Harrods’ Sexist Stance?

That feeling of being whisked back in time during the night and waking up somewhere in the 1950s is persisting: back to a time when the public perception was that women worked for pin money and had very few rights in the workplace and feminism was something a few mad women talked about…

At the week end I read that Harrods, the famous Knightsbridge store, has a dress code for staff. Nothing at all strange in that. But its dress code for women runs to two pages and part of the ‘ladies’ code states:

Full make up at all times: base, blusher, full eyes, (not too heavy), lip liner, lipstick and gloss are worn at all times and maintained discreetly.”

I am astonished. And it’s not a rule respected in the breach, i.e. one that’s been hanging around since the fifties and no one takes much notice of it. Oh no. This is an current and enforced rule.

A young 24 year old employee has been sent home twice for not wearing make up and then sent to work in the stock room, as presumably her un-made face would be offensive to customers! You can read the full story here.

And then my good friend, Sarah Pennels of Savvy Woman, a financial magazine for women and herself a regular contributor to BBC radio and TV, sent me this tweet:

Hi Jane @bbcradio4 just doing a profile of Christine Lagarde – the first person they interviewed was a fashion blogger..!”

In case you haven’t come across her Christine Lagarde is the recently appointed head of the International Monetary Fund. Here’s some more information about her from the Independent on line:

Christine Lagarde is also a good product that requires very little marketing given her very intimidating curriculum vitae. Aside from a couple of firsts, which she has to her name – first female head of the globally renowned law firm, Baker and McKenzie; first woman to head the French finance ministry; and, first female finance minister of a G8 country – Lagarde as an acclaimed antitrust lawyer also had an extensive practice with Baker and McKenzie in New York. She was France’s Minister of Trade (2005 – 2007), Minister of Agriculture (2007); and in fact her country’s longest serving Minister of Finance (having been in that position since 2007). Little wonder why the Financial Times in 2009 ranked her the best Minister of Finance of the Euro zone. The Forbes magazine in the same year equally ranked her the 17th most powerful woman in the world. At the moment, Lagarde has also become the first woman to head the IMF.

So, lets talk about what she wears shall we? Good grief! Will someone please have a word with them at the BBC and remind them what century we’re living in? Even the flagship news  programme Today was at it last week!


Photo Credit: T. Al Nakib


Posted on July 4th, 2011 by

8 Responses to “Harrods’ Sexist Stance?”

  1. Mrs.D says:

    Okay lets take the Harrod’s thing first I agree with Harrod’s when consumers shop there they expect a certain standard and as an employ she will have has this told to her and she will have signed a contract saying she agreed – so no no sobbing and running to the press because she has to wear cosmetics or blusher – suck it up and shut up she is lucky to have a nice job in a fabulous environment
    Now the BBC and Christine Lagarde that is bad and it just shows ignorance and putting women in a pigeon hole not accepting that she is remarkable and ground breaking

    • Jane says:

      Thanks Vicki! I can always rely on you for an honest response! I am entirely comfortable with the idea of a dress code and would expect something like ‘well presented at all times’ or equivalent. But I am amazed at such a prescriptive two page document for ladies which frankly seems out of date. I mean, actually specifying lip liner? But I take your point about customers expecting a certain standard and that staff know that when they sign up. I’m querying that standard.
      We used to have a family connection with Harrods (the overall manager was my husband’s uncle 20+ years ago) and it sounds like something that may have been written when he began as a 16 year old floor sweeper! But in fairness to Harrods; they didn’t sack her and the article doesn’t suggest that they were going to; she left.

  2. Louise says:

    Back in the 70s my then 17-year-old sister had a Saturday job in Boots. One morning she got a tannoy announcement calling her to the supervisors office, where she was told to take some products from the shelves and put make up on and sort her hair out. To be fair to them, she’d been out clubbing half the night and probably wasn’t looking her best. They dealt with it tactfully but they had strict guidelines about looking groomed, on the grounds that they were a health and beauty retailer. She’s still cross about it 30 years later tho.

    Why you’d need to wear makeup to work in an HMV concession beats me – from my experience it’s the guys who don’t wash and wear the same t-shirt all week who are the problem.

    • Jane says:

      Thanks Louise and Geraldine. If I’m going to a make up counter I would lose confidence if the assistant serving me didn’t seem to know anything about make up. I.E. she wasn’t wearing any, or worse was wearing so much that it frightened the horses (subjective I know). And I love to wear make up myself and would feel naked standing up in front of a large group to give a talk without any on. But I could do it and I wouldn’t be any better or worse at my job. It’s an emotive topic. Keep the comments rolling in!

  3. Well I was in a really good mood today until I read the Harrods article. I am aghast! Of course clothes need to be clean and not indecent and I would suspect there is general agreement as to what that looks like. But for ‘well groomed’ to include the make up requirements is outrageous. I wear make up myself – I think I look better with it on so I feel better when I wear it. But this is a personal choice and nothing to do with professional standards. I suspect that they wouldn’t have men with beards or designer stubble either and let’s not even start on piercings. Although I do suspect that they might lose a sex discrimination case on the grounds that wearing make up bears no relation to job performance (remember when BHS tried to stop a Muslim woman wearing trousers – they lost the case). But Harrods can state what they like and people do have a choice as to whether to sign up to the code and the job or not as Vicki says.

    The BBC is another matter but why would we be surprised at their blatant sexism. It’s not long ago since they lost a case after sacking a woman presenter on age grounds (of course they said it wasn’t because of her age but they lost the case anyway) I hope by the next time I reincarnate things have moved on a bit…

  4. Claire says:

    I think the bigger issue is why they expect their female employees to conceal themselves behind makeup. It’s not gender equality. It must also discriminate against those people who are allergic to makeup? Another question I would like answered is do the women get a makeup allowance? This is clearly an expense that the male employees are not expected the incur.

  5. No doubt in my mind that this is blatant discrimination. Male employees may have a dress code too but it certainly doesn’t include this requirement. Since when has not wearing make up affected job performance in the HMV department, (selling CDs & DVDs I presume)? Being allergic to some make-up items I’d better not even consider applying for a job in Harrods.

  6. Anne Esposito says:

    It’s this sort of conundrum that challenges what you think are long held assumptions!

    I would always have said it is unreasonable to proscribe a woman’s dress etc in the workplace differently than a man’s and that both should be something along the lines of what you suggest Jane in your reply to Mrs D. BUT I have to confess I love going into Harrods and seeing all the young women looking so beautifully made up and glamorous!!

    So where does that leave me? Uncertain, sitting on the fence…and a little in agreement with Mrs D who points out that the dress code should have been known to this young woman before she accepted the job and signed the contract….

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