Would You Fire Someone for Refusing to Wear Makeup?
A sales assistant at London’s famous Harrods department store has claimed her refusal to wear makeup has cost her her job.
Melanie Stark, 24, said she was "driven out;" that her face-off with the store over the issue left her "exhausted, stressed, and upset," she told the U.K.'s Daily Mail.
Twice she was sent home; another time she was hidden from customer view in the stockroom. (In 2009, 22-year-old Riam Dean won some $14,000 from Abercrombie & Fitch after claiming harassment. The store was accused of "hiding" her in a stockroom because her prosthetic arm did not fit with its "look policy.")
Stark, who works in the HMV department (music, movies, and games), said she had been described by one manager as among the best of their employees and worked without makeup for four years, before being asked to comply with the store's strict dress code, which runs 13 pages.
For women, Harrods stipulates: "Full makeup at all times: base, blusher, full eyes (not too heavy), lipstick, lip liner, and gloss are worn at all times and maintained discreetly (please take into account the store display lighting which has a 'washing out' effect)." The tony department store isn’t the only one with exacting rules; banking giant Credit Suisse has a 44-page dress code that forbids, among other things, black nail polish and visible roots regrowth. American Apparel insists hair "must be dyed to compliment [sic] skin tone" and stipulates that blush can't have sparkle in it.
When Stark refused, she was offered a makeup workshop and told, "You can see what you look like with makeup," she said.
"I was appalled. It was insulting. Basically, it was implying it would be an improvement. I don't understand how they think it is OK to say that,” she said.
Last week she resigned, saying she'd been "driven out." She had worked at the store for five years, three of them part-time while a philosophy, religion, and ethics student at King's College London, and the last two years full-time after finishing her masters.
Stark said she turned up barefaced to her job interview more than four years ago, at age 19, and that Harrods first tried to enforce the dress code with her last August: After senior managers spied her on a "floor walk," she was sent home for refusing to put on some makeup.
In a letter to Harrods at the time she said: "To be told that one's face is inadequate is extremely degrading." She had a commendation for customer services and met every other requirement.
The next day, she was assigned to work in the stockroom and told she had two options: Wear makeup or leave.
She said she was also told: "We're not making you look like the girls on the beauty counter" and it was suggested she could "just wear eyeliner and lipstick." She said: "But if that was my choice, surely I had the choice to wear none."
She continued turning up to work barefaced for nearly another year. Then three weeks ago, during a PowerPoint presentation, a new floor manager told staff: "Girls. I want you to be made up."
She briefly was transferred to HMV’s Bayswater store (HMV had no issue with her; Harrods did), but already she’d decided to resign.
"I just could not go through with it all again. I wasn't going to compromise, but neither were they," she said. "And I felt it was time to move on."
A Harrods spokeswoman said: "All our staff are subject to a dress code which they sign up to on joining the company, which relates to an overall polished appearance. Our records show that discussions with Melanie Stark concerned a general lack of adherence to the dress code. However, no action was taken and she subsequently decided to leave the business of her own accord with no reference made to dress code."
Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.