Lauren Odes, a woman recently fired for "looking too hot" at her workplace, speaks at a press conference.
The Horn's feminist blogger analyzes the notion that women must dress like men to be considered professional by colleges and employers.
|Lauren Odes, a woman recently fired for "looking too hot" at her workplace, speaks at a press conference.||Reuters |
Last week, I had my eye on a gorgeous dress for work, and I mean gorgeous. It was double-breasted with gold buttons, belted, collared, and came to my knee even when I sat down. It should have been perfect for any job, but I agonized over it for days. What was the problem?
It was the color of the inside of a ripe papaya.
Employers struggle with setting guidelines for women’s “business casual attire” among women’s impressive array of clothing options. But even when the standards are murky, employees have to somehow abide by them, and it can be difficult for recent graduates entering the workforce to decipher conflicting standards well enough to get and keep a job.
Keep? Yes, it’s possible to be fired over an unclear standard of “business casual.” More on that later.
I understand that colleges want their graduates to be overdressed rather than underdressed, but it should never be assumed that women have to dress like men in order to fit into business environments.
Some individual colleges at UT have attempted to establish clear workplace dress codes. BBA Career Services has a very specific guide to all professional attire, but in trying to be specific, it’s naturally overly restrictive. It goes so far as to limit women’s shirt colors and fabric choices to hyper-precise lists. And did you know that black hose is unacceptable and only tan or nude is allowed? Really.
Most upsetting is that when colleges (and employers) create a finite standard for keeping women’s attire “professional,” they inevitably err on the side of “masculine.” The BBA guide stipulates that women must always wear long-sleeved shirts with cuffs. You know, like the button-downs men wear.
Communication Career Services makes the same masculine-centered mistake but hardly even tries to clarify a women’s dress code, only stating that it’s too difficult to define (cop out, if you ask me). All it recommends is that women wear Oxford shirts and chinos… boy clothes. The standard completely neglects the wide array of women’s clothing choices and defaults to the same old stuff men wear; the only nod to feminine options is that women can add a colored scarf to the ensemble.
In summer. Thanks.
I understand that colleges want their graduates to be overdressed rather than underdressed. But it should never be assumed that women have to dress like men in order to fit into business environments. Women are blessed with a huge assortment of clothing choices, like three-quarter-length sleeves and scoop necklines, that are perfectly modest but don’t fit into clothing guidelines written by stuffy old male CEOs.
But no woman wants to be viewed as trashy and loose, and unfortunately, the slightest dip in a neckline or slit in a skirt instantly triggers that unfair perception. Better to be employed and dress like our grandmothers than unemployed and wearing our black hose, right?
Except even that doesn’t solve the problem. Yahoo! News recently reported on the well-endowed Lauren Odes, who asked her new employers how she should dress and was told to observe her coworkers and dress accordingly. She saw everything from athletic wear to business suits and chose to wear a knee-length black dress with no exposed cleavage. Acceptable, right?
Nope. Apparently her outfit was too “distracting,” and she was told by her supervisor to tape her breasts down.
That bears repeating. An office professional was actually told by her employers to tape her breasts down.
Scenes like this are all too common, when women are expected to equate femininity with unprofessionalism. Men should be offended too; why should employers assume that all men are mindless dogs who drop all productivity at the mere sight of boobs?
Lauren Odes isn’t alone; my roommate is over six feet tall and blessed with a rack for the ages. While shopping for an interview suit, she realized that women with certain proportions simply cannot find skirts that reach their knees or shirts that minimize their chests. To ridicule women or call them trashy for possessing natural gifts is unfair and thoughtless, further reinforcing the “professional equals masculine” stigma.
After being ordered to either wear a humiliating red bathrobe from the office closet or buy a sweater that would reach her ankles (as if those exist), Odes went out to find an ankle-length sweater. While searching, she got a call saying she was fired.
Another victory for the office boys’ club.