Last week, I came across an article on the UK Telegraph’s website about a woman’s work wear fiasco. Receptionist, Nicola Thorp was sent home unpaid from her job on her first day, for refusing to wear high heels. She had argued that it was discriminatory and asked her employer to give a reason why wearing flats would impair her productivity. No reason was given, but she was sent home anyhow.
While Nicola’s case attracted international media coverage and many of us would agree with her, in all honesty many women still voluntarily submit to wearing clothing and footwear that are truly inappropriate and sometimes even unproductive. I have done it. Some of us feel it is mandatory to dress a certain way, if we have a certain job, in order to be taken more seriously. Perhaps this is why these ancient expectations still linger with those in charge.
My personal experience included me feeling pressured to wear pointed-tip heels to work despite my huge bunions, as I felt they made me look smarter and more presentable. In addition to that, I even wore blazers on a few occasions, although I knew in advance that I would feel as if I were in a furnace.
There is a stereotypical image of how a ‘working woman’ should look and this is what we shouldn’t try to deny or defend. While we all agree that ‘rules’ like these are old fashioned and sexist, what we often fail to do is highlight how they affect our jobs. Why so some bosses seem to care about image over productivity? Should they? Where and how do we find common ground?
Women are undoubtedly placed under more pressure in the workplace to look a certain way all the time and this often means subjecting themselves to unproductive work garb. Does this not somehow affect how we perform and how we are systematically capped to remain in the same positions due to our output? Wouldn’t we get more done if we spent less time fixing our clothes and taking breaks occasioned by high-heel punishment? It may seem a little farfetched, but everything, in some way, contributes to how we perform.
From my observation, many of the women working in fast food joints around Georgetown wear incredibly tight trousers. I have often wondered if it interfered with their breathing and productivity.
The work wear dilemma has different variations that we should all consider. And we really ought to be asking ourselves whether these things actually make sense and whether portraying an image helps us to do our jobs better.
Meanwhile, here are a few items you should consider investing in if you work in a busy environment and are required to foot your workwear bill.
- Sturdy ballet flats
Don’t get something cheap and don’t buy suede. Invest in proper leather ballet flats. Contrary to popular belief there is nothing unprofessional about them. They actually look really cute with cigarette trousers and culottes.
- A-line skirts
While pencil skirts are super sexy and ideal for Friday wear, many of us look inappropriately stuffed whilst struggling to move our legs in them. The A-line cut presents no such restriction.
Trousers that are super close can look like tailored work wear leggings, except that they are nowhere near as comfortable. Culottes are professional and loose. Invest in a pair, before your work wear leggings get torn from exhaustion.
Jobs that enforce uniforms should look into the styles and cuts they are choosing to ensure they do not prevent employees from doing their jobs effectively. Employers need to be realistic in the things they ask of employees and cognizant as to how sexist stereotypes can truly actually affect us in the workplace. After all we are there to do a job, right?