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  • 1.  dress code

    Posted 05-05-2017 11:11 AM

    We're updating our personnel handbook, and I've been requested to include a paragraph about dress code expectations. We've never had anything formally written down in the past, and we're in the middle of some rapid growth and all the accompanying growing pains -- things changing, new staff added, and a resulting need to clarify changing expectations. Does anyone have any tips or advice, or what has or has not worked for you? Things you would do differently if starting from scratch?


    Cedar Imboden Phillips

    Executive Director

    Hennepin History Museum

    2303 Third Ave South

    Minneapolis, MN 55404


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  • 2.  RE: dress code

    Posted 05-08-2017 08:05 AM
      |   view attached
    Hi Cedar,
    Dress codes can be tricky, because even though you may be tempted to be very specific on what is or isn't acceptable, you will find that it becomes an almost impossible task to create such a list.  My experience is that you need to be clear that a certain level of professional dress is required, (or perhaps not required - for example, "casual days"), and then have supervisors help convey these expectations to their own groups.  Ultimately, it would become a one-on-one conversation if there is a staff member who is having difficulty with compliance.  Of course, the senior staff members need to model the appropriate behavior.  

    I have attached our current dress code, which is somewhat the standard template for a dress code policy.  (Specifically paragraph two.) Please feel free to use this to help you create what works best for your organization and culture.  If you are interested in additional samples, there is an AAM/LMN HR Group whom I could ask to also share their policies.  Let me know!

    Thanks and Good Luck!

    Christine Engel
    Chief Human Resources Officer
    Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
    Hartford CT
    Leadership and Management Network, AAM


    Dress Code.docx   28 KB 1 version

  • 3.  RE: dress code

    Posted 05-11-2017 09:01 PM
    As a museum staff member, and consultant for over 25 years, I've never heard of a written dress code for museum staff.  Are there rampant incidents of unprofessional dress going on??  It seems to me that the director sets the standards of expected behavior, with the senior staff following along. If staff members are dressing inappropriately shouldn't this be handled with a quiet word within the department?  Normally new staff take their cues from their managers, if it is the managers that are the problem this needs to be addressed in a senior staff meeting. 

    Writing a standard dress code may be very difficult, many staff members wear a variety of hats and find themselves in a variety of situations in which a suit or a dress just doesn't work. They may be constructing exhibits, examining areas for pests, cleaning out storage units, painting exhibit furniture, working with mechanical equipment, or any number of messy jobs where "professional dress" is inappropriate or downright dangerous. When I am working as a registrar I may be using a plane saw one moment and asked to lead the university president on a tour the next.  As those cases occur unexpectedly I always keep a pair of jeans and sneakers and a professional outfit in my locker so a quick change can be made.

    I like the first paragraph of the dress code in the Wadsworth Athenaeum, but to suggest that staff will be reprimanded and sent home to change while docking their pay seems overly harsh.  Why not just have the department head tell new employees what the expected dress is and let it go at that?

    Dixie Neilson


  • 4.  RE: dress code

    Posted 05-12-2017 12:34 PM
    Unfortunately, written dress codes are necessary in most places. Having a written policy helps everyone to understand that it's a standard and expectation for all. If you are having to have the quiet conversation with just one staff member, it may feel to that person like he or she is being singled out. It keeps it all about the organization's expectations, not the particular whims of a supervisor. Sometimes, even when there's a written policy, you still have to have that side conversation, as I did recently, but I could base it on our articulated standards, not on my personal preferences. 

    In every work situation I've been in over 30 years, someone on the staff has needed help with understanding "business casual" or "professional" dress. Many times it's young people new to the workforce who just don't have any experience with professional settings. We also live in a world of fluctuating norms, and it's hard to know what a museum standard or professional standard might be if what they see on the street, Silicon Valley, the farm, or on campus is very different.

    It really helps if you can give staff context for and justification of the dress code, however broad or vague or strict it might be. Reminding them that they want our visitors focused on our ideas and exhibits and not on their body odor or cleavage usually works well as we know most people really want our visitors to have good experiences.

    Angie Albright
    Clinton House Museum
    Fayetteville AR

  • 5.  RE: dress code

    Posted 05-12-2017 12:17 PM
    I'll give a short answer. I've worked at two places that just said "Business Professional" with the occasional causal wear (i.e. jeans) for the occasional dirty work. But I understand there are different variations and circumstances that need to be address policy wise.

    Jakob Etrheim
    Collections Assistant
    Kandiyohi County Historical Society
    Willmar MN

  • 6.  RE: dress code

    Posted 05-16-2017 09:01 AM
    Officially, our dress code is business casual. Unofficially, we're allowed to wear organizational t-shirts, branded hoodies, sneakers, jeans/black pants. The only thing that is strongly enforced is closed-toe shoes. We also are expected to wear business professional when the executive council comes for their annual visit. :)

    Claire Aldenhuysen
    Museum Educator
    National Model Aviation Museum, Academy of Model Aeronautics
    Muncie IN

  • 7.  RE: dress code

    Posted 05-17-2017 10:27 AM
    Edited by Lisa Making 05-17-2017 10:28 AM
    We have a very specific dress code for our front-line staff who wear uniform shirts. All pants, shoes, and hats (worn only outdoors) must coordinate with the branded colours of the museum. There is some dabbling in hair colour, make up, piercings, and visible tattoos in our policy but we are pretty forgiving.

    When it comes the office areas however it really does depend on the role and I'm okay with that. As a director my attire can run the gamut from a formal suit to jeans and t-shirt depending on the day and what my tasks are...and shockingly those jeans sometimes get worn on a Wednesday!

    Dress codes are tricky business. Our communications person dresses in business casual for media while our designers dress to express their creative outlook. 

    If someone's clothing poses an OH&S issue, like exceptionally baggy clothes being worn around mechanical equipment or tools, that is one thing. But to tell someone who does data entry all day they can't wear jeans on a Tuesday seems wrong to me. 

    My suggestion is if you are questioning what someone is wearing, think about why it bothers you and then respond accordingly. I try not to pass moral judgement on anyone. We work in a creative field and I feel if someone needs to express themselves through their clothes in order to let that creativity flow, as long as it's safe, who am I to judge?

    Lisa Making
    Director, Exhibits & Communications
    Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology
    Drumheller AB

  • 8.  RE: dress code

    Posted 05-18-2017 08:39 AM

    What Lisa says below is essentially what we do at the MacArthur Memorial. Our frontline team has definite dress/uniform guidelines, but for everyone else I tell them "dress for the day you're going to have." That (including me) means anything on the spectrum from jeans and golf shirt to a suit depending on what's on my schedule. (As an example: on 5/18 I'll dress business casual, but be in a suit on 5/19 for our partner foundation board meeting.)


    On a related note, I tend to dress business casual as a default, and often wear our branded shirts. It seems to set the right tone in the office.


    Christopher L. Kolakowski


    The MacArthur Memorial

    MacArthur Square

    Norfolk, VA 23510





  • 9.  RE: dress code

    Posted 05-18-2017 11:35 AM
    A few years ago we started issuing general guidance for teen volunteers. We had an incident where a couple of them showed up dressed for a casual weekend at home instead of for helping out in public areas in a historic house museum. Since then, we have had a general statement that volunteers should dress, in effect, in business casual clothing, but we explain it in more detail since this is directed at our youth corps. We list what's appropriate and what's not, but tend to give leeway for stylistic choices within those guidelines. Behind it all, though, our approach has been that it's just to offer guidance to teens who may not have been in a situation where guidance was needed until now. All of this is contained in the teen volunteer information and permission forms.

    Sean Blinn
    Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House
    Bedminster NJ