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I am a 17 year old boy. I have been working at a privately owned hotel in Cornwall, England for a month as a general assistant, mainly doing admin work. I really love the job and have fitted in well. My main duties is doing clerical work; however, at times I have had to work in other departments within the hotel, including housekeeping, restaurant and reception. I was made aware of the different roles at the interview and don't have an issue helping out where I can. I am the only male employee in the Admin/Reception team.

The hotel owner has told me that, from next Wednesday, she wants me to wear a version of the uniform that the ladies on reception wear. I have been told that I will have to wear a cream blouse with a light pink neck bow together with black trousers (that I have to supply - the women have to wear a skirt which is supplied by the hotel) and a black jacket that the women wear. The owner told me that, whilst I am behind the scenes, I won't have to wear the bow or jacket; however, when I cover on reception I will have to wear the full uniform so everyone is looking the same.

When I challenged the owner, she told me that here was no point in appealing her decision as uniform dress codes have to be followed. She said I shouldn't worry as I am small for my age and a little androgynous.

I don't know what to do and don't want to be ridiculed; however, I am worried that if I don't do as I am told I could lose my job. I can't afford and don't want to do that.

How can I tell my boss the required uniform makes me personally uncomfortable?

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    @JoeStrazzere while I might not hesitate to give that advice to a more seasoned worker, I think some sensitivity to a teenager is appropriate. It's sad that the employer won't allow modifications to this uniform, and "you can get away with it because you don't look like a guy anyway" (that seems to be the subtext, according to this post) is pretty oblivious. – Monica Cellio Jan 20 '14 at 16:37
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    Well, how it's perceived is obviously cultural and we only have one particular description of the situation but I don't see how it makes any of the answers “speculative”. After all, the OP did not ask whether the uniform really is feminine but what can be done if it is. – Relaxed Jan 21 '14 at 1:00
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    She said I shouldn't worry as I am small for my age and a little androgynous. Whether the OP is correct in his opinion that it's a girly uniform or not, "You look like a girl anyway" is not an acceptable response to that! – starsplusplus Jan 21 '14 at 10:38
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    I almost can't believe this question. I am not sure who this manager/owner thinks they are but asking a male employee to wear a blouse is crossing a line. I am not sure the reason a cream colored long sleeved shirt isn't be used. – Donald Aug 6 '14 at 15:09
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    Not related, but I was just wondering, if it was a female being forced to wear clothes she is not comfortable in, in a male-majority work place. That would have been clearly harassment. So is this. – tempusfugit Aug 6 '14 at 15:30

10 Answers 10

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There are a few things involved here. First, if your work culture involves wearing a uniform, your boss can enforce it on you. Having said that, no one, I mean, NO ONE can make you wear dress belonging to the opposite gender. You can always ask your employer to provide a version of the uniform which is of your gender.

My suggestion is as follows:

  • Talk to your hotel owner and ask for a modified version of the uniform for your gender.
  • Inform her that wearing a dress which belongs to the opposite gender makes you feel uncomfortable (Irrespective of whether you are young or not).
  • Try to see if you can put together a uniform which looks similar to what her other receptionists wear.

It's quite normal to have male receptionists. And in such scenarios, they are required to wear uniforms which are tailor made to their role and gender. Hence, if the owner doesn't agree to any of the options you suggest, and if you aren't comfortable with the dress she suggests, I suggest you to search for a new job. Compromising dignity isn't worth the money you might make there.

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    Document everything, and I mean EVERYTHING she has told you. Something tells me you'll be talking to an attorney soon. – Wesley Long Jan 20 '14 at 22:37
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    I would also make sure that if you have a spoken conversation with her, also back it up with a letter or email repeating anything you said to her. And since you are 17, I would also talk to someone older who has worked in the hotel business a while but isn't directly involved with the situation. – DJClayworth Jan 21 '14 at 0:08
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    @Relaxed, yes but a blouse and jacket designed for a female receptionist is not appropriate for a male receptionist. It's hard to tell whether a gender-appropriate substitute is being provided. – zzzzBov Aug 6 '14 at 13:44
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    A simple alternative is a cream men's dress shirt with a pink neck tie. Offer to put in the legwork to find and order the uniform with her approval, so long as she will pay for them. – David K Aug 6 '14 at 14:21
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    I suspect a story in the local paper, if it ever came to that, may help a lot more than threatening lawyers, especially given the OPs age and the length of employment. If this is a summer job then it's almost certainly not worth the hassle. – Ben Aug 6 '14 at 20:44
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It sounds like the manager wants a uniformed look for the front desk staff but can't be bothered to specify a proper man's uniform, other than to substitute trousers for a skirt. I would try to negotiate, saying "I understand you're trying to create a uniform look, but I think the top is too feminine in appearance. I'm really just not comfortable wearing women's clothing. How can we work together to create a masculine version of this uniform that I'm comfortable wearing?" Maybe combining a men's shirt of the same color will make the jacket seem less feminine?

Try to see it from the manager's perspective of wanting to avoid having to specify and purchase a whole new uniform just for you, find out what exactly about doing that she doesn't want to do, and then offer to do it for her.

  • To keep the peace I wore the uniform today and didn't get any comments from guests or staff and my manager wants me to continue wearing from now on. Should i just accept as many on here have advised – Jamie L Jan 22 '14 at 22:58
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    @JamieL - NO; You should not wear it; You should wear men's clothing there isn't a valid excuse not to allow you to do this. – Donald Aug 6 '14 at 15:10
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There are indeed women who have a sexual attraction to forcing men into feminized positions.

I strongly suspect you've run into one.

Searching for 'forced feminization' will give you a long list of sites, mostly catering to men who are the willing 'force-ee', but also to women who are the willing 'forcer'.

I'm a transsexual woman who'se been out for almost 3 decades. I've been a guest lecturer on gender identity issues in various professional forums. So I'm not just talking through my hat here.

You're being subjected to a human rights violation called 'disgendering' - denying someone's gender identity.

I'm not an attorney, and I'm not in the UK, so I have no idea what the law is. And of course the law is one thing, the actual situation on the ground another. But you have a serious complaint.

I would guess (and I am guessing) that your boss has a pretty large, unacknowledged emotional commitment to doing this. If so, it's going to take some pretty severe prying to make her realize it's not appropriate workplace behavior. You probably have a good instinctual feeling for whether this is being driven by hidden sexual motive or by laziness at not wanting to accomodate the 'different' (male, in this case) employee.

Personally, if it were me in this situation, I'd have an attorney write a nonthreatening letter. Having a third person, one with 'credentials', name the behavior will often change the dynamics. It's hard to say 'why make such a fuss?' when you've got an attorney. But this might lead to loss of your job.

Unfortunately there apparently isn't anyone 'on her level' to speak with her about it.

Incidentally, the opposite situation is one that women in service industries commonly find themselves in - having to wear, essentially, mens clothes on the job. It's been ruled sexual harassment in the US, but, (I'm not a lawyer) I believe it's only been listed as part of a list of harassing measures. And it remains pretty common.

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    This is an interesting reply. While it's possible that this is the case, it's possible also, that the manager simply doesn't want to pay money to design/purchase a new uniform for men. – user10911 Jan 21 '14 at 2:35
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    This is an extremely long bow to draw. While the asker is uncomfortable, it could just be laziness on the part of the manager or an over-reaction on the part of the asker. – user9158 Jan 22 '14 at 23:18
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    Even if we were there it'd be hard to say for sure, and we're not. Hence my "You probably have a good instinctual feeling for whether this is being driven by hidden sexual motive or by laziness" But pushing someone nonconsensually into someone else's sexual game in a workplace is a pretty serious matter, it seems appropriate to name it, even if it makes us uncomfortable. – Anniepoo Jan 23 '14 at 16:02
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    I don't know if this reflects the actual situation the OP is in or not, but I think it is a relevant and valuable answer. It hadn't occurred to me at all that using power over a subordinate to deny their gender identity was a thing that happens. Having it stated in this way actually shifted my perception a little, and I think that is a very good thing. – ColleenV parted ways May 14 '15 at 17:54
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    "She said I shouldn't worry as I am small for my age and a little androgynous." This is either the manager being extremely dense, or part of the power play. Make no mistake, this is sexual harassment. Very good answer. – SQB Dec 12 '16 at 21:52
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Many jobs have a uniform requirement, but I do not think that you should be made to wear the uniform of the opposite sex. What troubles me is that the owner's justification is that you are, in her opinion, small and androgynous. Others may not agree with me, but that sounds perverted. Are there no other male staff?

Never-the-less, the job is very important to you. I suggest putting together your own male version of the uniform. E.g. black business suit, white shirt and maroon bow tie. Tell her that you really love working at the hotel but would feel very uncomfortable wearing a women's outfit. Not only that, it would be detrimental to your performance and could possibly make customers feel uneasy (whether it does or not). Suggest wearing the alternative uniform for a few weeks, and if she doesn't like it after that you can come up with a new design.

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    It actually sounds like sexual harassment. gov.uk/workplace-bullying-and-harassment see here for more info. – Preet Sangha Jan 20 '14 at 4:21
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    I suggest putting together your own male version of the uniform. - This is silly. It's a uniform not a dresscode. An employee can't just make up the uniform, that requires a designer. – user10911 Jan 21 '14 at 2:39
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    @geekrunnings Trying to get him to wear the girl uniform suggests there is no male uniform. Rather than be reactive and refuse to wear it, he can be proactive and suggest an alternative. Since his goal is to continue to work there, attempting to solve the problem IMO works best. It may just motivate the owner to design a male uniform. Not sure why you need a designer for that though. – geometrikal Jan 21 '14 at 3:10
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    @geometrikal What I mean is that it sounds like it's possibly haphazard for the employee to say 'Oh, this uniform is missing, therefore I'll go out and find one myself'. What if the existing uniform has the hotel logo embroided on? What if it's a very specific colour? – user10911 Jan 21 '14 at 3:14
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    What troubles me is that the owner's justification is that you are, in her opinion, small and androgynous. Exactly. "It doesn't matter because you could pass for a girl" is not a valid excuse and is wildly inappropriate! – starsplusplus Jan 21 '14 at 10:39
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Regarding the uniform

I'm not sure I'm seeing the issue the same way as you. Cream is a relatively non-gendered colour and I've seen plenty of men wear pink shirts or ties. As for the jacket, it may be high-waisted or a European-style giving the impression of a feminine cut, both of these are relatively common for unisex uniforms in the hospitality industry. As stereotypical as the below image is, this is very indicative of the kinds of style for hotel staff.

enter image description here

Without actually seeing the uniform in question, its hard to know how much bias you are putting into the uniform regarding how feminine it is. A point of compromise is the "light pink neck bow", which soulds more like a cravat that an tie. Quite rankly a pink cravat does give of a certain vibe that I can understand your feelings over, perhaps this can be a point of compromise. Scope out a similarly coloured tie, and then offer this as an alternative. Other colours are probably out of the question - especially if you asekd for blue, as the girls=pink/boys=blue image may get her in trouble with a public asking why she is dressing her staff in such a gendered fashion.

Unless, no other males are required to wearing this uniform, and it is quite obvious that it is a female outfit, I would say just wear it. If that is something you are uncomfortable with, quit.

Regarding your feelings

Some uniforms are demeaning or confronting at first. I would recommend showing it to a non-biased third party, such as family, close friends or even supportive co-workers. Take a photo of just the uniform and ask for someones opinion on the "new work uniform". You may be correct in people assumptions about the uniform being overly "feminine", if this is the case speak with your supervisor about this, but also speak with some of your friendlier co-workers. If it is a bad uniform (and they do exist), getting some of the ladies on side may help. They may find it equally confronting having to work with you in this uniform, where they are unable to differentiate themselves - in the sense that by you dressing like them, much like you are concerned at decreasing your masculinity, they might be equally concerned about decreasing their femininity.

This answer isn't to invalidate how you feel, but I strongly recommend getting a additional opinions. you might be surprised, perhaps people might think it is a good style for you!

Regarding the bossed remark

The primary question was about the uniform, but your bosses comment about your reaction to the uniform is troubling. They may have not appropriately understood how you felt about the uniform and may have been trying to reassure you that it will look nice, while also saying "I am the boss, wear the uniform". However, as others have pointed out, it may be more insidious. If you are concerned, begin keeping a journal of similar remarks. If it continues and you continue to feel she is singling you out based on your gender, then by all means contact support regarding sexual harassment.

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    The blouse is very feminine looking. The collar says it is of a crepe de chine material and it is very silky. It has big sleeves with pearl buttons on the wrist and blouse itself. The jacket is high wasted and just about reaches my waist. The two items are obviously women's clothes. The manager today has reitterated to me that I need to wear it as it is the reception uniform and advised that it's not as if she is making me wear the skirt. Should I just do as she says to keep the peace and my job? – Jamie L Jan 20 '14 at 19:14
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    I'm not disputing that you think the blouse is feminine looking. But we can't tell, without an image of the blouse in question its hard to know if this is an unreasonable request on the part of the manager. As for the jacket, look up the Dinner- or Eisenhower-style jacket to see how high waisted mens jackets can be. – user9158 Jan 20 '14 at 21:48
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    @LegoStormtroopr, mens clothes and wone's clothes button on opposite sides. It will be immediately apparent he is wearing women's clothes. – HLGEM Jan 21 '14 at 23:03
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    @HLGEM Thats again very cultural, and not a hard and fast rule even in western clothes. Some high end brands reverse where the buttons go on mens shirts as a differentiator. – user9158 Jan 21 '14 at 23:04
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    @JamieL I've expanded my answer a little. Take note, I'm not intending to minimise your feelings about this, just to put it into perspective. You may be right - it might be a very feminine and potentially demeaning outfit, but I can't tell. The update answer has advice on how you can get some more options around this situation. – user9158 Jan 22 '14 at 23:17
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She sounds like a small-businessperson who wants to create/maintain a professional image for her hotel, but who doesn't want (or can't afford) to outlay the cash to buy a pair of trousers, or a bow tie, or a button-front shirt for men. As a business owner, she should have access to government programs that can assist small business owners with precisely these types of issues. Or maybe there are tax breaks (I don't know the UK system too well.) But if she provides uniforms for some people, she needs to provide them for everyone.

To accomodate her desire to keep the reception staff looking the same, but not wear overly feminine clothing (and not buy yourself anything that the other employees are not also required to purchase) I would:

  • suggest a pink bow-tie, not a pink neck bow. A bow tie is generally acceptable public wear for men, and they come in all colors, including varying shades of pink.
  • suggest a cream-colored button-front shirt, rather than a cream blouse. Again: it's socially common formal wear for men; and also some women. Button-front shirts come in all kinds of material, including a more silky fabric, but without the blousy sleeves, curved-collar detail. You can probably even find one with pearlish buttons (though since you'll be wearing a jacket, the buttons on the sleeves shouldn't matter too much.)
  • request that since her hotel supplies skirts for the female staff, that you be recompensed for your purchase of the pants. Equal treatment across the board.
  • even if the jacket is bolero-style (which is kind of what it sounds like - similar to the jacket matadors wear, very high-waisted) there may not be a way you can really get out of that one. You can suggest that the collar have points instead of curves - which, again, is a more masculine styling for the jacket without deviating significantly from the overall look of the front-of-house staff uniform.

Point out to her that having a man dressed in female clothing is not going to be a positive impression for her hotel, and that your suggestions keep the male-staff uniform within the look and feel of the rest of the staff without inviting negative commentary. Because her establishment will be the place that ultimately receives the ridicule, not (only) you.

Your option here might have to be talking to local council, and/or searching for a new job - which is pretty lousy, since the employer is being a bit of a tit and Cornwall isn't exactly a major metropolis with lots of opportunities. On the other hand, bad PR is going to hurt her and her business as much as, if not more than, it would hurt you...especially if it's known that you made constructive suggestions to meet her goals of a uniform front-of-house look for the reception staff.

Another option is quite obvious: that she not have you, or any other male, cover for front-of-house or reception staff until/unless she can provide you with a suitable uniform. Especially as it only comprises a very small portion of your job.

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As far as I understand, the hotel manager is too lazy to get you a new uniform and thinks the uniform looks OK enough on you as it is. This is a very weird situation to be in, since you do not think it looks OK and she does not take this into account at all. It is a toxic environment and I would see it as a red flag to get out of there. It is not OK when an employer does not want to account for her male employees just because most of the other ones are female. What would it be like if in a company with mostly guys, the women did not have a designated bathroom and had to use the male one?

However, assuming you really need the job, you can ask her if you may modify the uniform (add a few stitches here and there or some padding) to get it to look more masculine. Assuming it is not very tight, there may be room for a tailor to work on modifying the cut. You shouldn't have to do that and it's unfair, but it may be a temporary solution that makes you feel more comfortable. Also, I would at least demand that she pays for the pants & the stitching.

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    At the end of the day the thing is a blouse, everything else could be unisex, but a blouse can't be unisex. – Donald Aug 6 '14 at 15:15
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This sounds like either she's being very insensitive, or it's some kind of harassment.

If it is harassment, it could, as some have suggested, be sexual harassment, although it doesn't sound like that to me; more like her enjoying making someone feel uncomfortable.

But another form of harassment, that it sounds most like to me, is that she either doesn't want you on the front desk at all (and she's deliberately setting unacceptable conditions) or she doesn't want you in the company at all, and is setting unacceptable conditions so that you leave, which is called Constructive Dismissal, and is cause for going to an industrial tribunal.

  • this doesn't seem to add anything substantial over points made and explained in prior 8 answers – gnat May 14 '15 at 19:50
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    It adds the possibility that she may be trying to make him leave the company; I can't see that in the other comments. – HillWithSmallFields May 21 '15 at 10:01
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Try to understand what your boss wants. They probably want to project a professional image. She probably also doesn't want to spend her time with thinking about a different uniform for yourself.

Do they want an employee that looks discomfortable in the uniform he's wearing? Probably not. The boss has an interest that you project a good image.

This means that you do best to try to find a look that works. Talk with coworkers about what they would consider to be good. Then make your case that it's also in the interest of the company that you wear that uniform.

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It may be extremely controversial, but I have run into similar problems in the past. My solution was to simply wear the full female uniform for a couple of days. The boss changed their mind.

  • I suppose that's a personal/cultural problem. I'd take the pride of sticking it to the man any day if all I have to do is wear something unusual. – Weckar E. Nov 19 '16 at 16:32

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