Update: I recently received an email from a young female who read this blog and had practical questions about office wardrobe. I wrote her back, offering advice and observations from my own experience. In doing so, I realized my recommendations conflicted with this original post. How can I advise someone of hard-and-fast wardrobe rules and also think there aren’t any? Thinking about this disconnect, I quickly realized the largest difference was she and I were not at the same point in our career. I’ve come a long way from my first day at a big company, both in time and experience, and through that I have been able to establish who I am in the workforce. My customers and clients see me as a strategic business partner, and I expect to be treated as such.
Though not long ago, I was fighting to earn respect among these same individuals. I was young and new and did not have any laurels to rest my head upon. So I played the game. I wore the ugly outfits to remove distractions, I completed tedious tasks that I did not agree with so that my customer’s could see that my recommendations – in the end – were right. Essentially, I proved myself. And once I had done that, I felt comfortable challenging norms. From calling out sexism to demanding fair pay and refusing pantyhose, I was able to take a stand on things that have always bothered me because I was now sitting in a position of power. Not great power, but enough.
This young woman may not be in that position but she can get there with the right experiences and opportunities. So maybe the best thing to do is remove distractions and work on obtaining what you need to get where you want to be. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to compromise your beliefs to do this, but we’re based in reality – not a perfect world.
People have strong feelings about pantyhose. Probably because they are uncomfortable, get giant runs in the blink of an eye and make you feel like you are 90-years-0ld. They are a relic a wardrobe essential from yesteryear.
But today? Not so much. Pantyhose can actually be the thing that makes you look juvenile in a boardroom. I see young women wearing ill-fitting business suits and instinctually know that poor angel is probably also enduring some serious pantyhose wedge. Bless her.
Unfortunately, my early career fashion advice came from women who worked in traditional office environments. Translation: they didn’t bat an eye when they were asked to make the office coffee and Murphy Brown was a fashion icon. Don’t get me wrong, these women gave me a lot of really great advice, but the office uniform has evolved.
For my first few jobs, anything fancier than jeans and a t-shirt was considered formal attire. I kind of envied people who got to dress up everyday, but also loved the convenience and ease of wearing a comfortable, easy-to-pick-out outfit everyday.
That all changed when I started working at a Fortune 500 company. They were as into tradition as the Fiddler on the Roof. Suddenly, just like my grandmother before me, I was wearing pantyhose because the environment expected me to do so.
Not long into my career at this workplace, a senior vice president lectured on this very topic. Though it was a mixed audience, it was hard not to see this as a PSA for women. Basically she said she adopted a boring, extremely modest wardrobe because she didn’t want any distractions.While I get the message, I don’t agree.
Women are evaluated by different standards in the workplace… we get it. But asking us to conform, once again, to standards developed by men in order to be seen as more legitimate? That’s too far.
I will always dress respectfully – even Grandmother Approved Outfits (GAO) – but I’m not going to give up color or comfort or style. I’m not giving up functionality and confidence just to appease a dated standard that I never signed up for in the first place.
So ladies, here’s my advice for you: Wear what you think is right. Dress smart, dress comfortably and dress confidently. And then get to work.
Employers: Let’s try to have a culture with less emphasis was on what you wore and more on what you delivered. Men and women.
Because last time I checked, men weren’t required to wear pantyhose… so women shouldn’t be either.