The Friday Debate: Should social workers dress up or dress down for work?

Dress up says Community Care senior writer Anabel Unity Sale

I can’t concentrate when I wear jeans to work. In fact, I never have worn them because I know my brain would dissolve into mush the moment my denim appears.

This causes great amusement among my colleagues who, on the whole, turn up to the office in a range of outfits from cowboy boots and skinny jeans to suits worthy of Jackie O. I, on the other hand, tend to wear skirts, girlie shoes (nothing too high) and v-neck jumpers. In the summer I wear smart t-shirts.

When I told one of my colleagues, who shall remain nameless (Janet Snell), I wear jeans at the weekend she replied, “but I thought you woke up in fishnets!” And let’s not even get into the fact that I can’t think without my mascara on.

Wearing the style of clothes I do makes me feel professional and competent; I have a clear boundary between my personal and professional life. I never feel the need to abandon my more formal look on dress down Fridays.

I’ve visited social work offices across Britain and it’s safe to say social workers, on the whole, have a very *ahem* chilled attitude to their appearance. Jeans, trainers and t-shirts are all de rigeur.

It strikes me, how do they function in such informal clothing? How do they maintain a professional boundary with their clients if their clothes give them the impression they are relaxed? I’m not advocating that social workers wear uniforms like the police do but isn’t it about time they smartened up? Doing so would help improve social workers’ image no end.

Dress down says Community Care deputy editor Janet Snell

I can’t imagine anything worse than the idea of having to wear smart clothes to work.

Ok, if one morning you discover the only thing that’s clean is your best outfit, then go ahead and put it on if it makes life easier and get’s you out the door. But as for the idea that smart is the norm except for one day at the end of the week when you are “allowed” to wear jeans, get out of here.

The concept of “Dress Down Friday” which seems to be creeping into office life is just the most hideous idea.  I dress down most days of the week and then make a point of dressing up on Friday just to remind myself I’m not a total corporate clone. 

I’m sure social workers wouldn’t have any truck with such nonsense. In my experience pretty much anything goes when it comes to social services style – the dress code is there is no dress code, and quite right too.

What could be more alienating for a service user who doesn’t have a bean to their name to be confronted with a professional dressed up to the nines who makes them feel even more down on their luck than they were feeling already. Power dressing should be banished to the boardroom where it belongs.

Social care attracts bohemians and rebels. They may be wearing Doc Martens and faded jeans – and they might even sport the odd tattoo or piercing. But they know how to relate to their clients and put them at their ease.

If people want to look smart, they can go and work in a bank.

What do you think?

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