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There’s an expression, “clothes make the man,” but based on recent events, apparently, they make the woman. As you probably know, I love clothes and fashion. Creating outfits and getting that satisfaction of a well-balanced look are things I enjoy, despite the challenges of a limited budget. However, sometimes I wonder, who am I dressing for and why?
I’d like to think that the exercise is purely for my own entertainment, self expression and self-confidence, but given the pressures women face to be pretty, I’m concerned that it’s more than wanting to express myself and there’s a dress code for women. Whether she’s a young woman applying for a job at American Apparel, or an employee at Citibank, what you wear will determine your “success.”
According to New York Magazine and Gawker, American Apparel has a strict dress code that requires women (and men, though to a lesser degree) to adhere to its very specific guidelines, “some employees have accused AA of telling them to lose weight, and posting photos of their dress-code infractions on the company’s intranet for purposes of mocking.”
NY Mag researched the dress guidelines for 10 clothing retail franchises to see if American Apparel’s desire for employees with little make up, long hair and full eyebrows is out of the norm. They discovered that most companies, particularly in fashion retail have dress codes particular to their style and aesthetic, so American Apparel’s desire wasn’t too weird.
But what about the creepy voyeuristic ads and gossip about mocking women’s weight? (Maybe you should look into working at one of those other retailers if you want to work in clothing sales, just to avoid the chance of sexism in the work place.)
Meanwhile, Debrahlee Lorenzana is in the process of suing Citibank for firing her because her attractive appearance was too distracting for men in her office. “Her bosses told her that ‘as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly ‘too distracting’ for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear,’ she says,” in a report by the Business Insider.
When Lorenzana dressed more conservatively and went to work without makeup, that didn’t work for her boss either, “when she responded by not wearing makeup, they told her she looked ‘sickly’ and when she left her hair curly instead of straightening it, they told her she should go ahead and straighten it every day.
Image via Business Insider
‘I could have worn a paper bag, and it would not have mattered,’ she told the Village Voice. ‘If it wasn’t my shirt, it was my pants. If it wasn’t my pants, it was my shoes. They picked on me every single day.’”
This blatant sexism on the part of Citibank, that fired her for being too attractive, is a symptom of our culture’s pressure to be beautiful and men’s inability to control their sexual desire when women fulfill their role as sex objects. Women can’t win. If you aren’t pretty and do not fill the typical stereotype of what a woman (or girl, in the the case of American Apparel) looks like, then you aren’t employable or professional (evidenced by this list).
Yet, if you are too pretty and “sexy” (which is completely subjective and wholly inappropriate to define) you get fired. What does that say about men’s perception of women and women’s view of their appearances?
In my own experience working in a corporate office, I find if I wear less makeup or dress down for whatever reason, men ask me if I’m tired or if there’s something wrong with me, “Are you ok? You seem really tired?” While I think this is also another issue, I talked about in a post called “The Lookie Loos,” their comments also coincide with my appearance. Meanwhile, women rarely say anything about their looks in my office unless it’s to compliment each other.
In fact, Psychology Today conducted a study about appearance and whether men approach women who wear makeup more than women who don’t. In this same study, they found that: “Attire status had an effect on women’s attractiveness ratings but not on men’s.”
This pressure to look a certain way is exhausting, which is why, I prefer to dress how I want, versus what others expect. Except, how do I know if I’m dressing for me or simply following the gender dress code? And, what if what you think is fashionable or good-looking, doesn’t match up with what others think?
In a recent post by Jezebel, one of my favorite websites, the editors examined fashion trends men find unattractive, titled, “What to Wear When You Want to Repel Men.” MSN surveyed top trends this year like harem pants, gladiator sandals and others. The writer discovered, that men think “Harem pants look like diapers and,” to quote directly, “‘scream fashion victim, rather than sex kitten.’”
I’m sorry, but when do I ever want to look like a sex kitten in public? Eew. I’m so sick of this pressure for women to be sexy all the time. Look where it leads! It’s a vicious cycle and in some cases, like Debrahlee Lorenzana, you could lose your job! I’m not saying don’t dress nice, or to avoid wearing clothes that men find attractive, but seriously, women do not need to be “hot” or appealing, especially at work.
Dress for YOU and wear what makes YOU feel good. There’s so much value placed on how others see us, but in the end, we all have our own opinion about what looks good, so if you live your life trying to dress to impress others, you will always fail. You can’t please everyone.
And, the degree of sexiness of your clothing and hairstyle, whether it’s in fashion or not, does not define your worth, employment value and femininity. It also does not promote equality in the work place or our society. Do you see men stressing over what they should wear to accentuate their butts and figures?
I’m going to guess the answer is no.
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