My husband got an email from his boss the other morning. It said that the university where he teaches had implemented a new dress code: “No jeans. For men, ties; For women, dress demurely.”
Needless to say, the new code inspired a spate of very funny (and some outraged) emails. “Demurely?” wrote in one female colleague who’d just joined the faculty. “Isn’t that a tad 19th century?” Another (male) colleague found the new policy worryingly sexist: “I should be allowed to wear a demure dress too if I want!” The best comment, however, came from a professor who, in the interest of fairness, asked whether the school could address the “appalling” level of student dress as well. “Perhaps they could issue combs at registration?” he queried cynically.
Fortunately, before all the female professors ran out and bought their new burkas, it came to light that this had all been an April Fool’s prank. And a good one at that. It certainly had me going.
But I think it does touch on a very sensitive issue vis one’s career: how do you dress appropriately for work, particularly in this era of business casual? What’s too casual?
I remember my first job – also at a University – where I looked like I was about 12 years old giving a lecture to 150 25-year olds each week. So every day I would don my “costume” – which was invariably some version of pants suit, heels and silk scarf – the latter tossed in to add 5 years to my youthful visage (or the equivalent in gravitas). Didn’t work very well.
I always thought it was particularly hard for women to figure this whole sartorial thing out, as we tend to both judge and be judged more harshly for what we wear. When I was teaching, for example, someone wrote on one of my course reviews that I needed “a new pair of shoes.”
“Hello? Is that really important?” I thought indignantly. “Aren’t you listening to anything I say?” Apparently not. And, upon reflection, I guess those lectures on bureaucratic reorganization were really boring…
But then I read this post by a VP at Google fretting over which footwear – Uggs or Eccos – was most appropriate for his company (Oh to be a VP at Google!) And I do remember a friend in graduate school who got a course review from one student which read: “Mike needs to lose the black socks and Docksiders.” Ouch.
Penelope Trunk, master of all things work/life related, solved the problem by hiring a stylist to help her shop. Which is one solution, if you can afford it.
I can’t. Which is why I’m happy to have finally landed a career where I wear some version of my pajamas every day and no one but the mailman ever sees me. So if we’re really meant to “dress for the job we want,” I think I’m doing really well: at my last job, I once accidentally wore my slippers to the office.
A great website for finding affordable/attractive office wear is The Working Closet.
Image: Woman in Pink Dress Sitting in Chair Holding Roses via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.