Column: Time for an end to sexist dress codes

It’s about time the skimpy outfits that have come to typify uniforms for female food service workers have  come under  a bit of public scrutiny.

On March 8 — International Women’s Day — the Ontario Human Rights Commission called for an end to sexualized workplace dress codes that discriminate against women.

Take a moment and you’ll likely have no trouble thinking of any number of places where male employees walk around in dress pants and collared shirts, while the women all seem to be wearing low-cut tops and skirts that could double as wide belts in an emergency.

Far from the only (or even the worst) offender, Vancouver-based Earls restaurant took quick action to remedy the situation, announcing that female employees can now wear slacks to work if they choose. And for that, the company should be commended.

But it begs the question of why they ever stopped allowing them the choice.

When it comes to women’s restaurant attire, I can’t help but feel like we’re moving backward.

Twenty five years ago, things were different and, from my perspective at least, better.

That’s right — I am a former Earls girl.

It’s hard to recall exactly, considering I was hired in the fall of 1990, but I can only assume that one of my first orders of business upon getting the job was to run out and purchase a couple pairs of the comically high-waisted jeans that were all the rage back then (today, we call them ‘mom’ jeans), several white dress shirts and as many ugly ties as I could reasonably afford on a post-university budget.

Such were the guidelines that I and all my co-workers — men and women alike — were required to follow. Yes, it was a dress code, but it didn’t discriminate by gender.

It was in the ties that we were encouraged to let our personalities shine through — the louder and more colourful, the better.

Surrounded by a prismatic menagerie of parrots, Albino rhinos, chickens, pigs, and sundry other paper maché livestock,  it was the one way we had to stand out amidst the crazy decor.

The best part, though, was our footwear. It was the early ’90s, so it should come as no surprise that we were all running around in sturdy black Doc Martens.

In addition to being recommended by four out of five podiatrists, the shoes had the added bonus of thick, grippy soles.

Of course, even these offered no guarantee you wouldn’t occasionally fall on your denim-covered butt and watch helplessly as steamed baby potatoes rolled under tables — and between diners’ feet —  from where you would then have to gracefully retrieve them (or, you know, so I assume).

It’s no mystery why restaurants and pubs want female employees to dress in revealing clothing and high heels. It has everything to do with the bottom line — and a lot to do with money, too.

None of this is to say women shouldn’t wear short skirts, low-cut tops or even push-up bras to work, if that’s what makes them happy.

But it shouldn’t be a job requirement.

I can’t imagine any woman saying to herself, “You know what would make this six-hour shift — all of which I spend on my feet — just that little bit  more enjoyable?”  Three-inch heels.

Waiting tables is hard work, as anyone who has ever done it will tell you. So it’s not much to ask that employees be allowed to be comfortable — both physically and emotionally — in the process.

And  for some servers, that might not include being looked at like they’re the dessert.

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