Gender inequality and clothing are more closely intertwined than you may believe. Society sometimes measures women based on our wardrobe choices rather than our intellectual acuity. It judges the depth of our closets rather than the reach of our knowledge. The length of our skirts and how low-cut our blouses are: these are the deciding factors of our future rather than the extent of our excellence.
Some of you may be rolling your eyes saying, “Duh, knew that already.” Stay with me here, it’s worse than you think. Others may doubt this is a real problem worth addressing. Again, stay with me here. I have numbers. Unfortunate ones.
Eighty percent. In a recent survey of more than 1,000 executives at companies with 20 or more employees, 80% of senior managers said that an employee’s clothing can affect his or her chances of earning a promotion. In another survey of over 2,000 hiring and human resource managers, the number one reason related to physical appearance that would make an employee less likely to be promoted was “provocative attire.” In fact, in Lorenzana v. Citigroup, a 2009 lawsuit in New York, a woman was fired after being told her figure and clothing was too distracting for her male colleagues and supervisors. Yes, really. The distracting clothing in question: fitted business suits, high heels, pencil skirts, and turtleneck tops.
Why does any of this matter? The statistics and data above clearly shows that people associate professional attire with your potential for success. Make no mistake, I think this information is important to keep in mind. I believe there is a time and a place for everything. I have plenty of platform heels, ripped jeans, and bandage dresses. That doesn’t mean you’ll see me wearing any of that to court.
Although it is important to be aware of the message your clothes are sending, it’s obvious that society has a problem with subjecting women and men to different standards when it comes to clothing. This view is short-sighted and unfair. Cleavage has no place in the boardroom or in the courtroom, but neither does a man’s chest hair (yes, I’ve seen this). I frequently hear comments about how tight or short a woman’s skirt is. On the other hand, I seldom hear someone complain about how tight a man’s pants are, no matter how distracting they may be.
This double standard, this tie between gender inequality and clothing, is detrimental to women in more ways than one. A couple of days ago, Gabby Douglas explained what many misled members of our community believe. Women have a responsibility to dress modestly in order to protect ourselves from unwanted advances. . . Wrong! We have a responsibility to dress professionally at work and we have a responsibility to wear whatever we want everywhere else. (*flips hair*) In neither instance should we experience harassment due to our clothing choices.
So, what do you do with this information? Three things:
First, understand the double standard that exists for professional attire and refuse to become a part of the problem. A judge once instructed me to wear a skirt to court rather than pants in order to please a few male judges. Plot twist: it wasn’t a man who told me to do this.
Second, choose clothing that sends the message that you want to convey. I want to exude power, confidence, and intelligence. My aim each morning is to have my clothes say that for me.
Third, figure out a way to work in your creative, fashionable side where you can. White Collar Glam is here to show you how to do that.
Pictured below: blouse (Windsor), slacks (The Limited, similar here), heels (Cole Haan), bag (Steve Madden).