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As a man, is it acceptable for me to wear black nail polish to work?

I'm a senior manager at a small-ish IT company in the South of Brazil. The company has no official dress code, and most people dress up very casually. This includes the board of directors.

While I wouldn't think twice before wearing a Mario T-shirt to the office, black nail polish is a bit more extreme than that. No other male employee wears nail polish of any sort, so I don't have any frame of reference for it.

There is no ban for nail polish on women, nor anything of the sort on beards, piercings and so on. I have waist-length hair myself, so that hasn't been an issue. One of the directors has a septum ring, so I would guess that's not an issue either.

The reason for wearing the black polish is to identify with my sub-culture and to prevent biting my nails.

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    If Wear a tank top to work? is on-topic, I'm not sure why this question would be any less well-received. Men wearing nail polish a current fashion trend and whether it is appropriate to bring that trend into the workplace is on topic here in my opinion.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 24 '21 at 18:37
  • It seems on-topic, and no more opinion-based than most questions (A question like "How do I negotiate a raise?" is opinion-based). Regardless, does the company have a policy on women wearing nail polish? Some industries prohibit that for hygiene/contamination reasons. But if there's no ban on women, then it's unlikely there will be a formal ban on men. Tolerance for tattoos, facial piercings, big beards, men with long hair, etc, may provide guidance too.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 27 '21 at 11:00
  • @StuartF There is no ban for nail polish on women, nor anything of the sort on beards, piercings and so on. I have quite long hair myself (almost waist-length), so that's not an issue either. One of the directors has a septum ring herself, so I would guess that's not an issue either.
    – T. Sar
    Sep 29 '21 at 15:22
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This will depend entirely on the culture in both your company and the area you live in.

If your office is casual enough that a Mario shirt is acceptable then I don't see any argument that it would be inappropriate or unacceptable. But I also wouldn't be surprised if it drew comments from people.

If your role is client facing then it might be a bit different - but most people really won't care.

No one here knows your co-workers through - so it's up to you to make that judgement.

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    Customer facing: I can imagine a conversation. “So what is the problem? Our employee has his fingernails painted black? Well, we have no company policy which fingernail colours are allowed, and it is entirely your choice if you want your heating system fixed today or sometime next month.”
    – gnasher729
    Sep 25 '21 at 21:48
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    @gnasher729 in more liberal parts of the world that might well be the case. In other places they might face verbal or even physical abuse. In a country with a president who refused to wear a face mask because face masks were "too gay", I would suspect it could be closer to the latter.
    – Gh0stFish
    Sep 26 '21 at 11:10
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    @gnasher729 more likely "you shouldn't have your fingernails painted, it makes the company look unprofessional". Though I doubt that's a policy a company'd enforce on a plumber, rather than on a sales executive.
    – jwenting
    Sep 27 '21 at 7:58
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    It also depends on the customers the business is serving. If I walk into a tattoo shop and no-one there has visible tattoos, I'm turning around and walking out. Similarly, record shops might have clerks that are visibly part of a subculture that listens to a particular genre of music. If I want a recommendation for a punk record, I'm going to ask the girl with the safety pins and torn tights, not the guy in white shirt and tie (unless he's got a mohawk). There are some workplaces where expressing personal identity is relevant to the work and helps connect with coworkers and customers.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 6 '21 at 14:04
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I have several Brazilian coworkers. The culture is very relaxed and casual, but also quite full of machismo. It would likely ruffle a few feathers.

You should check with HR despite the fact that there is nothing in the dress code about it. Dress codes were written long ago before men wearing makeup of any kind was a thing. Just walking in without going to HR first to see if it would be okay may invite unwanted attention. You may not experience anything directly, but you might be passed over for promotions, et cet. A more subtle way they can get rid of you is make you uncomfortable until you leave.

As you noted, it's not against the official rules, but it might be part of the unofficial rules, and you don't want the latest revision of the dress code to be named after you.

TLDR

Check with HR to ask if it would be okay

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  • +1 for this answer. Addition from a fellow Brazilian: do a little scouting (OP will understand "jogar um verde") around your peers on their opinions on nail polish to see if you'd be the target of some "good-natured" /s jabs. The south is still very traditionalist compared to some other parts of the country. Oct 8 '21 at 11:06
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I think you'll be fine and should just show up wearing it. You're identifying with a sub culture which from my limited knowledge is not seen as unwholesome, and additionally you don't want to bite your nails, which makes perfect sense.

Asking permission just invites dialogue for something which looks very minor to me.

I used nail polish on a long thumbnail for quite a while to protect it for guitar playing. It would have been a big hassle to remove it every day for work and defeated the purpose for which I wanted it in the first place.

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  • I did not know there was such a thing as nail polish to protect it from getting damaged by the guitar. That sounds interesting.
    – Clockwork
    Oct 4 '21 at 16:56
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    @Clockwork no I needed the nail to play, polish was to protect it from life not from the guitar
    – Kilisi
    Oct 5 '21 at 23:29
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If the black-nail polished person has coworkers who have children who loll about the office, either to be picked up by their parents or for some other reason, they may be scandalized by something that appears effeminate or otherwise strange on a man. In that regard, you may draw the ire of their parents who will try to avoid a black nail-polished person or scuttle their children off whenever said person is near.

Whether or not someone cares about something like that is a personal matter, but preserving typical appearances of masculinity and femininity isn't entirely expunged from the national ethos in the USA and I'd think in Brazil as well.

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    Is the "I'd hope" a deliberate choice of words here? It reads like you're espousing traditional gender roles and consequently dismissing non-traditional gender expression or fashion. You're certainly allowed to have that opinion but advocating for it doesn't really mesh well with StackExchange's approach to inclusivity as outlined in our Code of Conduct. Could you edit that to a simple "and possibly in Brazil" instead?
    – Lilienthal
    Oct 1 '21 at 20:13
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    @lil I changed it to "think" I'll give in to the "hope" police, but not the "thought" police. :) please delete the post, if you sincerely think I'm up to no good. Oct 1 '21 at 21:26
  • Appreciate the change, I just pointed it out since I assumed (or is that "hoped") that it wasn't intentional. :)
    – Lilienthal
    Oct 2 '21 at 7:34
  • This doesn't make much sense on a number of points. E.g., why would anyone "have children who loll about the office"? Oct 3 '21 at 3:26
  • @DanielR.Collins some companies have "bring your child to work days", and I guess in a society where child support is next to non-existent companies might have a room for them but personally I've never heard of that. Only instances of children (well teenagers) at the office I've encountered were a few "work experience days" for high school pupils. The parents would probably be made to wait at the reception desk anyway for the children to be called there rather than allowed to wander the hallways and possibly enter secure spaces but that's company specific of course.
    – jwenting
    Oct 4 '21 at 8:13

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