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What Message Do Our Dress Codes Give?

May 3, 2022
5 minute read

May is here (finally), warmer days are getting nearer (hopefully!). Is it time to time to swap out the winter clothes for some of our summer favourites? - What can we wear to work now? 

Dress codes in early years and play settings has always been something that I have felt very strongly about - and the rules are different in every single setting! With the seasons changing, and the clothing that we will be wearing to work will surely be changing too.  

The first thing I think about when I think of some of the settings that I've worked in before are the expectations that the senior management team have on the way the practitioners present themselves.  

Many many moons ago now, right at the beginning of my leadership journey, I was working a very niche and high end setting. They were absolutely brilliant in so many ways - and one of the first of setting of their kind. I had just been promoted from a level 2 practitioner to a deputy manager (room based) - what a jump, right? I was finally involved in recruitment and was so excited to have some input into the process.  

With us being so unique we always had lots of applicants, which meant lots of interviews and trial shifts. We had interviewed a male practitioner (and we all know how thin on the ground they are!) He absolutely smashed his trial shift - he had a huge group of children engaged, he was qualified, knowledgeable and by all accounts SO MUCH FUN!  

The kids absolutely loved him. He was very tall, large with a long scruffy beard - he dressed smartly for his interview, and when he came back for his trial shift he was wearing baggy/distressed jeans, trainers and a t-shirt that had definitely seen better days.   

Needless to say, regardless of his brilliance, he wasn't offered the job because "he didn't look the part". We ended up with a female practitioner that looked the part, was quite good on the days she could be bothered (when she was there), and who eventually just stopped turning up for work one day. 

At this same setting we had no uniform, yet we had a student on placement who was called into the office for "wearing too much make-up", and I was even once called in because I "didn't dress like a deputy should." 

There was a strong level of judgement on our appearance and it made me extremely uncomfortable. I work best when I'm comfortable, wearing my scruffs, and not too concerned about the variety of "yuck" I'll get covered in throughout the day - I mean, I wasn't office based, I was room based so was still very much elbow deep in jelly baff and custard play most days.  

Now this was going back quite a few years, however I still wonder what the expectation is in settings in regard to dress codes, and what message we are sending to the children with our policies.  

A positive self-image is something that we try to promote to our children. To allow them to express themselves and make independent choices about their style and individuality. And of course, this should be celebrated! 

Our settings all have a "brand" and this can be reflected in their uniform. But are we allowing the staff to model how to appropriately express themselves, and celebrate their own unique style and individuality? Or are we expecting our entire team to be a carbon copy of each other on the outside, yet promote how everybody is different and how that should be celebrated amongst our settings? 

What are your setting rules on tattoos, piercings and hair styles? Are staff free to have a crazy colour on their head?  

I am personally a big fan of body art, and like to change the way I look from time to time. I have tattoos (in places that can be hidden). However, I've ALWAYS wanted a chest piece - working in early years I was put off as I thought I'd be made to cover it up, or wouldn't be offered jobs because of it.  

What are your thoughts on piercings?  

In my younger days I had a few - 11 to be precise, (I feel I'm too old to pull of an eyebrow and belly button piercing these days), however, I took many of these out throughout my early years journey at the request of the settings I worked in.  

Was this down to a "health and safety" requirement, or did they just not like them? 

What is appropriate summer wear? Shorts and a vest? Light trousers and a t-shirt? Do we expect staff to cover up completely, or is there an acceptable middle ground? 

What clothing items are deemed as not safe? Why? do you have a uniform? Is it compulsory? 

Over the coming month or two, I urge settings to take a look at their dress codes, work with their teams, and make sure that you have a strong and clear dress codes that celebrates diversity and individuality whilst meeting your brand requirements, keeping safe, and ensuring the staff team are happy, comfortable and confident - whilst still being ok with getting covered in cornflour, paint and boogers.  

Please download our FREE dress code survey to share with your teams as a consultation tool to inform your latest Dress Code Policy, and share your thought, stories and successes on our Facebook page! 

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