Alternative fashion in the workplace grows as students transition to professional life

Oct. 27, 2014

Eleanor Skelton
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Although workplace dress codes are accommodating Goth, punk, hipster and other alternative fashions, college students often find that they must leave behind more extreme styles when they obtain employment.

Scientific companies with more traditional dress codes often ask for no denim except on casual Fridays and ban open-toed shoes to ensure quality and sanitary production according to Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration regulations.

Call centers may allow gauged ears, dyed hair and denim, but request employees do not wear miniskirts, spaghetti straps or hats.

Foodservice jobs, such as those at the Broadmoor, tend to have stricter uniform requirements such as no jewelry, no dyed hair, no visible tattoos and “black pants, black socks and non-skid black shoes,” for consistency and hygienic reasons.

While employers view the transition from student to occupation as a part of assimilating into the professional world, students may feel their individuality is getting lost in the process. But they can find ways to express themselves, even with these rules.

I posted a Facebook status asking for student experiences in reconciling their style with the corporate world.

“I get a lot of delighted reactions to my tattoos, but that’s because most of them are science related and I work with scientists,” said Stephanie Morphet, biology and psychology alumna. Morphet is currently attending Colorado State University as a Ph.D. student.

“I think because my ink is all about biology, some older people who might be put off by tattoos normally like mine.”

Kat Johnson, chemistry alumna, worked at Pyxant Labs from summer 2012 to fall 2013 until moving back to her hometown. She advises self-expression with minimal distraction.

“I think it’s all a matter of looking clean and tidy. If you have badass pink hair, keep it brushed and the color vibrant. Don’t let it look ratty, oily, or faded,” Johnson said.

“Avoid the ripped clothes, messy raccoon eye makeup and anything stained or ill-fitting. Wear daring jewelry, wear bold makeup, but by all means just look put together.”

Charity Qualls, junior math major, works in the Math Center as a tutor and described her style as alternative.

“One time I had to wear a giant blue band aid over my labret (lip piercing) because I lost my plug and refused to take it out. Then there was the time I buzzed my hair, not sure how I didn’t get in trouble for that,” she said.

“I don’t really have to worry about it anymore though. I mean, when people hire you for your brain, they don’t tend to be too picky about your appearance.”

Mary Nikkel, Letourneau 2012 digital writing alumna and associate editor at has two tattoos and dyes her hair whenever possible.

“When I worked at the library at my private Christian university they had no issues with my blue hair. When I wanted to work at Panera, I had to chop it off,” she said.

“In my current employment situation, obviously I’m free to rock tattoos and blue hair all day long because it’s the music industry. But there are still times I have to dress up to look more professional,” she added.

“I always allow myself a few little expressions of individuality though, like wearing converse with formal or business wear or unconventional jewelry.”

Shelby Shively, sociology and women’s and ethnic studies grad student and former columnist for The Scribe, enjoys diverse styles.

“I just got rid of all my awesome Goth pants because I haven’t worn them in a few years anyway, they definitely wouldn’t be accepted in my workplaces, and I’m not actually Goth,” Shively said. “I just really liked the pants. They were impossible to iron, though.”

No matter the rules or restrictions put in place, it seems that employees will find a way to let themselves express their fashion and creative sides. While people should be professional at work, they shouldn’t have to tuck away their personality in a stuffy suit.