Apparently, I have broken some kind of cardinal rule of fashion because I wear business attire to work. It would seem that heels and formal shirts have gone the way of make-up and shaving one’s legs. In that, if you, a woman, are seen wearing work-appropriate clothing, you are automatically demoted to not-a-feminist, and also, you-are-making-a-mockery-of-your-grandmother’s-sacrifice-for-gender-equality.
Ahem. My grandmother divorced an alcoholic, and then made a career for herself in a male-dominated field. She’d hold up a middle finger to anybody who says your values are determined by the way you dress.
The pressure to wear specific kinds of clothes to work has eased a bit lately, but there are still fields with a mandatory dress code. You want to be a lawyer? Then you better not show up to court in Crocks and sweatpants, then. You want to be taken seriously as a consultant? Wash your damn face and press your shirt. Wearing work-appropriate clothes isn’t some kind of straightjacket enforced on you by “The Man.” It’s a basic show of respect to your colleagues, your workplace, as well as your clients.
Obviously, there’s more to my conformity than just workplace norms. I do, in fact, wear business attire because I like to.
I like the way I look in a suit a lot more than in jeans and I enjoy well-made fabrics and cuts that are intended to be worn for 8+ hours. And I even like high heels because I’m a tiny, tiny person, and I don’t like it when my face is at the level of the elbow of my coworker.
Plus, there is something about power-dressing that… well, gives you power.
Maybe this is not the case for tall people. But as a five-foot-nothing who still gets ID-ed before she can purchase a drink, I appreciate all the help I can get. In a work setting, I often have to deal with condescending people, people who clearly don’t pay attention to what I’m saying, and people who eat their loud lunches in meetings and don’t apologize when they derail the agenda. I need to be authoritative. And wearing an attire that makes me look and feel powerful? It helps.
It feels good to be powerful, especially to someone who has been powerless for a long time.
I spent a big chunk of my 20s in education, sharing flats with strangers and then moving back home. I made do with my stipend, while also desperately trying to keep my depression at bay. The feeling of never quite being independent, never quite having any security about the future, is fucking terrifying. It’s motivational — sure — but also not one I would want to repeat ever again. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished since then. And I won’t apologize for dressing powerfully in the workplace just because some think it’s anti-feminist.
If you can wear what you want to your job, more power to you. Keep at it. But don’t sneer down at us conformists. For all you know, this, to us, feels like freedom at last.