When Republican representatives at the Missouri State House recommended establishing “a good, modest, conservative dress code” for college interns, their Democratic colleagues immediately shouted them down—and for good reason. The suggestion was in poor taste.
Those lawmakers in Jefferson City should’ve worked to tailor a policy that allowed the offices of individual members to set their own standards. After all, mandatory dress codes have no place in a democratic society.
You’re Tacky And I Hate You
Public moralizing has never suited Republican lawmakers. Cut from a progressive cloth, administrators always assume they know better than individuals. Blinded by this condescension, they inevitably rely on coercion rather than persuasion.
An annoyance when applied to something trivial like dress codes, this nanny impetus creates trouble when employed in more serious circumstances. Just like vice squads in bedrooms, fashionistas have no place in our closets. A major faux pas, the wardrobe malfunction in Missouri—and other prudish policies like it—hurt the limited government brand. If Conservatives really care about liberty, they should promote policies that allow individuals to act for themselves.
Recoiling with visceral horror at the thought of short skirts and untucked shirts, some will object, arguing that decency will suffer without a uniform standard. But arbitrary one-size-fits-all policies are designed to fail. More gorgeous co-workers will always flaunt the rules. And while that’s not fair, that’s life.
A better, more just policy actualizes society’s unwritten rules. It leaves individuals free to choose but also responsible for the consequences. By this rubric, all should live and let live while also expecting and accepting judgment.
Get Out Of My Closet But Not Off Your High Horse
Remember that episode where Seinfeld wore the puffy shirt? Or the press conference where President Obama sported a tan suit? They’re hilarious gags and cringe-worthy presidential gaffes, not because either flouted codified dress regulation, but because they should’ve known better. They broke accepted fashion expectations and suffered society’s scorn.
This phenomenon applies not just in 1980’s New York or the White House but everywhere, and especially for young people starting out.
A true cliché, first impressions count. Science reveals that those first few seconds after meeting someone determine a lasting stigma. Common sense bears this out. More than a fashion statement, one advertises his professional intentions by clothing choices. Dress like a slob and people will treat you that way. Opt for the clean-cut look and you’ll do your career a favor.
One doesn’t have to spend like a Mad Man or develop a fashion sense like Tom Ford. He just has to follow that fatherly advice of dressing, not for his current job, but for the future career he wants. And more than anything, it requires effort.
A clean shirt and pressed slacks are more than business professional. They’re essential to demonstrating responsibility, ownership, and respect. Enforce a mandatory dress code, and that effort evaporates. Like forced philanthropy or obligatory volunteerism, it reduces the extra mile into a meaningless charade. When the latter occurs, everyone loses.
Act Like A Mentor And Colleague Not A Parent
Students at universities and work-study are looking for opportunities to distinguish themselves, to show they’re capable. Let them. Instead of cracking rulers and handing out demerits according to a published dress code, supervisors should respect their interns enough to let them dress themselves.
Measuring hemlines and double-checking double Windsors are activities best reserved for parents of middle-school students not for supervisors of college interns. A brow beating for jeans leaves much more of an impact and provides an opportunity to learn.
I figured this out while in college. Wearing yoga pants or sweats to class wasn’t unusual. But it wasn’t the norm either. Most kids wore collared shirts; hell some even sported ties. But everyone suited up for an interview with administration or a dinner with the president.
We weren’t obeying a dress code, only high expectations. And because we were treated like adults, we acted accordingly.
Of course each situation and setting requires a specific approach. But just like it’d be laughable for a Wall Street banker to demand that the kid behind the cash register dress to his expectations, so it’s also ridiculous for one state legislator to demand his colleague’s intern meet his personal requirements.
Conservatives should think twice about railing against the way kids dress these days. Rather than imposing an arbitrary and exacting dress code, supervisors should mentor when necessary and treat interns like adults always.
Philip Wegmann is a Staff Writer and the Radio Producer for The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter.