Proper Business Attire Under The Dome

Katy Grimes: Earlier this week, Assembly sergeants-at-arms began notifying women that a new policy now requires them to wear a jacket or sweater to enter the chamber.

Apparently not all of the gals around the Capitol have been adhering to decent dress policy codes.

Duh. But it’s not just the visitors to the Capitol who violate appropriate dress policies; too many female Capitol staffers look more like they are headed for a cocktail party, or the beach, than a business meeting.

And before staffers start sending me nasty emails, it’s not all Capitol staffers. But you know who you are.

As long as I am critiquing certain Capitol staffers for their attire, a few female legislators could pick up a Talbot’s catalogue as well, and emulate the appropriate business attire.

Last week anyone in the Senate chambers saw a female Senator wearing tennis shoes and socks with her dress. So what? She had to walk to work, you say? Most women bring their dress shoes with them and slip into them upon arrival at work. Sore, tired feet are comfortable in nice looking low-heals as well.

Another female legislator was wearing a dress that looked more like a muu-muu, with a sport coat over it, bare legs and open sandals. It did not look professional.

And just like Assemblywoman Lori Saldana who said in a Sacramento Bee report, “I’m old enough to remember when I had to wear a dress to school,” so am I. In fact, so are many of the female legislators. Relevance?

However, many of the elected women always look professional, still look feminine, and set an excellent example for other women in the Capitol. Assemblywomen Alyson Huber and Diane Harkey are always attired nicely, professionally and tastefully. Sen. Christine Kehoe always dresses professionally, appropriately and tastefully. Assemblywoman Anna Caballero always looks tasteful, professional and stylish. And each of these women have very different styles.

The irritation comes from not being able to address the offenders directly. Because of hypersensitivity to discrimination and harassment laws, as well as strict workplace labor laws, men and women are uncomfortable talking to employees about something as sensitive as appropriate workplace attire.

I know. I worked for 20 years as the Human Resource Director in a large manufacturing company. Not only was I responsible for dictating and enforcing the appropriate dress policy for the company, it fell upon me to talk to female offenders.

I’ve had far too many conversations in my professional life with women about appropriate undergarments, the length of skirts, what the difference is between business attire and what cocktail party clothing, and why wearing a visible thong to work is not a good idea. Ugh. I even once had to tell a young women that she needed to wear undergarments regularly… even on hot days.

Saldana’s reaction to the dress policy was ridiculous: “So when I heard this could be happening again my response was, ‘Do we have to break out the burqas?’ ”

A dress policy is merely about dressing appropriately, and respectfully. And that’s all it’s about. It’s not about expensive clothes, or dictating style – it’s only about appropriateness.

And while the Assembly sergeants-at-arms are at it, maybe they could talk to a few Capitol staffers about casual dress-down Fridays… absurdly casual attire is often reflected in the work quality and attitude. Other people still trying to conduct business on a Friday are turned off by flip flops, shorts and t-shirts in a business office.

Posted Aug. 27, 2010

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