In Ann Pierce's piece "The Sexist Formula for Dressing ‘Professionally’" As A Woman That I Learned Running a Website That Crowdsources First Impressions of LinkedIn Photos," she writes, It’s disheartening to see the word “unprofessional” used like a get-out-of-jail-free card for discrimination.”
She goes on to describe the ambiguity of “dressing professionally,” the contradictory standards applied to women, and then tries to define the ambiguous rules of traditional professional dress for women based on the current cultural situation. Read the whole article here.
We feel conflicted about this piece. It highlights some real and important issues. For example, the double standards that women face daily. And the fine line between, well, so many things.
But we wonder about the other end, where the excuse that things are “ambiguous” is a cop-out. Following that, we wonder about the comparison between menswears being neutral, with "No-fail" work choices such as suit jackets, button-downs, and polo shirts, while womenswear there “is no such thing.”
It’s true that women have a wider body range and what works for one doesn’t for another. But women, much more then men, have a huge range of options to select from–perhaps too large, really–and neutral pieces are a part of that. The foundation of all dressing decisions should be to know your environment and dress appropriately. If it is a super conservative environment that you signed up for, then go with that 120%. If it’s casual, there is more ambiguity, but in general, no matter how “casual” an office seems, we would recommend never wearing anything wrinkled, frayed, or choose skirts that are too high or shirts too low. And not sure about tightness? Doubt means don’t (wear it). Even if you can “get away” with a piece or an outfit - why go there?
The bigger issues to us, is that too much time is spent going through the selection in womenswear. Also, it is difficult to find comfortable workwear (especially pants). Both of these issues take time and energy away from what should be the #1 priority - your job and doing it well.
Luckily, there are some people, services and brands that are exploring this topic. For examples of great work-wear style (and rules), may we suggest Memorandum and Corporette. StitchFix is a service that connects you to personal stylists, and using a predetermined budget, will conveniently mail you packages.
The concept about capsule wardrobes is interesting, as is the work uniform. All these resources can hopefully take some of the guesswork out of dressing, streamline your decision making process, and free you up to focus on what matters.