The Great Dress-Code Debate rages at HP

Call it Dresscodegate.

For days now, HP has been caught up in a raging Internet conflagration over reported rumors and rumored reports that programmers in its Enterprise Service division had been banned from wearing T-shirts and other casual clothing to work. According to The Register, several teams at Hewlett-Packard received a confidential memo about the couture crackdown, reading in part:

“According to HP, men should avoid turning up to the office in T-shirts with no collars, faded or torn jeans, shorts, baseball caps and other headwear, sportswear, and sandals and other open shoes. Women are advised not to wear short skirts, faded or torn jeans, low-cut dresses, sandals, crazy high heels, and too much jewelry.”

“Quelle horreur!” was the response from Silicon Valley, where T-shirts, skinny jeans and Giants caps are practically required fashion at startups and corporate tech giants alike. Or as skinny-jean-wearing Apple CEO Tim Cook might say: “Sheesh, what is this? 1953?”

Not surprisingly, to have one the region’s high-tech legends issue such an uncool edict sent legions of programmers, developers, product manager, venture capitalists, founders and co-founders into a veritable tizzy. Even more embarrassing, techies took to the Twittersphere to ridicule HP’s fuddy-duddy dictum while rival companies dangled job offers before HP’s disgruntled masses, promising them they could wear whatever the heck they wanted to wear to work.

It was getting ugly, with one observer Tweeting out:

I understand the motivation behind HP dress code – HP customers are mostly clueless idiots that judge people by the way they dress.

Suffice to say this was all bad publicity at a very bad time: HP is on the verge of splitting its business into two separate companies, presumably creating two separate dress codes that it must then defend, enforce, deny, or make funny videos about.

But now the plot has again thickened, with HP releasing a short tongue-in-cheek if rather lame video of HP Enterprise’s head of HR insisting his company does not have a “global” dress code and that you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. It was chuckles all around for HP’s Alan May as he smiled and joked and slipped into and out of one crazy outfit after another, with a heavy emphasis on plaid.

His message:

“Hi, I’m Alan … Guess what?! HP doesn’t have a global dress code. And if we did, you’d think I’d know, being the head of HR for Hewlett Packard Enterprise an’ all.”

OK, so no dress code at HP, right?

Not so fast. While May’s funny video was going viral, the ever-vigilant Register reported on some funny business going on behind the scenes: “HP insists ‘we don’t have a global dress code’ – while deleting one from its website,” read its headline.

HP Enterprise’s head of HR says his company does not have a “global” dress code, while his minions quietly remove a webpage on workplace appearance from

Fun video, but none of this changes anything… except one thing: a webpage in the “HP Technology at Work” section of, dated August 2013, titled “Being smart about casual” and listing do’s and don’ts for workplace attire – such as no short skirts or sandals or ripped jeans, and so on. HP still links to the article here.

Earlier today, we noticed HP had deleted the contents of the “Being smart about casual” page entirely. Gone. A page that had been online for two years, and according to HP insiders, matched the memo sent to some engineering teams last week.


HP did not comment.

So, dress code or no dress code?

For most of us, it’s no big deal either way. But HP employees might want to think twice Monday morning when they’re picking out their day’s wardrobe.

But if you’re feeling really lucky, take a cue from that dude in HR:

Choose plaid.

Photo at top by Jim Gensheimer/Mercury News archives


Tags: ,


Share this Post

  • edwardia monteroyo

    Heh. So, after 5 years of mucking around and waiting for the recovery, Meg Whitman lets HP do THIS? Wow. I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop on this company for years and instead of the ultimate fall, we get a dress code. LOL. What a joke. It’s 2015 — time to make the mad dash for $$ and market stability by DOING SOMETHING NEW. Not…THIS!!! LOL!!!!

  • disqus_9xayOTnP13

    There is a difference between a dress code and guidelines for work attire, the first gets you sent home to change, the second gets you “well placed” when it comes time for promotions.

  • brokedownsystem

    engineers are paid to do a job, not to model in a fashion show at the office. And so until pay is commensurate to cover the costs of all this expensive clothing…t-shirt and jeans will remain the de facto casual wear.

    • edwardia monteroyo

      That’s right!

  • Calijab

    I believe a company has every right to establish a standard of dress for their workplace. However, I question the hat restriction. I knew a network guy at HP who was young, bald and very self-conscious. He wore a hat and it did not get in the way of his job. Sometimes I would make a paper hat to reduce the glare from the overhead lights. Ease up on the hat restriction HP!!!

  • ellafino

    What’s with the short skirt ban, are they afraid the male nerds will go crazy and attack.

    • Lurker Smith

      Yes. That’s exactly what they’re afraid of.

  • Lurker Smith

    Wow, a whole lotta drama over nothing! So, the web goes crazy over a dress code that, to anyone over 30 seems perfectly reasonable, especially if you deal with customers. The Register ( runs with it, and everyone else is just copying the Register’s article (with no copy of the actual memo to be found anywhere), and everyone is piling on.

    Oh, the humanity! Stop the presses! Nevermind the police shootings, oil leaks, terrorist attacks and the hacking of your personal information by foreign governments! Someone at HP has banned t-shirts at work! Protest! Boycott! Let’s make sure every presidential candidate speaks out on the HP “dress code” so we know where they stand! This is IMPORTANT!

    Meanwhile, HP’s management (who has gone totally youth crazy) is afraid to even stand behind some manager’s memo to their customer facing group (not the entire corporation), to try not to look like slobs around customers. (You know, the big companies that still employ suit wearing executives, who write the checks that pay the salaries of the geeks who write the code and develop the products.)

    So, HP sends a global memo saying there is “No global dress code”. (In other words, each department in each geography can still set their own dress codes, which seems perfectly reasonable.) And then, embarrassingly, they pulled a publicly posted article (which I think was someone’s Blog) about how to “smartly” dress casual. (I’m sure that had I read that blog, I would have stood by it’s remaining posted, maybe with an update stating HP’s current policy of “no global dress code, but you know you have a dress code”.) But, high ups, afraid of looking “uncool” do all the back pedaling and over compensating that makes them look just that.

    Really? Are we now so afraid of offending the youngsters with keyboards (emulated on their phones), that we can’t even take a stand against mustard stained t-shirts and short shorts on guys who have no business hanging their “sacks” where I can see them?

    Whether you like it or not, whether it’s coded in a memo or policy book or not, we all have dress codes. Any employer has to make sure they don’t get sued for “creating a hostile environment” (“hate speech” on shirts is out) or “sexual harassment” (there go your short skirts and low cut tops that distract most of the male workforce), and we MUST NOT, above all, offend those from whom we want money (customers). Anything that draws a complaint will become a dress code violation. That’s true anywhere, even at Google, I’m sure.

    My guess (again, having not seen the actual “memo”) is it went out as a result of some high muckity-muck at a customer account who complained to a similarly higher up at HP, and so the predictable memo came out to the “offending” group or department. That’s how things work in the Corporate world.

    If you visit the suited execs in a high rise office, ditch the shorts and sandals. If you work at a basic dive bar, maybe ditch the tie and wool suit and try to look cool. (That’s your dress code.) If you work in a chip factory (potato or silicon), I hope you like white! That’s the way it is.

    I’m sure a service provider who showed up at Silicon Beat would be tossed out if their attire was significantly out of whack with the expectations of those they were dealing with. (What, you don’t think a fish net shirt over a fat, hairy man-chest is professional? Well, it’s hot out and I have a glandular condition! Fine: I’ll dab off the sweat if that makes you feel better.)

  • The Goat

    Must come into the office to huddle into your ever-more-tiny work area, while you worry about lay-offs and off-shoring ……why not dictate what they wear as well? Seems HP has lots of ideas/dictates to drive employees/potential employees away. When is the last time they did something positive for employees?

  • Maise

    hmmm, so my t-shirts, sandals, jeans, n skirts caused me to be wfr’d (oops i meant early retirement)

  • Josh

    Or maybe it’s a story blown way out of proportion caused by a small sub segment of a 300k plus person company? When did the news become opinionated instead of looking to find facts….

  • Reed More

    Sounds like one engineering manager trying to address a problem of someone wearing something totally inappropriate to work one day such as a t-shirt with a swear word or the like. Probably got advice from HR to apply to all workers so as not to be discriminating against said employee.

    I’ve seen some people wear things to work that they should have had the good sense not to wear. Low cut cocktail dresses with 5″ heels or shorts with the paint on them from your weekend project probably don’t belong in the office, but its your reputation and “brand”….