Recently, I have seen a lot of articles on the internet with headlines such as ‘Dress for success, dress like a man’. These articles explore the need for women in the corporate world to suppress their feminine side in order to project a competent and serious look. Women are advised to wear dark and bland suits, less make-up and give firmer handshakes.
I read the story of a woman working in the IT industry who was told by her boss: “If you want to be taken seriously in IT, you need to dress like a man”. She had to make a dramatic change from the ‘dress and heels’ to the ‘shirt and khakis’ look. This was done in a means to tone down her appearance and avoid distracting clients.
While we may agree that certain sensual dress styles should be kept out of the corporate setting, women in the corporate world can find a way to look feminine and at the same time, professional. But the dilemma is: what exactly is feminine and professional? Where do we draw the line? In some schools of thought, women can wear form-fitting clothes as long as they cover every inch of their flesh. That means sleeveless dresses, plunging necklines and skirts-that-stop-above-the-knee are out the window.
Some others believe that wearing the latest trends to work is unacceptable except you work in the fashion industry. They believe that wearing overly trendy clothing can overshadow work achievements. Executive women who appear too trendy can come across as alluring, shifting the focus away from their business skills.
However, the movie series ‘Suits’ and ‘Scandal’ reveal how feminine elegance can meet professional on the same platform. The characters in these series show that women should give themselves the freedom to express their own personal style. For the Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres), Rachel Zane (Meghan Markle) and Donna Paulson (Sarah Rafferty) characters in the Suits series, their on-set costumes fit well into the corporate legal practice and they are also aspirational, trendy, and elegant.
Not everyone shares this opinion, just like the lady’s boss in the example I gave earlier. There are some people that still think dresses and dainty shoes would never work for women aspiring for success in the corporate world.
What is your experience? And what do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.