir about his years as a captive of the Nuu-chah-nulth people in 1802-1805, describes how, after some time living there, Maquinna and the chiefs decided that he must now be “considered one of them, and conform to their customs”. Jewitt resented the imposition of this dress code, finding the loose untailored garments very cold, and attributed to them a subsequent illness of which he almost died. He was not allowed to cut his hair, and had to paint his face and body as a Nootka would.[4]

Social signifiers


Two men dressed in traditional Scottish wear.

Different cultures lead to different cultural norms as to what a man and a woman should wear. For example, in Indonesia, both men and women wear the sarong, a length of cloth wrapped to form a tube. The wrapper, a rectangular cloth tied at the waist, is worn by both sexes in parts of West Africa. The Scottish kilt, still worn at many social gatherings to establish a social and cultural identity, represents the height of masculinity.[5]

Social status

In many societies, particular clothing may be a status symbol, reserved or affordable to people of high rank. For example, in Ancient Rome only senators were permitted to wear garments dyed with Tyrian purple; and, in traditional Hawaiian society, only high-ranking chiefs could wear feather cloaks and palaoa or carved whale teeth. In China before the establishment of the republic, only the emperor could wear yellow.[citation needed][dubious – discuss]


Military, police, and firefighters usually wear uniforms, as do workers in many industries. School children often wear school uniforms, while college and university students sometimes wear academic dress. Members of religious orders may wear uniforms known as habits. Sometimes a single item of clothing or a single accessory can declare one’s occupation or rank within a profession.

Ethnic affiliation

In many regions of the world, national costumes and styles in clothing and ornament declare membership in a certain village, caste, religion, etc. A Scotsman declares his clan with his tartan. A French woman identified her village with her cap or coif. A Palestinian woman identifies her village with the pattern of embroidery on her dress.[6]

Religious affiliation

Example of traditional Muslim veil worn.

See also: Religious clothing

Different religions also have a certain clothing that are symbolic of their religion. A Jewish or Muslim man may display his religious affiliation by wearing a cap and other traditional clothing. A Jewish man may indicate his observance of Judaism by wearing a kippah. Many Muslim women wear head or body coverings (see sartorial hijab, hijab, burqa or niqab, chador, and abaya) that proclaim their status as respectable women and cover their beauty.

Marital status

See also: Visual markers of marital status

Traditionally, Hindu women wear sindoor, a red powder, in the parting of their hair to indicate their married status; if widowed, they abandon sindoor and jewelry and wear simple white clothing. However, this is not true of all Hindu women; in the modern world this is not a norm and women without sindoor may not necessarily be unmarried.

In many Orthodox Jewish circles, married women wear head coverings such as a hat, snood, or wig. Additionally, after their marriage, Jewish men of Ashkenazi descent begin to wear a talit during prayer.

Men and women of the Western world may wear wedding rings to indicate their married status, and women may also wear engagement rings when they are engaged.

Laws and social norms

Main article: Clothing laws by country

Model of a nude beach in the DDR Museum, Berlin

Each country has its own set of cultural values and norms. Wherever you go these norms and laws regarding clothing are subject to change depending on the region and culture. For example nudity is something that changes in acceptability depending on where you are. In New Guinea and Vanuatu, there are areas where it is customary for the men to wear nothing but penis sheaths in public. Women wear string skirts. In remote areas of Bali, women may go topless. This is uncommon in more western countries. Although in America and some parts of Europe, there are nude beaches.

In the United States, The Gender Nondiscrimination Act, prohibits employers, health care providers, and housing authorities from discriminating against people on the basis of gender.

Private dress codes

A visual on what Black Tie dress code looks like.

Many place have their own private dress code; these organisations may insist on particular dress codes or standards in particular situations. Such as for weddings, funerals, religious gatherings, etc.


Employees are sometimes required to wear a uniform or certain standards of dress, such as a business suit or tie. This may depend on particular situations, for example if they are expected to interact with customers. (see also International standard business attire)

In western countries these policies vary depending on the industry with lawyers, bankers, and executives often wearing suit and tie. Some businesses observe that anti-discrimination laws restricts their determining what is appropriate and inappropriate workplace clothing. Requiring men and women to dress differently at the workplace can be challenged because the gender-specific dress codes would be based on one sex and could be considered stereotypical.[7] Most businesses have authority in determining and establishing what workplace clothes they can require of their workers. Generally, a carefully drafted dress code applied consistently does not violate anti-discrimination laws.[8] So long as the dress code does not favor one gender over the other it is usually acceptable by law for employers to have a private dress code.[9]

Formal wear

In western counties a “formal” or white tie dress code typically means tailcoats for men and full-length evening dresses for women. “Semi-formal” has a much less precise definition but typically means an evening jacket and tie for men (known as black tie) and a dress for women. “Business casual” typically means not wearing neckties or suits, but wearing instead collared shirts, and trousers (not black, but more relaxed, including things such as corduroy). “Casual” typically just means clothing for the torso, legs and shoes. “Wedding Casual” defines yet another mode of dress, where guests dress respectfully, but not necessarily fancily.

Business casual

Main article: Business casual

Business casual dress is a popular workplace dress code that emerged in white-collar workplaces in Western countries in the 1990s, especially in the United States and Canada. Many information technology businesses in Silicon Valley were early adopters of this dress code. In contrast to formal business wear such as suits and neckties (the international standard business attire), the business casual dress code has no generally accepted definition; its interpretation differs widely among organizations and is often a cause of sartorial confusion among workers.

The job search engine Monster.com offers this definition, “In general, business casual means dressing professionally, looking relaxed, yet neat and pulled together.” A more pragmatic definition is that business casual dress is the mid ground between formal business clothes and street clothes. Generally, neckties are excluded from business casual dress, unless worn in nontraditional ways. The acceptability of blue jeans and denim cloth clothing varies — some businesses consider them to be sloppy and informal.

Education system

Many schools around the world implement dress codes in the school system to prevent students from wearing inappropriate clothing items to school and was thought to help influence a safer and more professional environment.

United States education

In 1996, former U. S. President Bill Clinton announced his support for the idea of school uniforms by stating, “School uniforms are one step that may help break the cycle of violence, truancy and disorder by helping young students understand what really counts is what kind of people they are.” Many school districts in the United States took up the idea.[10]

Even though dress code was created to positively affect schools, a common held belief in the U.S. is that the rules actually impede on students’ right to self-expression. There have been many court cases regarding school dress code, the first being the Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District. The case was held because students wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam war.[11]

Dress code violations[edit]

Non-communicative dress code violations in public schools are violations that are without implications of hate, gang-affiliation, etc.[12] Communicative dress code violations are violations of an explicit nature, where the clothing has implications of hate, violence, gang-affiliation, etc.[12] In cases where dress code rules in public school systems have been violated by non-communicative clothing, courts repeatedly legitimise dress code discrimination based on gender.[13] Amongst the transgender populations, gender based dress codes are primarily enforced against individuals who do not yet pass.[13]

Dress code backlash[edit]

Certain dress code restrictions in schools across North America are believed to be perpetuating sexist standards,

In March of 2014, a group of middle-school girls from Evanston, Illinois protested their school’s dress code, which prohibited them from wearing leggings to school under the pretense that it was “too distracting for boys.” Thirteen-year-old student, Sophie Hasty, was quoted in the Evanston Review saying that “not being able to wear leggings because it’s ‘too distracting for boys’ is giving us the impression we should be guilty for what guys do.” In a Time magazine article covering the incident, Eliana Dockterman argued that teachers and administration in these schools are “walking the fine line between enforcing a dress code and slut shaming.”[14]

On Monday, September 22, 2014, “about 100 pupils walked out of Bingham high school in South Jordan, Utah.”[15] Students staged a walkout because more than a dozen girls were turned away from a homecoming dance for wearing dresses which violated the dress code rules.[15] “School staff allegedly lined up girls against a wall as they arrived and banished about two dozen for having dresses which purportedly showed too much skin and violated the rules.” It is believed that this act was awkward and humiliating towards the female students, which spawned the walkouts.[15]

Canadian education[social_warfare]

Dress code backlash[edit]

A Canadian teenager, Lauren Wiggins, was given detention in May 2015 for wearing a floor-length dress with a halter neckline. The punishment prompted Wiggins to write an open letter to the school’s assistant vice principal at Harrison Trimble High School in Moncton, New Brunswick. In the letter, Wiggins concentrated specifically on the fact that females are often blamed for the behaviour of males, saying that if a boy “will get distracted by my upper back and shoulders then he needs to be sent home and practice self-control.” She was then given a one-day suspension after writing and submitting the letter.[16]

Rebellion against dress codes

There is a set of written and more often, unwritten laws and norms about dress code in many countries. The social attitude towards theses norms and their assumptions have led to backlash against these social norms and has become a traditional form of rebellion. An example of rebellion of general, universal dress codes is cross dressing. Cross dressing is defined as wearing clothing typical of the opposite sex.[17] This is a rebellion to dress codes, because it goes against most social norms of a general dress code for men and women.

In the United States, the “Free the Nipple Movement” is a global campaign seeking equality and empowerment for women when it comes to dress code. It emerged as a reaction to the idea that it was socially acceptable for men to appear without a shirt in public, whereas a woman appearing topless in public would be construed as indecent. The states of New York, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Ohio, and Texas have made it legal for both men and women to appear topless in public. The remainder of states consider the exposure of the female nipple to be an act of indecent exposure, putting them in a position where they can be charged with a criminal offense.

Inverse dress codes

Inverse dress codes, sometimes referred to as “undress code”, set forth an upper bound, rather than a lower bound, on body covering. An example of an undress code is the one commonly enforced in modern communal bathing facilities. For example, in the public bath SchwabenQuellen, no clothing of any kind is allowed in the sauna part of the resort. Other, less strict undress codes are common in public pools, especially indoor pools, in which shoes and shirts are disallowed.

Places where social nudity is practiced may be “clothing optional,” or nudity may be compulsory, with exceptions. See issues in social nudity.

See also

  • Academic dress
  • Clothing laws by country
  • Full dress
  • Dress clothes
  • Hemline
  • High heel policy
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Nudity
  • Smart casual
  • Social role of hair
  • Subculture
  • Sumptuary law
  • Sun protective clothing
  • Western dress code
  • Workwear


  • ^ “Is the Cannes Film Festival’s dress code sexist?”. thetylt.com. Retrieved 2019-04-08..mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:”””””””‘””‘”}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Lock-green.svg/9px-Lock-green.svg.png”)no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-gray-alt-2.svg.png”)no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-red-alt-2.svg.png”)no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/Wikisource-logo.svg/12px-Wikisource-logo.svg.png”)no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
  • ^ a b Planché, J. R. (1847). History of British Medieval Costume: From the Earliest Period to the Close of the Eighteenth Century. C. Cox. pp. 28, 32–35.
  • ^ Langdon, Vedder Price PC-Esther; Maude, Jonathan. “Dress Codes and Religious Symbols at Work in the EU | Lexology”. www.lexology.com. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  • ^ A Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt, only survivor of the crew of the ship Boston, during a captivity of nearly three years among the savages of Nootka Sound: with an account of the manners, mode of living, and religious opinions of the natives.digital full text here p161 onwards
  • ^ Kidwell, Claudia Brush; Steele, Valerie (1989). Men and women : dressing the part. Smithsonian Institution Press. ISBN 0874745594. OCLC 18069477.
  • ^ Gilmour, David (1983). Dispossessed: The Ordeal of the Palestinians. London: Sphere Books. p. 83.
  • ^ “Employee Dress and Appearance”. Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved 27 September 2017.(subscription required)
  • ^ Thomas, Robin. “Dress Code Legal Issues”. Personnel Policy Services Inc. Archived from the original on 14 March 2016.
  • ^ “Illegal Workplace Policies: Appearance, Dress Codes, and Grooming Policies”. www.employmentlawfirms.com. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  • ^ Bowen, Sherry. “Should Kids Wear School Uniforms?”. EduGuide. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  • ^ “School Dress Codes – FindLaw”. Findlaw. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  • ^ a b Herbon, Beth, and Jane E. Workman. “Dress and Appearance Codes in Public Secondary School Handbooks.” Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences 92.5 (2000): 68-76.
  • ^ a b Smith, Natalie. “Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in Public School Dress Codes: The Necessity of Respecting Personal Preference.” Journal of Law & Education; 41.1 (2012): 251-60.
  • ^ Dockterman, Eliana. “When Enforcing School Dress Codes Turns Into Slut Shaming”. TIME.com. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
  • ^ a b c Carroll, Rory. “Students protest ‘slut shaming’ high school dress codes with mass walkouts”. The Guardian. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  • ^ “High Schooler Lauren Wiggins’ Letter Nails Exactly What’s Wrong With School Dress Codes”. The Huffington Post. 14 May 2015.
  • ^ Cloud, Duane. “What is Cross Dressing?”. Study.com. Retrieved 27 September 2017.

External links

  • Majority of Americans Would Rather Die Than Take Their Clothes Off at the Wayback Machine (archived May 23, 2006) (Beach Buzz)


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and LingerieCoats

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Dress codesRelated

  • Clothing fetish
  • Cross-dressing
  • Fashion
    • Haute couture
    • Made-to-measure
    • Ready-to-wear
  • Laws
  • Terminology

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