The Glass Closet, What Men Cannot Wear to Work

Mark Gordon BrownStarred Page By Mark Gordon Brown, 4th Mar 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Business>Ethics

Are you aware that a double standard between men and women exists in regards to employment in the retail and hospitality industries? In some areas this double standard favors women over men? Find out about the glass closet and how it affects the lives of those caught in it.

The Glass Ceiling

Most people have heard the term Glass Ceiling that refers to the level at which females can no longer advance in their employment status. This is an injustice no question, however in North America most people of either sex never reach that level in their employment status. The glass ceiling is fairly high up and is not surpassed by many men either.

On the lower levels of the employment staircase there are actually levels where unfair practices and values exist in favor of women over men. One such practice is what I call The Glass Closet. If you are a male that works in the retail or hospitality industries and your place of employment does not have designated uniforms you will most likely experience the dreaded Glass Closet.

What is the Glass Closet

The glass closet is that imaginary box which surrounds what is acceptable of a man to wear if he is working at a position in retail or hospitality. This glass closet may also exist in other areas of employment, however I am only familiar with it in my own experiences in the retail and hospitality industries.

Women are allowed a much freer dress code than men in these two areas of employment. We will begin with what is acceptable for a man to wear in the retail or hospitality industries. Dress pants, a dress shirt, and dress shoes. It is often preferable, and sometimes mandatory, for the dress shirt to have long sleeves. A man may be able to get away with jeans if they are black or they work in a store selling jeans. Sometimes a jacket and tie is required for men in either the retail and hospitality industries. There is no leeway in the area of footwear as dress shoes are the only thing that is accepted. Even hot that day men are usually not allowed to wear sandals. On a cold day he may be lucky and may be able to get away with wearing a sweater.

See the Difference

Outside of this glass closet women get to enjoy a wide range of clothing options for the the work place. In the summer time a woman if it is a hot day can where sandals, capris, short sleeve shirts, and sometimes even shirts without sleeves at all. A man could never get away with wearing a sleeveless shirt in these industries even if the kept their armpits shaved, yet women do this quite often. I have seen women of all ages wear shorts to work in summer.

In the hospitality industry a man can only get away with shorts if it is a part of his uniform or if they are the hotel’s lifeguard which only happens if the male in question has good legs that are naturally smooth or shaven. When it comes to footwear again women have more options as they can show up to work in sandals, runners, or open toed shoes. If a man shows up in anything but dress shoes he would give the appearance of being on holiday or not caring about his job. It is just not accepted.

Women allowed a bit more freedom when the snow is falling as well. For example, if it is a very cold day and a man’s feet are cold at work he must endure wearing his dress shoes that usually are not very warm. Women on the other hand can wear dressy boots that are warm. Men do not have the same choice as they are stuck with freezing dress shoes no matter what the climate conditions are while they are on shift.


When it comes to workplace practices sometimes women do have more freedoms and advantages than men and The glass closet is one of those areas. Will this glass closet ever begin to crack like the glass ceiling is beginning to? That remains to be seen, however I have my doubts as personally I would not feel comfortable in the workplace dressed in any other way that what is acceptable now.

This admission is coming from a man who at times in his life was involved in Punk Rock and Goth Culture, and dressed fairly extreme. In spite of that I will say that the way men are expected to dress in the retail and hospitality industries should remain as they are. I feel it shows respect for the consumer or guest. I am okay with this imposed value as on my days off I can dress however I please. This article was only meant to point out a double standard, as well as to get women to appreciate a freedom that they have in society that men do not.

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Clothing, Difficulty, Double Standards, Employment, Hospitality, Males, Men, Retail, Rules, Uniform, Women, Work

Meet the author

author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
Raised in Michigan, I have a son who recently joined the Military. I am living in Canada with my wife where we have a hobby farm.

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
4th Mar 2014 (#)

Nice read!

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author avatar Jerry Walch
4th Mar 2014 (#)

A very interesting and informative read. Made some good points, Mark. I never thought much about this subject before.

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author avatar Ptrikha
4th Mar 2014 (#)

I like the way you have compared the two.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
4th Mar 2014 (#)

In Asia too I have seen women having more choices in terms of dress while men stick to conservative dress codes in office, universities and in outdoor areas. Men have not innovated much and the fashion trends do not percolate down to common man's level. But women tend to adapt faster. The difference in style trends are quite stark at workplaces. Maybe, men are more self-conscious! Women exchange ideas more easily while men play it safe! Relevant point of view, Mark and well highlighted - siva

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author avatar joyalariwo
4th Mar 2014 (#)

Never thought of it too Mark .... brilliant compare.

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author avatar Songbird B
4th Mar 2014 (#)

This is certainly thought provoking Mark, as I always thought men had it easier in some ways. Like you, I have worked in hospitality for many years, and although in today's more liberal environment there seems to be much more leeway for women in the hospitality trade, in my day they were pretty strict. Shoes had to be court style, no open toes due to health and safety, and no bare midriff on display either, or shorts. It was long-sleeved shirts and knee-length skirts within the restaurant business. You have certainly given me food for thought, no deliberate pun intended! lol \0/x

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author avatar Retired
4th Mar 2014 (#)

Interesting article, Mark. Copy writers have plenty of leeway! I used to wear suit and tie when I did society photography or attended meetings. But, when I gave up photography to focus only on copy writing I switched to jeans and open-neck business shirt with rolled up sleeves. No tie or jacket and no complaints, although some people did ask me why I didn't have long hair and an earring. I always wear polished black leather shoes. Hair and shoes have long been the way people are assessed in England and I continue to follow that principle.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
4th Mar 2014 (#)

Its the shades Mark, really who would wan to work with someone wearing them? There are also differences between UK and Europe and Europe and North America, and probably between Canada and USA as well.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
4th Mar 2014 (#)

what a fascinating read Mark...I never thought that such disparity between mens and womens work clothes existed...thank you so much...

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author avatar Blake C. Patria
5th Mar 2014 (#)

As always, this is a good one, Mark! I'm always really fascinated in society's gender assignments.

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author avatar Anto
21st Oct 2014 (#)

I'm indignated, instead :).

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
5th Mar 2014 (#)

Good morning, Mark, interesting read and I appreciate the title. I am old enough to remember when girls could not wear pants to school - now that is old. However, I am also of the generation that burned our bras believing that this demonstrated our disregard for rules in dressing. I also had a great personal lesson in clothes. I was summoned to a judge's office however, I told him I could not come right then as I was planting flowers and not dressed appropriately for the court house. There was a long pause, and then he asked me if what I was wearing would alter my words. I thought about it and told him, no, however, it would make a negative impression on the attorneys in his office. I changed into a suit, and yes, I wear a bra now :) Thanks for a trip down memory lane, and on our days off, we will wear or not wear what we like. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Carol
9th Mar 2014 (#)

This is very interesting Mark, it's something I had never thought about until now, thanks so much for highlighting it.

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author avatar DaddyEvil
18th Mar 2014 (#)

I work in retail, Mark. I know exactly where this article is coming from and going.
I do wear dress shoes with my khaki pants and dark blue dress shirt.
During warm weather, the women can/do wear open toed shoes with sleeveless tops and capri pants.
I still get to wear the same type outfit, no matter what the weather.
Thank you for an interesting read!

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author avatar n.c.radomes
12th Apr 2014 (#)

This helps me recollect the dress code required of us male and female in the workplace some years back while still in my prime years. Indeed your observation is gospel truth, women do enjoy more freer clothes, shoes, etc. Now and since January 2002, I can say I'm already liberated and can wear more freer clothes to my taste and liking because I'm already retired from government work. Thank you for the vocabulary GLASS CEILING and GLASS CLOSET.

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author avatar Anto
21st Oct 2014 (#)

Thanks so much, then you are ok with the status quo now, because it shows "respect" to the customer. And respect means what someone is used to see?
I'm a feminist men, but in the old sense of feminism, which mean equality for both sex, which reads better as antisexism nowadays. So, if you are ok with this standarts, you should still support the instances of those who are not ok with it, men or women.
Read this as gentle, even if it might sound blunt, I only want to point out am "imho" fallacy of your reasoning. You say that *you* feel comfortable with how this double stantard, but I have to point out that by saying it means respect to customer, your personal being ok with this situation expands to others who are not ok, as if they would be not respectful to pretend the same style flexibility, just because customers might not be used to this freedom for men.
And you even said you liked to dress goth, so that should have open your mind about gender boundaries. Also mind that todays many people seem restricted by gender "uniforms", more women want to dress tomboysh and not wear heels, as this is their genderimage orientation, and it should be respected by the workplace, exactly like sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnic descent.
You might have developed Stoccolma sindrome growing up and entering the world of workplaces, because they ask for humility and dialing down personality and expression, especially for men.
But it also applies to women, they should not be forced to wear heels. In short, workplace enforce a supposed "normality" and conservatism with the excuse of sales and comfort and respect for customers, and practically fails to respect self identity, a "tomboy" or queer woman, should not be forced to wear heels by any mean. Same for a man.

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