Photo by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious on Flickr.

The dress code at many federal workplaces simply doesn’t make sense anymore as the standard in professional attire.  How is anyone supposed to ride a bike to work in a tailored skirt or a starched dress shirt?

Secretaries Sebelius, LaHood, Donovan and Admini­strator Jackson: No doubt, you have plenty keeping you busy over at HHS, DOT, HUD and EPA. However, you have an opportunity to lead in promoting more health, better transportation, better cities and a sustainable planet by changing the federal employee dress code.

For a long time, convention required suits, ties and pantyhose. Before that it was a lot of gloves and hats and powdered wigs.  (Don’t get me started on the corsets…) But the fashion police have moved forward, leaving federal agencies hopelessly out of style and out of step with their own missions.

Environmental sustainability, smart urban growth and public wellness are at the very top of the agenda. But most of your employees can’t live out the very values that they work for; they’re too busy fetching their dry cleaning and keeping their shoes shined.

Let’s relax the professional dress code in favor of something a little more practical.

Secretary LaHood, it would be nice to get more people out of the morning gridlock and onto a Metro, right?  Employees who choose to walk or bike to work might put a dent in the diabetes and obesity numbers, isn’t that true, Secretary Sebelius? 

If more people chose to wait for the bus instead of hopping into a private vehicle, I bet the environment would have no objections, right Ms. Jackson?  For that matter, I bet your cooling costs (and your carbon footprint) wouldn’t be so high if people didn’t wear wool all summer.  I get warm just thinking about August in DC.

Undoubtedly, some of your employees make great choices already, out of necessity or otherwise.  But you aren’t making it any easier for them.  And it wouldn’t cost you a dime to make the change.  In fact, it might save everyone a few dollars.

Of course, all of your workers would see some returns if they didn’t have to suit up for work every day. In addition, a more active, health-conscious employee workforce would help to reduce your organization’s insurance overhead.  In turn, employees would enjoy lower premiums and, eventually, fewer reasons to see the doctor in the first place. 

And, Secretary Donovan, you know better than anyone, as more and more people find themselves living in urban areas, individuals’ choices regarding their health and their habits—from how they choose to commute to how many loads of laundry they wash in a given week—have a larger and larger impact the way our cities develop and evolve.

The very concept of what it means to look like a “professional” needs a makeover.  Lest you think that this would mean lowering standards, let me assure you on behalf of the fashion police: it would not. We love good style, and we love great clothes. But even we don’t think that respect for a person’s professionalism should hinge on whether he or she showed up in khakis or couture. 

More often than not, when it comes to game-changing strategies, the private sector leads and the public sector follows.  It’s no surprise.  Bold moves often require more risk than a government agency like any of yours can reasonably and responsibly agree to take on. 

Here, then, is a rare opportunity.  This is your chance to be taste-makers.  Relax your dress codes and start a movement.  Many fixes are expensive and challenging to implement.  This one costs nothing at all and promises some big potential returns, from healthier, happier employees to cleaner, greener cities.

Ksenia Kaladiouk lives in Southeast DC, where she spends her time writing, sketching, running, taking photos, scheming and studying the flying trapeze.  She is particularly interested in the history of urban development, education, the effects of space on the rise and fall of cultural and commercial institutions, and vice versa.