Dress code issues: when does trying to 'stand out' in the workplace cross the line?
There is an expected etiquette when attending a formal event, which is to follow the dress code as prescribed on the invitation
Would you wear a swimsuit to a “formal” event? Most probably, you wouldn’t. More so, if you are hosting such an event it is highly unlikely you would welcome someone so inappropriately dressed.
There is an expected etiquette when attending a formal event, which is to follow the dress code as prescribed on the invitation. In the region it often reads ‘black tie or national dress’ indicating unequivocally that the host expects you to wear either a tuxedo or khandura.
In jest, I asked one of my friends, “What would you do if I showed up at your ‘black tie’ event wearing my swimming trunks?” “Unless you were the entertainment, I would send you back home to change…”, was the response.
Unfortunately, there will likely be those few guests who simply downright ignore the preferred dress code and arrive wearing whatever they feel like. Maybe they want to make a point by ignoring the preference of the host.
At least that is what the US First Lady Michelle Obama did on her visit to pay respects for the late King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. She ignored the host country’s dress code in an attempt to make a point, which she did to her home audience.
There is a debate swirling around the right or wrong of the way she dressed. Should she have worn a traditional abaya as is the protocol of the country? Instead she made what some called a bold political statement. But the question is, should she have? Some say she stood up for women’s rights, and others expressed their anger at her disrespect in refusing to honour the Saudi custom.
To be fair, she is not the first Western woman to have met a Saudi monarch while abandoning tradition. But we do need to note that each of them did have diplomatic immunity given their positions. If they did not have immunity, would they have been so bold?
Watching this unfold made me wonder, “Who showed more respect — Michelle Obama or King Salman?”
A gracious host will excuse the appearance of the uninformed among them, hoping they will learn from their oversight. As for the wilfully inconsiderate, the host’s congeniality need last only as long as the evening does. Refined guests display their respect for their hosts by choosing attire that meets the requirements.
If you don’t want to dress for the occasion, simply send regrets. Someone else’s event is not the place to express your ‘rights’ or opinion through your attire. Save that for your own event. To do otherwise is shameful as it tells the host in no uncertain terms that their preferences are unimportant to you.
They have put a tremendous amount of effort into making the evening exceptional and are relying on you to show equal respect by being properly attired. Yet there always seem to be those who feel the party is all about them and they can dress as they please.
If you are tempted to make an ironic statement, carefully consider this advice, ‘Don’t try to impose your style’. You might think you are sending up a message but you are really just being rude.
And avoid arguing that denying your expression in favour of another does makes you a fake or inauthentic. It actually shows a constraint that is the ultimate display of honour.
This column is not only about Michelle Obama, it is about every person, including you and I, who fails to show respect by deliberate action, accidental decisions or inaction.
Respect is about being attuned to and considerate of your host’s tastes. Which brings us to the leadership point that we can all learn from. The workforce is full of expats for whom it is easy to practice colonialism, the superiority of ways.
Some consciously impose their views on others, similarly to how Michele Obama did. She disagreed with the host country and loudly expressed her opinion through her actions.
Others erringly impose their views. As an example, I heard an expat who has been in the GCC for decades describe in detail how wonderful his ‘full-English breakfast’ is and how he cannot imagine starting a day without the trimmings.
Among his country-mates that is fine. But for others who avoid non-halal food, it was downright insensitive.
Who showed more respect? The one who allowed the indiscretion.
By: Dr. Tommy Weir
The writer is a leadership adviser and author of ‘10 Tips for Leading in the Middle East’ and other writings. Follow him on Twitter: @tommyweir.