My name is Vanessa Tan and I work as a secretary for an engineering company that employs about five hundred or so personnel. Specifically I work as the departmental secretary for Sales Support where I make travel arrangements, organise meetings and contractual conferences for about thirty senior engineers, managers and a director. We are the face of the company, and as such, there is a dress code we must adhere to.
Last Week - The New Dress Code
Office personnel are required to dress formally because of our high profile and the requirement to deal with our contractors, customers and the public. Men are required to wear a suit and tie and women are required to wear appropriate business attire. There are only four other women in my department and we pretty much wear what we like as long as we stay within the general guidelines of the policy. This all changed a few when Mike Harris assumed the Directorship of sales and marketing.
One of the first things he did was put out a memo redefining the dress code. The memo basically reiterated the firm's policy regarding the dress code for office staff, but went on to provide specific instructions regarding what was considered appropriate attire.
Not much changed for male employees, just a little tightening of the rules. For instance: suit jackets could be relaxed but were to be worn at all times when dealing with the public or customers, ties were to be worn at all times, shoes were to be black leather and polished, hair was to be neatly trimmed, and so on.
For women however the level of detail for was extremely specific and raised some consternation among the female office staff. In particular the memo specified that women were to be: 'appropriately coiffured and cosmetics were to be worn at all times, ' 'business suits with skirt and jacket combination are to be worn; pantsuits are not acceptable office attire!' 'shoes are to be of the pump or sandal variety, with a heel of not less that three inches, ' and 'hosiery is to be worn at all times and is to be sheer and no more than twenty-five denier; opaque hosiery and heavy-yarned tights are expressly forbidden!' The memo went on: 'hems of skirts are to rest above the knee when standing; and hosiery with snags or runners is to be replaced immediately."
When the memo was circulated, the women in my department called a meeting in the staff lounge and voiced their anger at the dress policy. To be fair, most of the women dressed pretty much in accordance with the new policy anyway but they were annoyed at the specifics being levelled at them and most wanted to wear pantsuits and opaque tights in winter. They appointed me the spokesperson and sent me off to see Mr Harris to represent their complaints. Of course the twenty or so men who worked in the office had already had good laugh at our expense and even though they were not too happy with their revised dress code, they realised it was nowhere near as stringent as ours.
"Good luck Vanessa," Steve Bouvier smiled over the top of his computer screen.
I gave him the finger as I strove down the aisle to Mr Harris' office. Steve was nice enough guy but he well known as the office lecher. He took every opportunity he could to look down a blouse or up a skirt and was known to make the occasional inappropriate remark to the female staff.
I knocked on the door to Mike Harris' office.
"Come," he barked through the closed door.
I entered the office and closed the door behind me. Mike Harris had his head buried in a large file and waved at the chair in front of his desk. I sat down and studied him while I waited for him to address me. We had met Mike briefly when he first joined the firm but this was the first time I had been alone with him. He was in his forties and quite handsome, he was of slim build and had dark hair with a few wisps of grey streaked through it. He was wearing an Armani suit, with a crisp white shirt, his jacket hung on a hanger on the wall. He finally looked up and addressed me.
"Ms Tan, why do I have the pleasure of your company this afternoon?" he gave me a beaming smile.
I smiled back and gave him a precis of our complaint; that we thought the dress code he had implemented was far too draconian. He just sat there and nodded and smiled patiently while I vented.
"Finished?" he said when I finally stopped talking.
"Yes," I stared at him somewhat defiantly.
"You know why I've been given the Directorship of Sales and Marketing don't you?" he started.
"Because I'm good at what I do; I increased sales by twenty-five percent at my last firm."
"One of the reasons I'm so good at what I do is because I micro-manage every facet of my department," he went on.
"Sales staff are the public face of this firm and I will decide how they present themselves to the public. If you and the rest of the female staff are not happy with the revised dress code there are plenty of women out there who will take your jobs. We are in a recession if you haven't noticed!" he finished.
I was flabbergasted! I had never been spoken to so forcefully before. I was quite speechless and sat there dumbfounded. Mr Harris had returned to his report and was ignoring me.
"Is that it? Is that what I'm to take back to the staff?" I said incredulously.
"Oh sorry; are you still here?" he looked up again.
"Erm, tell all the staff that the new dress code starts Monday. Everyone gets one warning; then if they break the dress code a second time I will consider dismissal!" he went back to perusing his report.
I was shaking with anger but knew that to continue to argue would be pointless. I stood up to leave and was about to do so when he addressed me again.
I was halfway to the door and turned around.
"I expect you to lead by example as my senior Department secretary," he said.
"What on earth do you mean!" I crossed my arms and stared at him defiantly.
"Well let's start from the top and work down," he began.
This is probably as good a time as any to describe myself. I'm in my early thirties and of Asian descent, I'm about five-ten, medium-slim build, with long black hair which I usually wear up in a bun at work. I have small pert breasts but very long legs which are by far my best asset. I would describe myself as attractive and tend not to wear a lot of makeup as I have good skin and well defined facial features.
I was wearing a navy-blue skirt, white cotton blouse and cheap generic-brand taupe pantyhose. I had worn black, flat-soled shoes to work for comfort that day.
"Please; go on!" I said indignantly.
"Well you have lovely hair but it should be combed out and worn on your shoulders; your bangs are fine but need to be trimmed so we can see your delightful eyes better."
"You have a pretty face for a woman your age but you need to wear more makeup. Some eyeliner, mascara and eyeshadow to accentuate your lovely almond eyes, some rouge on your well-defined cheeks, and some nice red lipstick will help your emphasise your sensuous lips."
"Cotton blouses are for schoolgirls! A nice satin, silk, or rayon blouse will help enhance your small breasts but emphasise your narrow waist. Wear a tight fitting jacket over the blouse."
"That skirt looks ok; it shows off your hips and buttocks to advantage but it is way too long and those horrible flats have to go," he finished and gave me a smug grin.
I was fuming!
"Too long! My skirt is too long!" I seethed.
"Yes now lift the hem for me please," he said.
"What???" I hissed.
"For demonstration purposes; let me show you something," he smiled.
I couldn't believe that I acquiesced to his request; it must have been the shock but I found myself slowly raising the hem of my skirt. I stopped at the knees.
"A little higher please," Mike went on.
I lifted my skirt about four inches above my knees and stopped.
"Lovely well-defined legs. Slim ankles, nice calves and knees, and just a hint of what I expect are magnificent thighs. All ruined by your cheap hosiery by the way," he said.
"That is the longest I expect your hem of your skirt to be worn and buy some decent hosiery; I recommend Hanes, L'eggs or Donna Karan sheer-to-the waist pantyhose in flesh tones; they will show off your legs splendidly!" he beamed.
I dropped the hem of my skirt and looked at him defiantly.
"I'm going down to the Personnel Department to lodge a complaint as soon as I leave this office!" I bellowed.
"Feel free Ms Tan. You should be aware that the Personnel and Legal Departments have both reviewed my memo regarding the dress code and are in full agreement that it meets the firm's charter and rules and regulations for employees," he stated smugly.
"Now you can either comply with my directions or you can proceed to Personnel to pick up your last pay check," he bent his head back to his report indicating that I was dismissed.
I fumed my way back to the staff lounge and reported to my fellow female colleagues that I was sorry but they had no choice; they either capitulated and complied with new dress code or looked for employment elsewhere. I did not mention the dressing down that I had personally received at the hands of Mr Harris; I was too embarrassed!
The women squawked and whined for a while but they knew that jobs were scarce and that we were all in well paid positions and that our wages were well above what every other firm was paying. Eventually we all settled down and were ready to proceed back to work.
"At least we can take some comfort in knowing that the guys have a strict dress code too!" I tried to console them.
.... There is more of this story ...