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I'm starting a new job soon, and I got an email from HR about the dress code. They said that the dress code consists of blue jeans or any color khaki pants, a button down or polo shirt, and no tennis shoes. I'm kind of confused by what exactly that means, since that is the only thing they said about what type of shoe you can wear.

What does that generally mean in the context of a Work Dress Code? Does it mean I should only wear dress shoes, or is there something in particular that is wrong about sneakers / tennis shoes, and that wearing some sort of boot would also be good?

Are there any good ways to deal with this uncertainty?

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    Does that mean flip-flops are allowed ? – m.raynal Aug 11 '20 at 8:27
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    Does "tennis shoe" generally mean all sneakers? Is that regionally different in the sense that "coke" in the south can mean any "soda"? – Peter - Reinstate Monica Aug 11 '20 at 10:46
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    While not stated explicitly, I think it would be safe to assume that anything even more casual than sneakers would also be inappropriate. So no flip flops or slippers. Loafers might be OK, though. And don't even think of showing up barefoot. – Barmar Aug 11 '20 at 15:02
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    @J... the OP stated in an answer's comment that I'm sorry if you find my question dumb but I come from a working class family and haven't worked in an office setting before. Being the first person from your family going for an office job can be very intimidating, and having been there myself, all I knew about HR as a manual worker is that they handle you a contract to sign on your first day and they fire you on your last. They're very intimidating too. – m.raynal Aug 11 '20 at 15:37
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    I'm more concerned about what "any color khaki" means. – Vaelus Aug 11 '20 at 17:11
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The simple answer here is to be conservative on your first day (i.e. wear dress shoes) and see what everyone else wears. It may be that your entire team ignores this rule, or that certain colours are acceptable - or it could be that the CEO has a phobia of tennis shoes.

If you want to try something that no one else wears, that isn't against the letter of the rule (like cowboy boots or flip flops) ask your boss, not HR. Only ask HR if your boss doesn't want to make a decision and tells you to, because your boss wants you to be comfortable and productive while HR will worry about the worst case scenario.

Aim to be one of the smartest people in your team during your probationary period, after you're more secure you can relax a bit but avoid pushing the limits while your boss is deciding whether to keep you.

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    ...but only during your probationary period. – Strawberry Aug 11 '20 at 10:12
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    You're right but their requirement of blue jeans with dress shoes should be a criminal offense. – HenryM Aug 11 '20 at 12:42
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    @HenryM More types of leather shoe exist than just "dress shoes". Slip-ons, brogues, boots, desert boots, riding boots, moccasins, basically anything suede, basically any women's shoes that aren't sneakers... – Graham Aug 11 '20 at 13:44
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    I know the OP didn't ask about the jeans, but it might be worth sneaking into this currently-highest-rated answer: The jeans don't have to be designer jeans, but they should be clean, not worn out, and without holes, no matter how trendy holey jeans are. – shoover Aug 11 '20 at 16:18
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    Great last paragraph. – Kilisi Aug 14 '20 at 2:40
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What is Meant by “No Tennis Shoes” in a Dress Code

Generally Tennis Shoes refers to athletic foot wear. I would recommend dress shoes (e.g. Oxfords for men) or dress boots (e.g. Chelsea Boots or Desert Boots for men). It depends on your profession, but I like to buy leather dress shoes that are also comfortable to walk and stand in. Black or brown colored shoes will be the versatile to start until you have enough savings to buy more. Though I typically only own one pair of a type of shoe at a time.

But if you continue to have questions, I would recommend you email the HR department if they have particular suggestions or have them sign off on a particular type of shoe.

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  • Leather shoes often last longer if you own two pair and alternate between them. While the initial investment is higher, it's cheaper in the long run. – MSalters Aug 11 '20 at 14:05
  • "I like to buy leather dress shoes that are also comfortable to walk and stand in." Unrelated, but boy do I wish I could find something like this. As far as I can tell, it doesn't exist – Alexander Aug 11 '20 at 15:56
  • @MSalters, I understand that's the normal advice, but I tend to wear out the insides of the shoes before the leather. If it was just the insole, that would be one thing, but the whole interior linings are trashed in about 6 months for me. And that's even with adding an extra insole as soon as I buy a new pair. I guess I'm one of the "outliers". – computercarguy Aug 11 '20 at 16:27
  • @MSalters I would guess they each last twice as long since you're using them half as much. – Captain Man Aug 11 '20 at 16:32
  • @CaptainMan: That's the baseline. But in addition, giving them a day to dry between use reduces the wear on the days that you do wear them, so they last more than twice as long. – MSalters Aug 11 '20 at 16:49
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I've seen this requirement in several contexts before. Typically it means one of three things when fully translated in context:

  1. Athletic style shoes have a huge range of styles, many of which are not in keeping with what we believe is appropriate, so we have banned them.
  2. Many styles of athletic footwear have a style of rubber sole that leaves marks on our (or our clients') floors, so we have banned them.
  3. Our workplace has poor acoustic isolation, and many styles of athletic style shoes make a terrible noise when people move about, and it's entirely too distracting, so we banned them.

Without more information about your specific workplace, I can't really identify what else they might be worried about.

HR isn't necessarily telling you everything behind their decision, rather than providing you with what they believe is the simplest, most succinct requirement that (they think) covers their use case. And, as others have pointed out, the decision to call them tennis shoes is probably just something that got carried over from an older iteration of the dress code.

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    Ironically, "tennis shoes" that are actually specific to tennis have soles that don't leave any marks, because those soles that leave marks would damage tennis indoor courts. I had a pair back in the day when I played and they were unusable for normal gyms or day to day activities. any they even had the most formal style of all athletic shoes because the style guide on all things tennis was "plain white, no colors please". – nvoigt Aug 11 '20 at 12:55
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    @nvoigt, indeed. The OP's Q is of the kind that arises when How or What has been described, lacking Why. Without the reasoning, the requirement can strike people as out of place or unimportant. I run into this all the time in software, and sometimes I need to coax a business rule or requirement out of somebody so I can proceed. The US nuclear Navy saw this coming ages ago, so the left side of the ops manuals is Why, and the right side is How, because eventually multiple things happen and you have to operate on principle rather than procedure. More disciplines should discuss Why. – Sean Boddy Aug 11 '20 at 15:54
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is there something in particular that is wrong about sneakers / tennis shoes

Yes, the company has decided they're not appropriate, so don't wear them to work.

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    I think you may have misunderstood what I am trying to ask. I mean to ask is it an issue with tennis shoes in particular or is this another way of saying to only wear something fancier than sneakers, i.e. dress shoes. I'm sorry if you find my question dumb but I come from a working class family and haven't worked in an office setting before. – Jon K Aug 10 '20 at 23:54
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    @JonK I don't think we misunderstood you. If any, I feel that you are overthinking/over-complicating this one. It's plain simple: don't wear tennis shoes. Period. That means you can use any other shoe, except tennis shoes. No hidden meanings or message, just stating that you should not use tennis shoes. – DarkCygnus Aug 11 '20 at 1:20
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    @DarkCygnus I think it should be read a bit broader as 'athletic shoes'. This answer could be improved, however, by explaining where the line between athletic shoe and fashionable sneaker falls. – BrtH Aug 11 '20 at 7:12
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    @BrtH: I disagree; I don't think this answer can explain where the line falls, or should even attempt to. It's not a matter of what we think the line falls, it's a matter of what the company the OP is going to work for thinks the line falls... and only the company can clarify that. – Matthieu M. Aug 11 '20 at 9:45
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There's no hidden meaning.

Does no tennis shoes mean that I should only wear dress shoes?

No. It means don't wear tennis shoes. If you need more clarification on what shoes are appropriate, ask HR. We can't answer this question for them.

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I work with jeans, button down shirts and social shoes. The "no tennis shoe" rule seems perfectly reasonable to me.

While tennis shoes or maybe even sneakers can be generally fine, dress codes are all about drawing clear lines were lines can be very blurry, and if "tennis shoes" are allowed, then it's hard to point someone with over-the-top footwear that this is not adequate for the work environment, the same applies to ragged shoes.

Although a dedicated man can easily accomplish this intentionally, it is much harder for other kinds of work-friendly shoes to be unintentionally that much standing-off or that much damaged or dirty.

Keep in mind, that although answers like HenryM are legally correct and immensely funny, there is always an implicit "no assholes" rule for every workplace. So also don't be one by testing the limits of the system, especially if you are new around.

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Depends on the job.

In a white collar role, it’s saying “Tennis shoes are too casual for our culture and look unprofessional.” As such, you should wear dress shoes.

In a blue collar role, it’s saying “Tennis shoes are unsafe because they lack toe protection.” As such, you should wear steel-capped boots.

In a role that might be a mix of both, such as an engineering role where you might be expected to visit a factory, it would probably be best to wear the steel cap boots or steel-toed work shoes for safety’s sake - and since manufacturers produce steel-toed work shoes in a wide variety of styles, some of which appear very similar to dress shoes.

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  • FYI Steel-toe Reeboks – Peter M Aug 12 '20 at 13:55
  • @PeterM Yeah, steel-toed work shoes come in a wide variety of styles, some of which are more professional looking than others. If you're in a role where professionalism was required, you might want to wear something like their RB1860 or RB4177 shoe models. – nick012000 Aug 12 '20 at 15:53
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If you're uncertain about what a workplace policy means, the best option is always to simply ask for clarification. Your direct manager is usually the person you should ask first - your workplace is the only place that understands what their own internal policies mean. You will not get a better answer from anyone on the internet because nobody here knows anything about your workplace or their policies.

Another great resource is your co-workers - if you don't want to bother your manager, just ask around informally about how things normally work. The people who have been there any amount of time will certainly be able to familiarize you with the workplace culture.

It's not like you're going to get fired for asking about what shoes you can wear to the office.

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  • But if you very often ask questions to the manager which could be answeres by anyone on the Internet, you will make a bad impression. – guest Aug 11 '20 at 18:30
  • @guest I fail to see how that's relevant. – J... Aug 11 '20 at 18:35
  • It's a warning that a policy of "you can ask your manager anything, no matter in which culture you are" can make other people annoyed, if the questions are too easy. – guest Aug 11 '20 at 18:36
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    @guest I am clearly and specifically talking about clarifying workplace polices. There is no more authoritative source for workplace policies than the workplace itself. Nowhere did I say anything about asking random questions about anything whatsoever. – J... Aug 11 '20 at 18:43
  • I am of course also not talking about random questions but workplace politics questions. Many workplace politics are understandable for people outside the company (eg "what means business smart?") -- you should not ask them too often the manager if you can find the answer on the Internet because it could make a bad impression. Of course, for company specific or mysterious formulations you have to ask -- but don't make it your general policy to ask when you can find the answer in some other way. – guest Aug 11 '20 at 18:48
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It sounds to me like what they're describing is "smart casual." I've seen this this defined as "business casual" but you're also allowed to wear jeans. (I wouldn't necessarily recommend following examples on Google images because the examples look more casual than what I would think is okay for work.) As everyone said, just be conservative on your first day and see what your teammates and manager do. You can even ask them about it. In many places the HR rules are more like guidelines but it's impossible to know if that is the case for your new job until you see for yourself.

Also, you could email the HR person, your recruiter, or future manager to ask for clarification. Everyone here (including myself) is just guessing. They're good guesses, but we can't know for sure.

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