Tacoma officials are drafting City Hall’s version of “What Not to Wear,” which could debut next year.
In: A shirt and tie, a city uniform or a sport coat for men.
Out: Flip-flops, shorts and logo T-shirts.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax announced the creation of a dress code at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, explaining that the city’s “business dress standards” will reflect attire “that is commensurate with the positions that we hold as public servants.”
The standard for men could mean a clean uniform or a shirt and tie. City officials haven’t provided any examples of what the standards might be for women, except that they will be “pretty straightforward,” according to Joy St. Germain, the city’s human resources director.
St. Germain also said the standards will follow “common judgment” – a yardstick that concerns a local union leader. Alice Phillips, business manager for IBEW Local 483 which represents some city clerical staff, janitors and customer service employees, said dress codes are not unusual in workplaces, but they are anything but straightforward because standards are subjective.
“It becomes kind of difficult to define. What is a low-cut shirt? Do you have a really conservative boss? I don’t know. How would you measure that?” Phillips said.
When it comes to dress codes, she said, “I’ve found the shorter the better.”
Broadnax said some of the specifics will have to be bargained with some of the city’s 26 unions, because changes in uniforms are considered a change in working conditions.
The dress standards are part of a broader city-initiated customer service initiative, which will include rearranging some city offices and limiting public access to parts of City Hall.
“When people come into this building and you are an employee, they need to recognize you as an employee and not a visitor in this building,” Broadnax said Tuesday. “I don’t think you should be wearing flip-flops and shorts, or shirts with (a printed logo) on them like you’re going to the gym.”
Councilman Robert Thoms said he is not aware of any complaints about city workers’ dress. He said Tuesday was the first he heard of the proposed standards.
“Frankly, I don’t know why this is an issue,” he said. “Nobody brought this to me.”
Nadia Chandler Hardy, assistant to the city manager, said not every change is prompted by beefs from the public.
“We don’t necessarily need a complaint or a history of complaints to do something that is naturally expected and is an expectation of employees,” she said.
Councilwoman Lauren Walker said that a while back, she heard rumors of one proposed requirement for women: pantyhose. Broadnax said Friday he doesn’t intend on making hose mandatory.
Walker knows how touchy clothing mandates can be. Girls were first allowed to wear pants to school when Walker was in junior high school in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
“They told us that we couldn’t wear jeans. We girls took care of that” – by wearing jeans, she said.
“We don’t want to have a dress code at the city that is going to bring out the devil in all of us and give us something to fight,” Walker said. “It will need to be very balanced.”
Broadnax said Friday that the standard will be simple.
“I don’t think there will be a requirement to do anything other than dress professionally, or if you wear a uniform, to make sure your uniform is in good condition and that you are wearing it,” he said.