Illustration of diverse office workers

How Dress Codes Feed Systemic Racism

Workplace dress codes reinforce the systemic structures of oppression in which we all live.

There may be good intentions behind setting a professional dress code for your workplace. However, dress codes have and continue to be used as tools of oppression. It’s important to recognize the historical influence of racism attached to these workplace standards.


Traditional dress codes work to police certain kinds of bodies. They ensure that employees follow the practices of the dominant culture. Under the guise of professionalism, dress codes tend to punish marginalized groups of employees for refusing to conform.

On the surface, dress codes seem to only focus on styles of clothing and so they are treated as neutral, colour blind measures. When considering the groups of people that have adopted certain styles —baggy clothing, athletic attire and brimless headgear (like du-rags and bandanas), for example—it’s clear that these policies target the dress of some cultures more than others. Black employees continue to be disproportionately impacted by workplace dress codes.

When trying to set a dress code for your workplace, consider having a diverse decision-making group compose your guidelines. Representation matters. Identity-diverse decision-making groups are better equipped to protect against racist enforcement of stereotypes and biases.

Employees shouldn’t have to conform to the norms of the dominant culture in order to succeed in the workplace. A business suit isn’t what makes a good employee.


Want to keep learning? Listen to the first episode of Just One Q with Dr. Melissa Horne, a Learning Snippets podcast and sign up for our weekly Sunday Snippets newsletter to stay up-to-date on best practices for diversity, inclusion and equity in the workplace.

Try Learning Snippets FREE

See how easy it is to activate DEI, Leadership, and Collaboration soft skills in your organization.

Recent Posts

Try Learning Snippets FREE

See how easy it is to activate soft skills in your organization. Soft skills training on 3 key topics: DEI, Leadership, and Collaboration.