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Judge Chamberlain Haller: Mr. Gambini, didn't I tell you that the next time you appear in my court that you dress appropriately?

Vinny Gambini: You were serious about that?

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You ever see a sign outside a business that reads "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service"? That's a Dress Code.

Anytime a place has rules for what people should and shouldn't wear. This can include uniforms, but in that case the code is simply to wear the appropriate uniform. Actual dress codes allow more freedom, especially depending on the situation.

This trope applies just as much in Real Life as in fiction.

Two of the most common places for dress codes are schools and businesses. And the latter often has "Casual Fridays", where the code is loosened. (There are still limits, of course, although on many shows the characters will take their sartorial freedom to hilarious extremes).

And this can also be in other formal situations like black tie dinners or Standard Royal Courts.

In fiction, two of the most common reasons for stating dress codes are:

  1. To add flavor to the place, such as a Deadly Decadent Court.
  2. To show that a character is going to violate the code, and get in some form of trouble over it.

Occasionally a part of Dress-Coded for Your Convenience (when at least one side actually had a dress code).

Contrast Underdressed for the Occasion and No Dress Code.

Not to be confused with Hollywood Dress Code.

Examples of Dress Code include:


  • In Mr. Holland's Opus, there is a scene where the principal sees that two girls are wearing skirts that are too short, so he sends them home.
  • In My Cousin Vinny, Vinny gets in trouble with the judge because his clothes don't match what the judge feels is appropriate for the court.
  • Winter Kills has a scene where Nick meets with his girlfriend Yvette at a swank NYC hotel restaurant. When the maître d' refuses to seat them, because Yvette is wearing a pantsuit and the restaurant has a strict policy prohibiting this, she complies by taking her pants off on the spot (a Refuge in Audacity move that was supposedly inspired by a real-life incident involving socialite Nan Kempner).


  • In Marianne Curley's Guardians Of Time series, one of the signs that chaos is overtaking the world is either that the dress code at the protagonists' high school gets abolished.
  • In The Sword of Truth series, length of hair on women designates social standing. The most important woman in the Midlands--the Mother Confessor--has the longest hair, and it's socially (and in some places, legally) unacceptable to have hair any longer than hers.
  • In the Honor Harrington series the standard court costume imposed by tradition on the Manticoran nobility during formal events, having been created by a society with essentially de facto gender equality, is unisex and includes such things as tight brightly striped pants which look unfortunate on people without the physique to pull it off and mildly ridiculous otherwise. Duchess Harrington herself, choosing to exploit her title from the planet Grayson as an excuse, decides on wearing a much more comfortable and fashionable looking dress (Grayson having a more "traditional" view of women and fashion), this causing a minor social uproar when Queen Elizabeth III decides that's a damn fine idea.
  • In The Princess Diaries, Mia mentions her school dress code here and there, such as complaining when the Alpha Bitch blatantly violates it by wearing her boyfriend's shorts under her skirt, or complaining about how they can't tie their uniform shirts into midriff tops like Britney Spears.

Live Action TV

  • NCIS has Lab Rat-slash-Perky Goth Abby wearing clothing that ranges from stereotypical Goth to Stripperiffic. When called out on it and forced to wear normal office attire, she ends up in a great deal of emotional distress and loses some of her brilliance. Naturally, Papa Wolf Gibbs stands up for her and she is allowed to revert to her...less than business casual wardrobe.
  • An Ally McBeal episode has a judge ordering Ally to stop donning her trademark miniskirts in court. When she refuses, he has her jailed for contempt.
  • One Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode has a judge chewing ADA Casey Novak out for wearing pants in court and ordering her to wear a skirt in the future.
  • The late-'60s high school drama Room 222 had an episode centering around a student challenging the school dress code.
  • In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will would occasionally find loopholes in his high school's dress code, such as wearing his school blazer inside-out, or tying his necktie on his forehead.
  • The U.S. version of The Office had a casual Friday episode.
    • In "New Boss", Charles Miner clashes with Jim and Dwight over their attire.
  • In season 10 of Degrassi the school introduces uniforms in the middle of the school year, in response to a number of incidents. A far cry from Degrassi Junior High where they didn't even have a wardrobe and the characters' clothes were the actors' own.
  • Spoofed in the opening segment of The Deadly Mantis episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where Servo announces it's "Business Casual Day" on the SOL and cites Mike for alleged violations of the dress code, despite Mike's protestations that they aren't a business.

Newspaper Comics

  • Dilbert likes to mock these once in a while.
    • In one strip, Wally and Dilbert show up on a Friday in leisure suits bell bottoms. Pointy-Haired Boss sends them back for abusing the concept of casual Fridays.
    • Here's another one.
    • And the Dilbert book Casual Day has Gone Too Far.
  • Peanuts had a '70s storyline in which Peppermint Patty was suspended for violating the school dress code.
  • In a Calvin and Hobbes strip:

 Calvin: I saw a sign on a restaurant door that said "No shirt, no shoes, no service." But it didn't say anything about pants! If I went in wearing shoes and a shirt by no pants, they'd have to serve me!

Hobbes: They'd probably serve you with a court summons.

Calvin: (taking off his pants) C'mon, let's see if Mom will take us out for dinner!


Web Comics

Web Original

  • Bizarre dress codes are a staple of transgender fiction, as seen on sites like FictionMania. Usually, a male character finds himself in an all-female workplace with a dress code that doesn't account for two genders, and thus requires things like skirt, pantyhose, makeup, etc. After being Dragged Into Drag, adopting a Wholesome Crossdresser lifestyle (and in more extreme cases, dragged into more than that), the protagonist often finds that many of the "women" in the office are, or were, also men.
  • Parodied in "Magiconomy" by Shiny Objects Videos. Even destructive forces of dark magic need to wear a tie in the office.

Real Life

  • The court of Tsarist Russia had a dress code, which included requiring ladies to wear the Pimped Out Dresses with the distinctive sleeves and tiaras.
    • Many other royal courts in the 19th century had their own codes as well. In a nutshell, this was the Ermine Cape Effect being enforced, rather than just as an image.
      • And even earlier. One of Jane Seymour's newly appointed maids of honor caught all kinds of grief over her clothes. They were too French, she didn't have the right headress, and her girdle didn't have the regulation two hundred pearls!
    • And before that, there were the "Sumptuary Laws", which dictated what materials people of a certain rank were allowed to wear. Apparently this was enacted by kings and queens tired of people of lower rank dressing better than them.
      • More importantly, at the time social rank determined how the law treated you, so trying to pass out for a higher class than you actually were was tantamount to serious fraud.
      • One of the laws was what kind of fur one could wear. Ermine was largely associated with royalty already due to their robes and capes, but at that time royalty had it exclusive by law.
  • England, circa the 16th century onwards, the length of one's wig determined one's social status in polite society. This still remains with English criminal law: judges wear longer, full wigs than the barristers (lawyers) who wear short, abbreviated ones.
  • Almost everyone in an American court is required to meet a dress code, including the jury in many cases (which is printed on the letter sent to jurors).
  • In Brazil, you can not enter a public building without long pants.
  • In Vatican City, the guards enforce a strict dress code for entry to St. Peter's Basilica: No bare shoulders or skirts/shorts above the knee for either men or for women.
  • Formal parties have general dress codes depending on the type. If you see terms like "White tie dinner", "Black tie dinner", or "Cocktail party", those are all in descending degrees of formality and dress.
  • There is a 100 year old law in Paris that makes it illegal for women to wear pants. Repeal has been proposed several times, but officials and law officers find it is simply much easier and cheaper to ignore it.
    • Similarly, in collections of "ridiculous old laws still on the books", you can find places in the USA where women may not wear patent leather shoes, because they might reflect their underwear.
  • The Technology Student Association has multiple levels of dress code for conferences. All true TSA'ers know exactly what constitutes Official Dress and what doesn't.
  • Most American public schools have a dress code, though usually more about prohibiting certain things than requiring a particular dress (e.g., no obscene shirts, no underwear showing, or no hats). The schools vary in how strictly they enforce it, however.