Too sexy. Too frumpy. Too conservative. Women can’t get a break when it comes to what they choose to wear to work.
A female sports reporter covering the NFL was recently raked over the coals for wearing form-fitting outfits on the job, prompting players to make rude comments. Hillary Clinton and her colorful pantsuits became the butt of late night talk show jokes for months.
So what is appropriate female work attire? It should be common knowledge by now that what you wear to work can impact your career and whether or not you get a job. The boss is watching what you wear and so is everyone else even if they don’t say anything. In fact, I read recently that 93 percent of managers said how you dress at work influences them and one third said work attire “significantly” impacts your chances for advancement.
While men also face this issue, fashion and workplace experts said, it can be harder on women. Professional women are expected to find a subtle balance between many different elements of their look. They face criticism if they are too frumpy — Janet Reno or Hillary Clinton — or too sexy —Ivanka Trump. Their clothes can’t be too expensive — Sarah Palin — and they can’t be so attractive that they are accused of making their appearance their most important characteristic. Wow this gets complicated, doesn’t it?
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Women have way too many fashion choices, while men typically have their “uniforms” including a dark suit for those days the boss is in the office or for job interviews; khakis and a polo shirt for casual Fridays. While women have to be careful or they will find themselves scrutinized when it comes to what they choose to wear. If an outfit is too revealing, she get a bad rap for sure, but too buttoned up and conservative can mean she’s not hip, or worse, a b@#**. Women send messages through clothing. It’s referred to as ‘the silent language’ and there are feelings that are often attached to what they wear.
When you invest money in a work wardrobe it’s costly. And then if you have to change careers or you go from a very casual environment to a Fortune 100 Company (or vice versa) you’re buying a new wardrobe again! Women are trading up and trading down. And women are often pressured to take their cues from the trend of the moment. Take the popular series “Mad Men,” for example, which is bringing back retro and vintage clothing to offices nationwide.
Indeed, one of the biggest issues for women in the workplace is coming off as too sexy. Some research shows too much sex appeal undermines a women’s authority. You can be elegant and polished while feminine in every sense of the word. It’s important to dress with style and grace and add your personal signature while keeping in sync with the corporate culture in which you are employed.
Many would argue that a woman can never be too conservative when it comes to dress. After all, you’re trying to sell your intelligence, your capability, your education. You can be artsy and trendy, but proceed on the side of caution during an interview, particularly, b y wearing a traditional suit. Once you get the job you can be a bit more creative if you like.
Bottom line…. It’s incredibly important for women to manage how they are perceived or risk being disregarded by men, who still make up the bulk of the top leadership positions in the workplace. Yes, it’s easier for men than it is for women and that’s unfair.
It’s yet another reason to get more women into those corner offices. Then we can wear whatever we want.