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Dress Code

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Judge Chamberlain Haller: Mr. Gambini, didn't I tell you that the next time you appear in my court that you dress appropriately?
Vinny Gambini: You were serious about that?

You ever see a sign outside a business that reads "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service"? That's a Dress Code.

Anytime a place has rules for what people should and shouldn't wear. This can include uniforms, but in that case the code is simply to wear the appropriate uniform. Actual dress codes allow more freedom, especially depending on the situation.

This trope applies just as much in Real Life as in fiction.

Two of the most common places for dress codes are schools and workplaces, particularly offices. Schools which enforce dress codes may carve out exceptions, i.e. spirit wear or casual wear allowed as a reward, on birthdays, at regular intervals, or in exchange for a small donation to charity note . Workplaces often have "Casual Fridays." (There are still limits, of course, although on many shows the characters will take their sartorial freedom to hilarious extremes).


And this can also be in other formal situations like black tie dinners or Standard Royal Courts.

In fiction, two of the most common reasons for stating dress codes are:

  1. To add flavor to the place, such as a Decadent Court.
  2. To show that a character is going to violate the code, and get in some form of trouble over it. (In which case compare Rules of the Road.)

Occasionally a part of Dress-Coded for Your Convenience (when at least one side actually had a dress code).

Contrast Underdressed for the Occasion and No Dress Code.



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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert likes to mock these once in a while.
    • In one strip, Wally and Dilbert show up on a Friday in leisure suits bell bottoms. Pointy-Haired Boss sends them back for abusing the concept of casual Fridays.
    • Here's another one.
    • And the Dilbert book Casual Day has Gone Too Far.
  • Peanuts had a '70s storyline in which Peppermint Patty was suspended for violating the school dress code, namely wearing sandals.
  • In a Calvin and Hobbes strip:
    Calvin: I saw a sign on a restaurant door that said "No shirt, no shoes, no service." But it didn't say anything about pants! If I went in wearing shoes and a shirt by no pants, they'd have to serve me!
    Hobbes: They'd probably serve you with a court summons.
    Calvin: [taking off his pants] C'mon, let's see if Mom will take us out for dinner!
  • Beetle Bailey:
  • For Better or for Worse: April finds a loophole in her school's uniform dress code when she notes that knee length socks are compulsory, but that it does not specify colour. She proceeds to buy the brightest rainbow striped socks she can find.
  • Retail: Grumbel's dress code came up a few times in the early years of the strip, mainly in the context of Cooper trying to circumvent it, and how much stricter the shoe department's dress code was compared to the stockroom's. Eventually, Grumbel's just decided to institute uniforms for everyone.

    Fan Works 
  • In Of Blood and Steel, Riko "Erwin" Matsumoto decides not to wear her signature hat and jacket, lest she run afoul of her new American school's dress code. This is despite the fact that she wore both of them in clear violation of Oarai's uniform policy.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The first thing Joe Friday does in Dragnet when meeting his new partner "Pep" Streebeck (who was working undercover before being reassigned and is still dressed like a homeless man) is recite, from memory, the LAPD regulations regarding proper attire and grooming for a robbery/homicide detective.
  • In Mr. Holland's Opus, there is a scene where the principal sees that two girls are wearing skirts that are too short, so he sends them home.
  • In My Cousin Vinny, Vinny gets in trouble with the judge because his clothes don't match what the judge feels is appropriate for the court.
  • Winter Kills has a scene where Nick meets with his girlfriend Yvette at a swank NYC hotel restaurant. When the maître d' refuses to seat them, because Yvette is wearing a pantsuit and the restaurant has a strict policy prohibiting this, she complies by taking her pants off on the spot (a Refuge in Audacity move that was supposedly inspired by a real-life incident involving '60s socialite Nan Kempner).

  • The Berenstain Bears: The Big Chapter Book "And the Dress Code" revolves around one; the plot starts when the annual run of new spring fashions (or "rad clothes") starts getting out of hand at Bear Country School, in part out of rebellion after Stern Teacher Miss Glitch orders Queenie McBear to go home and change due to disapproving her choice of clothing (a very short miniskirt) despite only being on hall duty and not being Queenie's teacher, and not even sending her to the principal's office first. Vice-Principal Grizzmeyer, who becomes acting principal while Principal Honeycomb is out of town on school-related business, fully supports Miss Glitch because he also disapproves of the rad clothes, and institutes a dress code specifically aimed at banning them, along with roping other adults outside the school into the movement against them. When the cubs turn to Loophole Abuse to get past the rules, he keeps updating it to try and close the loopholes, until it boils down to "Any cub who shows up in clothes I don't approve of will be sent home, no exceptions". The cubs respond by threatening to refuse to come to school unless he backs down. Finally, some other adults persuade both sides to agree to debate, which the cubs win handily via revealing the three lead adults in the anti-rad movement were no better in their youth. After the anti-rad group concedes, Principal Honeycomb reveals he's returned early and declares an end to the dress code, along with instituting casual Fridays, which satisfies the students and leads them to tone down the clothes of their own free will.
  • In Marianne Curley's Guardians Of Time series, one of the signs that chaos is overtaking the world is that the dress code at the protagonists' high school gets abolished.
  • In the Honor Harrington series the standard court costume imposed by tradition on the Manticoran nobility during formal events, having been created by a society with essentially de facto gender equality, is unisex and includes such things as tight brightly striped pants which look unfortunate on people without the physique to pull it off and mildly ridiculous otherwise. Duchess Harrington herself, choosing to exploit her title from the planet Grayson as an excuse, decides to wear a much more comfortable and fashionable looking dress (Grayson having a more "traditional" view of women and fashion), this causing a minor social uproar when Queen Elizabeth III decides that's a damn fine idea.
  • In The Princess Diaries, Mia mentions her school dress code here and there, such as complaining when the Alpha Bitch blatantly violates it by wearing her boyfriend's shorts under her skirt, or complaining about how they can't tie their uniform shirts into midriff tops like Britney Spears.
  • In The Sword of Truth series, length of hair on women designates social standing. The most important woman in the Midlands—the Mother Confessor—has the longest hair, and it's socially (and in some places, legally) unacceptable to have hair any longer than hers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Little House on the Prairie: The Season 7 episode "Goodbye, Mrs. Wilder," sees snobbish temporary Schoolmarm Mrs. Oleson demand – not suggest or request, demand – a dress code for the students – a white button-down shirt, ties, slacks and dress shoes, all to assert her authority. Uncaring that most families are from farming backgrounds could not afford expensive uniforms, and poo-pooing the notion that Walnut Grove School was not a large private or boarding school – hoping to draw more business to the Mercantile (since it was the only dry good store in town and it would be the point of delivery for the uniforms). The school did not have a specifically-written dress code, although it was expected they'd dress appropriately.
  • Leave It to Beaver: Beaver learns why it is inappropriate to wear a sweatshirt with a large, grotesque monster printed on the front – and as a result, why the (unstated) dress code had the expectation that students would dress appropriately – in Season 4's "Sweatshirt Monsters."
  • NCIS has Lab Rat/Perky Goth Abby wearing clothing that ranges from stereotypical Goth to Stripperiffic. When called out on it and forced to wear normal office attire, she ends up in a great deal of emotional distress and loses some of her brilliance. Naturally, Papa Wolf Gibbs stands up for her and she is allowed to revert to her...less than business casual wardrobe.
  • An Ally McBeal episode has a judge ordering Ally to stop donning her trademark miniskirts in court. When she refuses, he has her jailed for contempt.
  • One Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode has a (male) judge chewing ADA Casey Novak out for wearing pants in court and ordering her to wear a skirt in the future. She then proceeds to kick his ass. Casey Novak, everybody.
    • The whole point of the episode is said judge's "traditional" (i.e. sexist) views on women in society, and how Novak is able to reveal the ways he lets those views affect his judgment in court. For example, a married housewife is automatically assumed to be a good person, despite the evidence that she tends to shake her baby; on the other hand, he convicts a single mother of killing her baby mostly because he sees her as little more than a slut.
  • The Good Wife has an episode where a male judge takes Alica to task for wearing pants in the courtroom. In a later scene, she encounters him again - now wearing a skirt - and sarcastically asks if it's short enough.
  • The late-'60s high school drama Room 222 had an episode centering around a student challenging the school dress code.
  • In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will would occasionally find loopholes in his high school's dress code, such as wearing his school blazer inside-out, or tying his necktie on his forehead.
  • The U.S. version of The Office had a casual Friday episode.
    • In "New Boss", Charles Miner clashes with Jim and Dwight over their attire.
  • In season 10 of Degrassi the school introduces uniforms in the middle of the school year, in response to a number of incidents. A far cry from Degrassi Junior High where they didn't even have a wardrobe and the characters' clothes were the actors' own.
  • In an episode of Little People Big World, the Roloffs are preparing for Molly's middle school graduation. They don't check the dress code right away, and have to scramble to find a new dress for Molly because they didn't immediately check the dress code and realize the straps on her dress were too narrow.
  • Spoofed in the opening segment of The Deadly Mantis episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where Servo announces it's "Business Casual Day" on the SOL and cites Mike for alleged violations of the dress code, despite Mike's protestations that they aren't a business.
  • On Sex and the City, Miranda and her coworker dressed in such a way as to kill the newly-implemented casual Friday.

    Pro Wrestling 

  • Our Miss Brooks: In "Dress Code Protest", Mr. Conklin imposes a dress code after the students celebrate "Spirit Week" by wearing outrageous and mismatched clothing. Miss Brooks refers to the "celebration" as a "Malevolent Mardi Gras."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer Fantasy: Bretonnia has complicated sumptuary laws that determine what people can wear (mostly yet another way of keeping peasants downtrodden). It's mentioned that some nobles pull a Batman Gambit on social climbers by granting them permission to wear a certain color, in order to mock the poor sap who's sure to now dress only in that color.
  • Vampire: The Requiem has colours for each clan, with two different dress codes- the Florentine and Mexican codes, the Florentine code dictating the colour of sashes
    • Daeva: Red and gold sash (Florentine), Green (Mexican)
    • Gangrel: Red and brown sash (Florentine), Yellow (Mexican)
    • Mekhet: Indigo and silver sash (Florentine), Black (Mexican)
    • Nosferatu: Black and green sash (Florentine), White (Mexican)
    • Ventrue: Purple and gold sash ((Florentine), Red (Mexican)

    Video Games 
  • In ANNO: Mutationem, Ann heads to Nocturne Maze to search for an informant, only to get blocked by security for her casual outfit. Ayane is more than eager to show Ann a nearby clothing shop where the shopkeeper and her three assistants get Ann into the store's best dress.
  • One of the smaller "offenses" in Rockstar's Bully is to break the dress code. By itself, the ping on your Wanted Meter won't even get the power-tripping prefects doing anything more than yelling at you, but if you commit other infractions, it can push it over a dangerous line.
  • In Professor Layton and the Last Specter's London Life game, your character will not be allowed inside the classier establishments of Little London unless his or her outfit has a sufficient Formality score. The way the system works, you can get away with stuff like wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses in a fancy restaurant just so long as the rest of your outfit is nice enough to make up for it.
  • Sly Cooper:
    • Sly 2: Band Of Thieves: In "A Starry Eyed Encounter", Sly is denied entry to attend Rajan's ballroom until he's wearing a tuxedo. With the mission being to sneak into the nearby guesthouse and search for formal wear.
    • Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves: In "Flight of Fancy", everyone is required to wear pilot caps and jackets whenever they are inside the hotel lobby, due to the hotel being the main venue for the aerial dogfighting competition. Outside though, they can wear their normal attire.
  • The school's dress code in Yandere Simulator is mentioned mostly to showcase that, in a last ditch effort to boost enrollment at Akademi, the Headmaster is relaxing it by a lot.

    Visual Novels 
  • Amanda and Kathy from Daughter for Dessert wear uniforms to work.
  • Subverted in Double Homework. The summer school class wears school uniforms, but Amy is given special permission to wear a hoodie for “personal branding” reasons.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Bizarre dress codes are a staple of transgender fiction, as seen on sites like FictionMania. Usually, a male character finds himself in an all-female workplace with a dress code that doesn't account for two genders, and thus requires things like skirt, pantyhose, makeup, etc. After being Dragged into Drag, adopting a Wholesome Crossdresser lifestyle (and in more extreme cases, dragged into more than that), the protagonist often finds that many of the "women" in the office are, or were, also men.
  • Parodied in "Magiconomy" by Shiny Objects Videos. Even destructive forces of dark magic need to wear a tie in the office.
  • Parodied in CollegeHumor's Problem With Jeggings series.

    Western Animation 
  • In Big City Greens episode "No Service", Cricket's habit of not wearing shoes is tested when he cannot go into a store because of its "No shirt, no shoes, no service" policy.
  • Usually averted in SpongeBob SquarePants (mostly because Patrick, who wears neither a shirt nor shoes is one of the Krusty Krab's regular customers, not to mention, most of the characters on the show don't wear shoes), but the episode, "The Algae's Always Greener" has Spongebob scream, "No shirt, no shoes, no service!" while firing a cannon armed with clothing at a naked Mr. Krabs.
  • The 2013 Mickey Mouse short "No Service" has Goofy's Snack Shack, which has a No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service policy. Since Mickey doesn't wear a shirt, nor does Donald wear shoes, Mickey is forced to surrender his clothes to Donald and stay outside naked while Donald orders the food.
  • A classic Cartoon Network bumper has Fred Flintstone, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and Weasel being refused service at a mini-mart because of its dress code.
    Fred: So you're saying I can't buy shoes because I don't have shoes?
  • In Samurai Jack (2017), Scaramouch can't get on a boat because shoes, shirt, and a body (which he's lacking) are required for entry. He tries to get on acting as a dog's head, only to find that dogs aren't allowed on either.
  • At the beginning of The Simpsons episode "Bart Sells His Soul", the First Church of Springfield has a sign reading "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Salvation".
  • We Bare Bears: In "Fashion Bears", the trio wants to visit a new bubble tea shop, but it has a "no shoes, no shirt, no service" policy.

    Real Life 
  • The court of Tsarist Russia had a dress code, which included requiring ladies to wear the Pimped Out Dresses with the distinctive sleeves and tiaras.
    • Many other royal courts in the 19th century had their own codes as well. In a nutshell, this was the Ermine Cape Effect being enforced, rather than just as an image.
      • And even earlier. One of Jane Seymour's newly appointed maids of honor caught all kinds of grief over her clothes. They were too French, she didn't have the right headress, and her girdle didn't have the regulation two hundred pearls!
    • And before that, there were the "Sumptuary Laws", which dictated what materials people of a certain rank were allowed to wear. Apparently this was enacted by kings and queens tired of people of lower rank dressing better than them.
      • More importantly, at the time social rank determined how the law treated you, so trying to pass out for a higher class than you actually were was tantamount to serious fraud.
      • One of the laws was what kind of fur one could wear. Ermine was largely associated with royalty already due to their robes and capes, but at that time royalty had it exclusive by law.
  • England, circa the 17th century onwards, the length of one's wig determined one's social status in polite society. This still remains with English law: judges wear longer, full wigs than the barristers (lawyers) who wear short, abbreviated ones—although because nothing is simple in English law or custom, the Court of Appeal wears short wigs and the Supreme Court (formerly the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords) doesn't even wear robes, sitting instead in suits. Also, judges and Queen's Counsel (QCs for short, senior barristers who have been formally recognised for their skill; the title becomes King's Counsel when the monarch is male) wear silk robes and stockings in court, while junior barristers wear other materials. This requirement has led to the process of becoming a QC being called "taking silk" and QCs being referred to as "silks".
  • Almost everyone in an American court is required to meet a dress code, including the jury in many cases (which is printed on the letter sent to jurors). Jury dress codes are usually much laxer, however; typically, jurors can get away with wearing street clothes as long as they cover everything up and aren't offensive. Lawyers, on the other hand, generally have to show up in proper business attire: that means a suit and tie with proper shoes and socks for men, and a pants suit or skirt suit for women. Failure to follow these rules can result in getting chewed out by the judge; many judges will refuse to hear argument from an improperly attired attorney (unless the attorney has a very good excusenote ), and some even keep stores of commonly-forgotten items (e.g. ties) ready in the courtroom for the use of errant lawyers. On one widely-reported occasion, a judge in Indiana got into a tiff with a lawyer about the lawyer's habit of dressing down--including not wearing socks--in court, and even went to the trouble of writing a proper, official court order, with a legal memorandum, ordering the lawyer to wear socks.
    • Historically, the restrictions were even tighter; it used to be that many courts required counsel to appear in morning dress. American courts generally dropped this requirement over the 20th century; however, there are some traces, particularly the tradition where the U.S. Solicitor General and his/her deputies (the lawyers responsible for arguing cases in the Supreme Court on behalf of the U.S. federal government) continue to appear for oral argument in morning dress to this day.
    • Certain U.S. states have—or at least had—a dress code for taking the bar examination (the test for law graduates to be officially permitted to practice and call themselves lawyers). Virginia in particular is famous for requiring examinees to sit the full two-day exam in proper business attire (i.e. suits) to this day (as of 2022).
  • In Brazil, you cannot enter a public building without long pants.
  • In Vatican City, the guards enforce a strict dress code for entry to St. Peter's Basilica: No bare shoulders or skirts/shorts above the knee for either men or for women. (It's also considered respectful for women to cover their hair.) If you're lucky enough to be called for a personal meeting with the Pope himself, the rules are even stricter; women must wear black, unless they're one of a very select group of Catholic royals who have the privilège du blanc (the right to wear white).
  • Formal parties have general dress codes depending on the type. If you see terms like "White tie dinner", "Black tie dinner", or "Cocktail party", those are all in descending degrees of formality and dress.
  • There is a 100 year old law in Paris that makes it illegal for women to wear trousers. Repeal has been proposed several times, but officials and law officers find it is simply much easier and cheaper to ignore it.
    • Law enacted: November 7, 1800. Law declared null and void: February 4, 2013.
  • Similarly, in collections of "ridiculous old laws still on the books", you can find places in the USA where women may not wear patent leather shoes, because they might reflect their underwear.
  • The Technology Student Association has multiple levels of dress code for conferences. All true TSA'ers know exactly what constitutes Official Dress and what doesn't.
  • The WNBA and NBA have rules governing what coaches and players wear when representing their teams, both on and off court. Players usually wear team warmups or shirts to community appearances.
    • Coaches wear suits and ties. Female coaches wear pantsuits.
    • When players are injured and cannot play, they have to dress formally. In the WNBA, this sometimes leads to the exhibition of a Pimped-Out Dress.
  • Most auto racing series require anyone in the pit area of the track during a race (including reporters, car owners, and even the driver's significant other or spouse) to wear a full-body firesuit for safety reasons.
  • Many American public schools have a dress code, though usually more about prohibiting certain things than requiring a particular dress (e.g., no obscene shirts, no underwear showing, or no hats). The schools vary in how strictly they enforce it, although the prevalence of uniform dress codes has ratcheted up since 1997. Private and parochial schools often have much stricter dress codes up to and including uniforms.
    • Often subverted by the students, who despite being required to wear their skirts knee-length, hem them into mini-skirts.
    • Some girls who really want to piss off a teacher will wear an ankle-length skirt, follow the rest of the dress code to the letter, and then dare a teacher to tell her she's violating the dress code. Telling a girl her skirt is too long will not end well for a school district. An expensive lawsuit plus a shitload of bad publicity is where things start.
    • Recent high profile incidents have hit the headlines with parents and pupils fighting back against arbitrary, archaic and just plain sexist dress codes including:
      • Failing to account for different builds - sanctioning some girls because they are bustier and fill out the same top more than others or the “fingertip” rule on shorts making an identical pair ok on a shorter girl but a violation on a taller one.
      • Reinforcing more old-fashioned rules on gender roles by putting the onus on girls to avoid wearing anything too revealing rather than teaching boys to behave respectfully regardless of how girls are dressed and by implication being stricter on girls than boys.
      • Blatantly sexist double standards in dress code enforcement, usually aimed at girls. For example, making girls stretch their arms above their heads and sanctioning them for bare midriff if their top and bottom show a gap - even if it normally wouldn't - when boys can walk around in shirts open to the navel, and boys attending Catholic schools being banned from wearing braids and earrings.
      • A complete lack of common sense in relation to the temperature and weather and the dress code - either forcing pupils to wear hot and restrictive clothing during hot weather or refusing to let them wear more in the cold.
  • IBM had one of the most stringent dress codes, requiring men to wear garters, among other things. One bit of humor in Clifford Stoll's non-fiction book Cuckoos Egg is that the computer science nerds he works with mistake federal agents for IBM sales reps, because nobody else coming into the server room would ever wear a dress shirt or a tie, let alone a suit.
  • Any job that requires workers to wear uniforms, oftentimes to make employees easily identified according to their job, affiliation with the company, or rank.
    • Even without a formal uniform, most workplaces have a dress code much like a school, which regulates appropriate clothing. If employees are found in violation of the dress code, they'll be sent home to change.
    • In some cases, such as military personnel, the dress code also serves to give the wearer some protection under law: A soldier fighting without a certain minimal degree of uniform could be considered an unlawful combatant or a spy if encountered or captured by the enemy. This is incidentally why the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has uniforms at all: One of their duties is surveying and creating navigational charts for ships to use. Doing so during time of war can be considered spying if done wearing civilian attire.
    • Journalists, such as those who work for CNN, will sometimes wear station or network-branded jackets or hats in severe weather to let other people know that they're trying to do a job and are not to be disrupted.
    • Service dogs wear vests which usually say something to the effect of "Don't distract me! I'm working!" When they're not working, they can take the vest off and basically live as pets.
  • Workplaces with an element of physical risk, such as building sites or warehouses, typically have a dress code that sets out what personal protective equipment employees and site visitors are required to wear. High-vis vests, work gloves, hard-toed boots, hard hats and harnesses are often the most common features of these. These items are mandated by OSHA (or equivalent) standards, so ignoring or circumventing the dress code on these jobs is a good way to be permanently sent home.
    • Physically risky workplaces also tend to prohibit neckties, lest they get caught in machinery. Police and security guards generally don't wear neckties (except perhaps clip-on ones) because they could be grabbed during an altercation.
  • Businesses can enforce dress codes on the customers, but it's usually something along the lines of "must be wearing a shirt, pants, and shoes", which mostly everyone follows anyway. The rule is more for the benefit of other customers so they aren't weirded or grossed out by someone who is too revealing or could be spreading germs around. Nice restaurants can also have dress codes for guests, such as a suit jacket and tie.
  • Nightclubs often enforce a dress code to attract a certain clientele, though these codes tend to be vague, such as "dress to impress." A common standard is no jeans, t-shirts, sneakers or sportswear. BDSM and fetish clubs tend to have even stricter rules with some, such as Torture Garden, being infamous for their draconian dress codes.


Video Example(s):


No Service

Some Cartoon Network characters cannot get service due to a dress code.

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Main / DressCode

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