The Way We Dress
This is only tangentially related to romance books. Oh, what am I saying? This is not at all related to romance books by even the most strained reading but it is an issue that has been on my mind for sometime.
Earlier this year, there was an article about Katie Couric and her somewhat provocative magazine shoot in Harper’s Bazaar. I didn’t find this particularly provocative but the Washington Post article suggested that Couric as a sex symbol was challenging the norms of what a woman can look like and still be taken seriously.
But the most striking aspects of the glossy feature are the images by photographer Francois Dischinger. They are an audacious celebration of a powerful woman as a boldly sexy one, too.
There’s nothing reserved or hesitant in the sex appeal on display in the four-page story about Couric. The images are a full-throated, even exaggerated, rebuke of the notion that a woman must dress in a prescribed manner — Suze Orman suits, full-coverage blouses, sensible heels — to protect her IQ, her résumé and her place in a male-dominated work culture.
The problem that I saw with the Couric piece is that she could not dress like that on camera and still be taken seriously. In other words, her dress was for magazine article about Katie Couric and her fashion taste, what she thinks about botox, and her desire to remarry.
Following that was this summary of the Chicago Bar Association’s “What Not to Wear” presentation at Above the Law about how young female associates should dress at Big Law (big law are the big law firms around the country, but mostly in NY where first year associates earn six figures and work 80 hours per week).
"Looking sexy in a law firm is disrespectful" – Mary Nicolau. Absolutely. No one should be able to see your cleavage and your skirt or dress should be knee-length and not too tight. The partner you're working for is someone's husband/father/boyfriend. Show some respect.
"ladies, have some respect for yourselves. There are a lot of married men at law firms and you do not want to tempt them." Or, as the Honorable Benjamin Goldgar said, do not reveal your form in court because male judges will be distracted and female judges will be resentful. And, finally, if I need to interview for a new job because I wore red shoes, a side pony, a scoop neck dress and no hose, then I will be sure to bring my belongings in a paper bag and ask for spare change on my way out of the interview. Thank you Chicago Bar Association for reforming a former sleazy girl lawyer.
Recently a banker sued her former employer claiming she was fired because she was too attractive. Apparently her sexiness was too distracting for the male bankers she worked with. She was told to refrain from wearing turtle necks, pencil skirts, three inch heels (my entire shoe wardrobe), fitted suits.
Then the managers gave her a list of clothing items she would not be allowed to wear: turtlenecks, pencil skirts, and fitted suits. And three-inch heels. “As a result of her tall stature, coupled with her curvaceous figure,” her suit says, Lorenzana was told “she should not wear classic high-heeled business shoes, as this purportedly drew attention to her body in a manner that was upsetting to her easily distracted male managers.”
This is, of course, just the claims the female banker is making and there is no evidence but it is also consistent with what the folks on the CBA panel on appropriate office attire were saying. It is consistent with the dress policy at the Big Law firm of Weil wherein women must wear a garment with sleeves when representing the firm or meeting with clients. Because elbows and shoulders are simply too sexy?
I contemplated this and ranted about with my girlfriends. When I first started practicing, there had been an anonymous survey circulated amongst the jurists about appropriate dress. Appropriate dress for women was dark suits, hose, low heeled shoes, modest jewelry. No pantsuits were allowed. Fast forward a decade and pantsuits are allowed but open toed shoes would probably make the men in the black robes pass out in dismay.
Women can either look too pretty or not pretty enough. A v neck shirt is too provocative. Naked arms are too provocative. High heels are too provocative. On the other side, we can’t look to frumpy or disheveled because that shows we don’t really care about ourselves.
Ironically, many women think a man in a well tailored suit is very sexy. There is an entire romance line devoted to the hot sexily suited man (Harlequin Presents) yet I can NEVER imagine a man being taken aside saying “your suit is distracting the staff here. Please tone it down.”
As a the DailyKos columnist blogged on Monday, it is hard for men to look sexually provocative in their clothes. They don’t have a lot of clothing choice. But even if a man were to wear a tight fitting jeans at work and a t shirt that showed off his pecs and pipes, would anyone ever think of complaining that his clothes were too distracting? Or that they aren’t able to take him seriously because his body was too provocatively displayed?
For me, whether the banker’s suit is true or false isn’t the issue. For me, the issue is that we have to have this discussion at all about whether a woman’s work clothes can be too sexy, so sexy that it prevents the men around her from performing their jobs. I know that there is such a thing as appropriate and inappropriate dress (i.e., black lace camisole with a pair of pants wouldn’t be appropriate for the office but a v neck? Sleeveless? Heels too high?)
Have we come very far in terms of judging a woman based on her work? Is it fair that a woman can be deemed to be dressing too provocatively? Should we have to downplay our sexuality? Is that appropriate or inappropriate? Are we women responsible for inciting the lusts of men around us or should they be expected to be able to put that aside and just do their work?