Summer Dress Codes & Male Oppression

If you are not helicoptering your way to the Hamptons on summer Friday afternoons, you are probably a worker bee who takes the subway to work. Summer in NYC is an extreme sport. How do you dress for it? Subway platforms hit 100+. Street pavements melt. Shoes stick to sidewalks. Sun ricochets off glass buildings.

Thankfully, most offices have summer dress codes. Women, as I see it, are the primary beneficiaries. Skirts, sandals, sleeveless blouses, and capri pants all fall within the bounds of acceptable attire. They are breezy, light, and carefree.

But men’s clothing options are more limited. Suit and tie are the only thing that will do for a client meeting. And today’s men’s suits are strongly tailored and fitted. Breathing room there is not. I feel really bad for men. Some days I even offer to give up my seat on the subway for them.

As a hedge against poor summer workplace fashion choices, Adecco surveys people about what they consider inappropriate attire in the workplace.

The list includes:

  • Shorts – 59% of respondents
  • Ripped Jeans or Jeans With Holes – 79% of respondents
  • Flip Flops – 76% of respondents
  • Strapless Tops or Dresses – 72% of respondents
  • Backless Tops or Dresses – 72% of respondents
  • Short Skirts/Mini-Skirts – 69% of respondents
  • Hoodies – 65% of respondents
  • Leggings – 49% of respondents
  • White Socks With Black Shoes – 47% of respondents
  • Sneakers – 44% of respondents

Career consultants and HR professionals also weigh in on the discussion of dress. “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have” or “You work how you dress.” So they advise caution when picking out summer casual clothing.

But something absent from the discussion is that no matter how men and women dress, gender pay gaps stubbornly remain.

Adecco shows us this in a clever chart detailing men and women’s fashion by decade as well as their salary since the 1950’s.

You know what? Women’s salaries lag far behind men’s, no matter the decade. Women made the most headway between the 80’s and 90’s (going from 60 to 72 cents for every dollar a man earned). This was when women’s fashion shifted from power suits to mix-and-match, tailored separates. But between the 50’s and 60’s women’s wages dropped from 64 cents to 61 cents. Is it because we weren’t wearing white gloves and hats to work? Women’s pay, like cullotes or puffy shouldered dresses, seems subject to the whims of fate, in a way that men’s pay is not.

Today we make the most we have since 1950, 73 cents for every dollar earned by a man. But last I checked we are doing the same jobs, at the same rates of productivity. So what gives? Is there an unspoken surcharge involved with a wider array of summer clothing choices for women? No economist I know has yet floated that theory, but it seems plausible.

Trying to explain the gender pay gap might be the equivalent of trying to explain UGG’s in summer or the rise of hobo-chic. One cannot do it.

So for now I will continue to pity men in suits in the summer. But maybe I won’t offer them my seat on the subway anymore.