Blogger Alexa Newman

Workplace Dress Codes – Does Your Library Have One?

The next two weeks at work are a couple of my favorites. You would probably assume the reason for this is because of the holidays: time off, free treats to be found everywhere, and most everyone is in a good mood.

In reality, they rank up there because my library is running a Jeans for Charity event. Two or three times a year, our staff is allowed to wear jeans in exchange for a $5 minimum donation to charity. A different charity is selected each time. Past beneficiaries include animal shelters, Family Alliance (a health service), and a battered women’s shelter.

Alison Tseng and Alexa Newman, Youth Services Librarians wearing Jeans for Charity.

Why, Alexa, (you ask) are you so excited to wear jeans?  Because my library has a dress code. A dress code that prohibits blue jeans, shorts, sneakers, t-shirts with writing (other than our SRP shirts), and backless shoes. It is probably best escribed as business-professional.

I do enjoy dressing well and have no complaints about our policy. That said, there are days when I really wish I could wear a pair of jeans. Today is one of those days. It’s 3 degrees Fahrenheit and there is snow on the ground. So I’m feeling extra lucky that I could suit up in my favorite jeans, a tee & nice jacket, and boots. Besides Jeans for Charity days, we are also occasionally encouraged to wear clothing supporting our professional teams when then make it to the playoffs.  (Go Cubs!)

We didn’t always have such a formal dress code. When I started here over 12 years ago, we could wear jeans, shorts, and backless shoes. When the new code was implemented the biggest upset was over the banning of backless shoes. But policies change and we learn to adapt.

The last time I had such a formal dress code was when I was a teacher and when I worked as a sales clerk in a high end department store 25 years ago, give or take. As a teacher I was required to wear a dress at least 3 days a week. And the retail dress code was even more stringent and dictated women wear hose, makeup, have manicures, and “appropriate” jewelry. It also required women to wear jackets if they wore pants. I don’t know how this would fly in today’s world, but it was de rigueur at the time.

Do I think having a fairly strict dress code is necessary to do my job well?  No. Do I think a business-professional dress code should necessarily be adopted by other libraries? No. Does looking professional mean that a person will act professionally? No.

But I do believe that first impressions are important, and that appearing professional does benefit me when engaging with patrons and the public, especially for the first time. For me, at least, having a business-professional dress code has been beneficial.

I would be interested to hear from those of you in Library land – do you have a dress code in your workplace? What is allowed? What isn’t?  Would you argue in favor or against a dress code?

Share your thoughts. I’m curious to know what you think.

Meanwhile, I’ll be enjoying my opportunity to wear jeans and help a local charity at the same time.


  1. Shirley

    We have a business casual dress code in my library system. Jeans are accepted and several library staff dress very causally (almost to the extreme).

    I dress up every day. It makes me feel good and believe it or not, it makes a big impression with the people I work with – my external customers. They treat me differently – with more respect – and I know it is because of the first impression I make by the attire I choose to wear.

  2. Shellie

    We are unable to wear jeans at work. Some of us are required to wear a lab coat when in public areas, which sometimes saves us from having to worry much about what we wear but it also makes it feel kind of pointless to dress very nicely. As a co-worker once said, “and then you put on the lab coat and nothing matters anymore.” I am pretty ambivalent about the lab coats, honestly. They do have nice big pockets, which is kind of great. Does anyone else have to wear something specific at the library?

  3. Holly

    Hi Alexa! Over at CLPL we cannot wear jeans, shorts, or capris. We are also only allowed to wear the current SRP shirt during the SRP and never again, a policy that is fairly strict. The dress code wording is “a professional appearance” but that term, like the term business casual, seems to be defined slightly differently by each individual person.

    However, the backless shoes are okay! I did specifically ask about their shoe policy on my first day just to be sure.

  4. Richard Baker

    I am at a government school in Australia and the range of dress for teachers varies quite a bit. If you are a PE and sports teacher, you will need to bring warm clothes for sport as quite a bit of time gets spent outside and it does get chilly. Many teachers that are not PE teachers at my school wear jeans on a regular basis. This being said, it is important to remember, that like any profession, you dress for the job you want, not the one you have.

  5. Pingback: Beauty, dress codes, and fashion: Examining twenty fictional White female librarians – Pop Culture Library Review

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