Tuesday, August 21, 2007

fashion in the workplace - what not to wear

Whilst my all-consuming passion is fashion, that doesn't mean I don't still have a day job that is just about a million miles away from that. I work a corporate job that varies from being fantastically exciting and mind-numbingly dull. It is also dominated by white, middle-aged males. I'm not sure that my company understands the importance and impact that Generation Y will have on the workplace, but I'm certainly feeling the weight of them not understanding.

Getting dressed in a way that pleases me takes time in the morning. Time that I don't have - I would rather sleep in for a further 15 minutes than stare at my wardrobe. Furthermore, a wardrobe full of smart shirts, knee length skirts, and black trousers leaves me cold. Given the choice between smart black flats and ridiculous blue patent heels, the heels win every time. My work wardrobe consists of clothes that I used to love and have now downgraded to "work wear". I can't take pleasure in the clothes I wear for work, because the pleasure I take in clothes comes from the very reason that they are not suitable for work - imagination, creativity, juxtaposition. Oh, and mini-dresses and shorts. Which are very not safe for work.

Obviously I know that image in the workplace is important. One of the most senior women I know wears dresses and heels every day. I know that this is a conscious decision because they only time I've seen her out of her uniform and in flats and trousers was a day with no meetings. She wears this to set herself apart in her very male-dominated world. I have always believed in the importance of expressing my feminity in the workplace, and, to a certain extent, my youth. Am I being uncompromising by not taking on the uniform of shirts and trousers that I can wear for the rest of my life. Penelope Trunk has a great post about being dressed appropriately - basically being dressed as people would expect you to be dressed, and how important image is in your career. That message really resonated with me, since I was out with a senior manager for dinner a few weeks ago, and he said that he loved my dress sense, and my "kooky" style. That's great - I love when people "get" what I wear, but do I really want to be seen as kooky in the workplace? Personally, yes, but not if it detracts from people thinking that I'm actually capable of what I do. And I'm not sure that that's a possibility. Asking people to figure out what I wear rather than blinding accepting it is asking too much, and in my heart of hearts, and more importantly, in my head, it seems I still have some changing to make. To wear a black and grey uniform to me is compromising my sense of self, but is it too great a compromise for the sake of being taken seriously and given real responsibility? Probably not. I'd love to have feedback from some of those "in the know"....

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I work in the second largest bank in the United States. My particular function keeps me close to a trading floor, which is a bastion of extremely conservative attire. I get up each morning, put on my smart shirts and dark pants--blue shirts 3 times a week, and maybe khakis on Friday--and that's that. My only question is, pinstrip today or no? It's all very bland, I know, but for my line of work, there is no other option if I want to get ahead. I too, constantly am fighting the battle of youth to be taken seriously, and I have no choice but to conform. I know in Europe, men are alloted a much greater degree of freedom in their wardrobe, but here for a man to deviate from the rigid standards imposed on him is to immediately bring his sexual orientation into question, metrosexuals be damned! So what do I do, do I completely give myself over to the man and conform, or do I stage my own mini rebelion. I fight back with my socks. I'm constantly on the look out for wild and unusual socks. On the surface, I'm an ant marching along with the crowd, but peel back a layer and you'll find a sign of life.

So for you, you have to ask yourself if getting ahead in the corporate world is worth the price of keeping your sense of self tucked under your trousers and buried in your shoes. I hope you answer "no."
~whois_johngalt_82@yahoo.com

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