Thongs Need Not Apply…

There was an article in the Denver Business Journal that caught my eye recently – “Generations clash over tattoos, body piercings in the workplace”.   So, what is all the fuss – especially in Denver (not the most conservative of towns)?  Essentially the article talked about tattoos and piercings becoming more mainstream and how employers are dealing (or not) with the shift in attitudes about body art.  The question was posed – what will dress codes look like in 30 years when the tatted-out employee becomes an executive?

Hmmm….ok, you should know up front that I do not believe in dress code policies. Too often “managers” hide behind a dress code vs. stepping up and truly managing people.  I do believe in treating people like adults and calling them out if they show up in sweats, a thong showing or a vulgar t-shirt. I also believe in talking openly about how the way you dress (including visible art) impacts initial impressions and whether you’ll be hired for a customer facing role. I worked in luxury hotels – and had no problem telling an applicant that they’d have to remove the decorative gold tooth if they wanted to work the front desk. If they were interested in a back-of-the-house role, no problem.

Bottom line, I don’t believe the way you dress/look impacts your ability to perform, but I do recognize and respect that in some organizations and in certain jobs, you have to dress the part.  Personal freedoms aside, if you want to excel in a customer facing role you’ll need to cover up the tat or take out the piercing.  So, in 30 years I hope dress codes have gone the way of paper applications and disappear from our vocabulary all together – which hopefully means we’ve taken personal accountability for how we present ourselves, and those in management roles truly know how to manage.

I’ll also confess I have a slight exception to dress codes when it comes to what people wear to the gym.  I’m a YMCA gal, so you would think I’m not going to be too shocked….yeah, you would think.  A glimpse of what I saw just this morning (while listening to Saving Abel’s “New Tattoo” – awesome track btw):

  • Muscle man in a tight tank and short shorts.
  • A woman with a bra top, skort, visor and full make-up.
  • Yoga man who insists on putting himself into inappropriate poses (in spandex) on the mat where everyone else is doing sit-ups.

The bright side – at least we’re past the 80’s/90’s where women would prance around in leotards, leg-warmers and thongs. Now I get to see women whose lower back tattoos have gotten a bit larger…perhaps the thongs weren’t so bad!

FOT Background Check

Kathy Rapp
Kathy Rapp is the President of hrQ, where she helps companies find groovy HR Talent or HR Consultants to drive business results.  Prior to joining hrQ, Kathy booked more than 15 years of human resources leadership experience working for such companies as Morgan Stanley and First Data Corporation.  A connoisseur of the intersection between pop culture and business, Kathy believes many talent issues can be addressed via the succession planning lessons experienced by Van Halen  (David Lee/Sammy and sadly, Gary Cherone).


  1. MarisaKeegan says:

    Great post! I especially liked when you said that 30 years from now we can only hope that people “take personal accountability for how we present ourselves, and those in management roles truly know how to manage.”
    …I also enjoyed the throwback to leotards, legwarmers and thongs. Those were the days.

  2. Kathy Rapp says:

    Thanks, Marisa – I appreciate your comment. I also should have mentioned the braided headbands…but I think I actually wore one of those!!

  3. Joshua Letourneau says:

    Kathy, this was a funny article – great visualizations 🙂
    You know, I’ve been seeing a distinct shift from the Wall-Street era of suits and ties to a time when individuality is more celebrated than it used to be.
    For example, if you pick up a recent issue of Fast Company, you’ll see movers & shakers wearing designer jeans, $500 boots, and a colorful t-shirt under a designer blazer/sportcoat.
    I used to wear suits all the time, but I find myself wearing them less and less because I find them as too “desperate to appeal to the norm.” And the irony is that I was more inclined to wear a suit at 24 yrs old than today at 34 yrs old.
    Yet, there are times when I see things taken too far as well. Face piercings, mohawks, huge neck tattoos, etc. are always a no-no. And while women wearing jeans that ride so low we can see their thong hanging out might be great for the male-species morale at the company . . . do these ladies really think they’re going to put themselves on the fast track to promotion?
    I’m suggesting, along with you, that there have to be some limits . . . and if you have to think twice about what you’re putting on, wearing, etc., you’re better off just changing 🙂 Unless, of course, it’s Casual-Friday and you work for Fat Tony’s Gentleman Club 🙂

  4. Kathy Rapp says:

    Thanks, Josh – and I agree with your additional thoughts. Early in my career I was told to “dress for the role you want vs. the role you’re in” and I actually never minded dressing up in suits. I still think it is sound advice for folks junior in their career.
    Bottom line – people just need to use common sense regarding their appearance and HR should just say no to being the “dress code police” in their orgs!
    Oh…and women should NEVER get lower back tatoos….not sexy when it stretches and grows as you do!

  5. I’m looking forward to this developing more–Washington DC already prohibits employers from discrimination on the basis of personal appearance, which is seemingly very broad, but most worrisome to employers is that the candidate doesn’t have to show that their personal appearance was a determining factor, just that it was considered.

  6. Kathy Rapp says:

    Thanks for the comment Louis….and interesting indeed!

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