Fashion is subjective, and not just the artistic designer clothes you see in glossy magazines. What you’re wearing today might make you cringe 10 years from now when you flip through your photo album. To be accurate, when you flip through your Facebook photo albums on your featherweight glass tablet. Take a look around at the people walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant and you can probably find a few things wrong with what they’re wearing. A yellow shirt that used to be white. Socks with sandals. Pajama Jeans.
While workplaces usually have their own wardrobe guidelines, many employers leave specifics up to individuals. The hope is that workers can use common sense. Of course, not everyone’s definition of common sense is the same, so inevitably someone wears a Van Halen shirt to an important conference and suddenly everyone’s forced to wear a uniform. Then no one’s happy as they walk around in their white and beige clothes five days a week.
Still, when the oppressive summer heat rolls into town each summer, the fashion world and real life once again collide. Workers, dripping in sweat on their morning commutes, wonder, “Can we wear shorts to the office?”
And suddenly everyone is a fashionista with an opinion. Some people think shorts are never acceptable in the workplace. Others think it’s fine if you work in a zoo or sporting goods store, but not if you work at a law firm. Then you have some people — including many southerners who consider a “cool” day any day that doesn’t reach 115 degrees — who believe any wardrobe that prevents overheating is essential.
Because fashion is subjective and every workplace has its own guidelines, no one person can give a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to the question. Tom Ford, king of fashion, thinks men should never, ever wear shorts. Yet designer Thom Browne thinks you can wear shorts as part of a suit. If those two can’t settle the issue, then we’re not going to cast a vote.
Instead, we took to Facebook and Twitter to ask you, the workers and career experts, what you think about shorts in the workplace. It sounds like a silly topic at first, but people feel passionately about it. To some people it’s a workplace sin; to others it would make them much more comfortable for 40 hours each week. The responses were adamant and abundant. Here are a few of our responses:
First we have the yeas.
“Yes yes yes.” – Pam Richardson
“It’s OK unless you want people to pass out from heat stroke.” - Patrick P.
“I had the great fortune to work for 17 years at two amazing companies that allowed shorts at work. Apple Computer and Hewlett-Packard. I feel that employees should be allowed to wear shorts providing that they look nice, (no cut-off jeans) and a nice polo/dress shirt (no ratty looking T-shirts). Of course if you are in a sales/marketing or high level executive position you might want to continue with the standard business dress until the rest of the world catches up.” - Gary K.
“You’ll miss a lot of parcels if you refuse to let the UPS guy in shorts in the front door.” - Gail C.
“I work at a university, so our dress code is very relaxed. I pretty much wear whatever I want to work. I figure if they want me to wear long pants then they will provide me with a clothing allowance so I can purchase them.” - Kevin L.
“I would love to wear shorts to work, but it’s such a taboo thing – and I don’t know why? Shorts can be professional too!” - Corey H.
“Ummm, I’m wearing them right now. They are professional and very suitable for work. Promise.” - Tamera D.
Now, the nays.
“NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” - Charlotte W. [Note: Extra Os and ! included to preserve Charlotte’s passionate tone.]
“In HR and I say nope, if it’s in a professional business setting office. ‘Why?’ you ask. To cut down on issues in the long run because all it takes is one person not to know what ‘nice’ shorts means or what ‘professional length’ means, etc.” - Amber T.
“No. The best is business casual or dress down Friday. But not shorts.” - Jan S.
“No shorts to work. Not even when worked in Mohave Desert at [135+] degrees.” - Rose B.
“Nope not professional. I think ladies can wear dresses, and men should go for short sleeved shirts and lightweight pants.”- Tracey S.
“If companies allowed it, I think people would do it. There are some very nice, almost prof. looking shorts out there.” - Stella N.
And then the “Well, it depends…”
“It depends on the workplace, and if you meet with outside clients.” - Jeff F.
“Not at the office, but at a construction [site] – like where I work – would be appropriate.” - Steve C.
“Shorts (mid-thigh) are OK for delivery people who are often out in the heat of the day, in the summer. Inside an office they are not appropriate. Unless ‘skorts’ make a comeback (knee length split skirts) women should never wear them to work!” - Stephanie B.
“The appropriate shorts for the office are ones that are cut just below the knee or longer. They should not be of denim. It should be the shorts version of dress pants.” - Andra G.
“It depends on how much you deal with the public, or how much the public sees that half of you. I work in fast food; the public only sees us 90 percent of the time from the waist up. For this reason shorts are permitted but with guidelines on length, color, and material. Besides standing in front of three ovens all day gets hot. I for one don’t like sorts and don’t wear them though.” - Andrew O.
“For FedEx, cops and U.S. Post Office.” - Laura G.
“I work for a commercial insurance company in Boston. Wearing shorts at work is definitely dependent upon the nature of the business. In professional settings it would depend whether you meet clients in your office or not. We have an appropriate policy which allows for shorts only on Fridays during the summer season unless you have a client meeting that day. Shorts do have to be appropriate in length and style. After the summer season we can wear jeans on Fridays only. Other than that we are business casual.” - David F.
“Some places don’t allow shorts or some summer weight pants in order to maintain a professional environment. I can appreciate this concept except during this intense heat.” - Jennifer M.
Meanwhile, over at our sister Twitter account, @CBforEmployers, Amy wondered, “Shorts… what about JORTS? #kidding #maybe” And with that tweet, she proved why companies have strict dress codes. First it’s shorts, then jorts (also known as jean shorts), then Jams, and then garbage bags with arm holes cut in them.
We gave you our six guidelines for summer wardrobes, which are good rules to abide by for many workplaces. But that doesn’t mean they work for every single job and industry. Share your thoughts on wearing shorts to work. Is it a yes, no, or depends kind of situation for you?