The Perils of Professional Dress
August 5, 2019 4:47 AM   Subscribe

 
Thank you for these links, they're relevant to where my mind is these days. I resent feeling I should look "pretty" and try to think of other adjectives to aim for when I get dressed - Fun. Intimidating. Witchy. Practical. It's made me much happier, and sometimes I just dress like a crow in lots of drapery black because screw clothes being "flattering" all the time.

Of course, this is made much easier by my relative privilege (white, raised middle class, cis, unremarkable body type). I don't have that anxiety around fitting in.
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:38 AM on August 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


After 8 years of wearing scrubs (massage therapist) and 2 years cycling through combinations of 5 shirts/2 skirts (traveling), the part I dread most about getting an office job is the new wardrobe I have to buy. Luckily I can get away with a bit more in Portland than larger cities, but I know I won't be able to dress like I did the last time I worked in an office, right out of college.
posted by hopeless romantique at 5:39 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


These are interesting articles, thank you for posting.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:17 AM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's not that I don't know I'm wearing the "wrong" shoes.; it's that the "right" shoes cause me great physical pain.

Fortunately, I now work in the federal government where, below the exalted heights of Assistant Deputy Ministers or people who work in the Ministers' offices, nobody gives a flying fuck what you put on your feet provided it's something. So I wear fabric shoes (Bob's, which are knock-off Tom's, because Tom's don't come in wide-width) and socks to work.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:29 AM on August 5, 2019 [21 favorites]


This (women's workwear standards) is such bs, and needs to change now (and maybe make everybody's lives better in the process). Thanks for the post.
posted by carter at 7:07 AM on August 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


This also complicated by the fact that many places that offer larger sizes assume you either want a pattern fit for Grandma's couch, lots of sequins, very low cleavage, or weird cutout sleeves. To actually buy professional basics like solid color blazers, tops, skirts, pants, in larger sizes, you can only go to a few places. And you will pay a lot more. If you're just starting out, it's a tough barrier to scale. There's really no such thing as cheap basic clothes when you're over a size 12.
posted by emjaybee at 7:19 AM on August 5, 2019 [39 favorites]


I find the intersection of "best" garment and "most appropriate for the occasion" garment and how that functions in a wardrobe built with limited resources really highlights the impenetrability of the rules. It also shows just how much it's a rigged game.

If your "best" shoes are inappropriate for the occasion (e.g. brown shoes with a black suit), do you save and buy another "best" pair of shoes in black? or do you compromise your "best" work pants with inferior shoes? Will anyone notice (yes. they will notice). How many occasions do you need to be appropriate for? How many can you be appropriate for? How many of those can you pull of with something that approximates "best"?

And if you start looking appropriate often enough, do you become expected to be in more places, in your best, also looking appropriate? Will that wear out your best? Will people notice it's always the same dress?

How do you navigate the shallowness of "never wearing the same thing twice", while signaling quality and appropriateness all the time? How much time is it occupying in your head? What happens when your boss casually mentions that you seem to be wearing your one "important meeting" pair of shoes again? How do you learn to pick things that are "the best" and "occasion appropriate" but don't stand out as your "one good thing"? Will someone call you out on it, if you're always in the black trousers and a pale button down (yes)?

These are things I spend a whole lot of my unimportant mental energy thinking about. And I'm super-lucky because I'm white, middle-class, generally on the thinner side of things, not-too-pretty-but-pleasant-enough, in a profession that has obvious rules. I also enjoy clothes, so I find these sorts of thoughts recreational.

I wish there were a public interest finishing school that worked both at teaching new professionals these rules and training managers to reject the rules.
posted by crush at 7:25 AM on August 5, 2019 [19 favorites]


How do you navigate the shallowness of "never wearing the same thing twice", while signaling quality and appropriateness all the time?

My male colleagues wear the same few suits and business casual outfits over and over, so it's not even a question for me. I wear my small rotation of work-appropriate outfits over and over. Sauce for the gander, etc. Beyond dressed for the occasion and the workplace trumps looking pretty or sexy or stylish every single time; I'm not there to be a fashion plate.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:35 AM on August 5, 2019 [13 favorites]



How do you navigate the shallowness of "never wearing the same thing twice", while signaling quality and appropriateness all the time?


I have two work outfits that are functionally the same, and are only different enough to make it clear that they are not ACTUALLY the same thing being worn twice in one week (and I do wear them both every week because they are my most comfortable, most practical work garments). If I could get 5 such outfits, I would be set for life, but I would definitely be viewed as a bit weird in a way that my boss, who wears some combination of chinos and an Oxford shirt every day, would not be. And that bums me out. I want to wear a uniform, let me wear a uniform!
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:40 AM on August 5, 2019 [14 favorites]


If your "best" shoes are inappropriate for the occasion (e.g. brown shoes with a black suit), do you save and buy another "best" pair of shoes in black?

I don't want to sound like I'm against the cause here, because I find it all exhausting, too, but, as a practical matter, you buy all your bests to coordinate. Common sense does get you some way. Black is my base layer, I don't buy anything for work that won't go with black. This has led to the occasional sad internal debate over a navy item, but the item has always lost.
posted by praemunire at 7:45 AM on August 5, 2019 [12 favorites]


That's not always an option, though. You can buy all your basics in black if you have a job that lets you decide those things. But the examples in the article included working in a hotel -- where the hotel provides the jacket and top. Maybe your basics are all black, but if you then get a job at a navy blazer hotel, suddenly they're all wrong.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:55 AM on August 5, 2019 [14 favorites]


Yeah... ask a lower SES fat girl about pretty much giving up on careers that expect blazers because plus size blazers are either cheap polyester that reads as tacky and low-class, hilariously out of date from the Goodwill, or way too expensive for you. And you'll probably only find out from humiliating experience that the fabric and the out-of-dateness mattered, because you are playing at a social class you did not grow up in and haha you thought "a blazer" was the only thing you needed.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:31 AM on August 5, 2019 [18 favorites]


What happens when your boss casually mentions that you seem to be wearing your one "important meeting" pair of shoes again?

Well, this is a horrible thought! My personal guidelines for dressing for work are basically "never get reprimanded," because, while I can take constructive criticism about my work, any comment from a manager about what I'm wearing, what I look like, how I am, would be really painful.

It's like an inverse of the idea that allows me to live every day and push through social anxiety most of the time, which is that people aren't paying attention to you because they're usually too wrapped up in their own selves. But at work, with a dress code, someone is looking at you with scrutiny and possibly spending a lot of time crafting their statement about it. It's like middle school bullying, but by the entity you depend on for food and shelter.
posted by witchen at 8:36 AM on August 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


Overall, standards for being professional favor... a certain kind of human. Like, it's unprofessional to have your kids call you at work. But sometimes kids need to call a parent who is at work. And in most cases, it's going to be their mom, right?
posted by LindsayIrene at 8:42 AM on August 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


Yeah, going to a new job often entails purchasing new clothes, which sucks because...you're taking the job because you need the money! But most of the stories in the article are about women in non-uniform jobs. If you're poor, you buy your clothes so that everything goes with everything else. I learned this pretty much the minute I started buying my own clothes.

Back in the day, I had this purple Lands End blazer (back when they made wool jackets, I don't think they do anymore) that I bought on sale and interviewed in for all my grad school stuff. What a choice. But actually I loved the color, so I don't really regret it. Pretty sure every other candidate interviewed in an actual suit, though.
posted by praemunire at 8:47 AM on August 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


But at work, with a dress code, someone is looking at you with scrutiny and possibly spending a lot of time crafting their statement about it. It's like middle school bullying, but by the entity you depend on for food and shelter.

Right, and even if they never say anything to you, they notice. And even they are consciously trying to reject it because it's silly ("you're a real estate agency receptionist, not a fashion model!"), they are noticing whether you "look right" or whether you're wearing the same damn thing every single day--even if it's clean and appropriate--and the tally adds up. Do you know the rules? Are you displaying the right range of "best", "good enough", "appropriate"? Are you making the other staff gossip about whether you even own another shirt?

Works the other way, too, dress too nice or have too many "best" things for too many occasions, you also get dinged.
posted by crush at 8:49 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


when asked why she preferred working in the navy over doing private industry work, computing pioneer grace hopper would respond that her favorite thing about being in the military was never having to decide what to wear.

early articles that provided this quote tended to play it up as one of hopper's eccentricities — ah! this computer lady preferred a highly regimented environment because she had a highly regimented brain! — but really the standards of professional dress for women were and are a massive campaign of gaslighting and psychological terrorism.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:58 AM on August 5, 2019 [34 favorites]


scrubs 

Is that a way out for all of us? Several professions seem to have agreed that their standard business attire is pyjamas. Why not universalize this? They're cheap, unisex, work well with many body types, and seem to be extremely comfortable. Uniform, with no fashion sense required, but you can supplement them with a goofy colorful shirt. Nurses and doctors are living in the Star Trek fashion universe and I want to join.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:11 AM on August 5, 2019 [21 favorites]


I was just discussing this issue with a friend who just finished her first year at Harvard law. They have a week of interviews ( I think she said she’ll have 25 over the course of the week) that basically require you to have several suits and enough shirts for the week (and in case you spill!). Also fit into a very conservative world where only black suits and skirt suits are allowed. But you should also stick out a little so you can be remembered- but not too much!

In particular we were discussing how she was advised to wear skirts suits and pantyhose as it’s a very conservative field. However, pencil skirts are not a shape that flatter either of our bodies, yet a re seemingly the only skirt shape for suits.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t for everything.
posted by raccoon409 at 9:12 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


You can wear the same natural-fibers suit every day to OCI/EIW/whatever they call it (with an emergency backup) if you can wield a steamer or iron. No one firm is going to see you more than once. Machine-washable tops or shells mean you can get by with 3 if you have the willpower to run a load of laundry in that time (not being snarky, it's an exhausting period).

I did not wear skirts or hose to my interviews (did wear heels with trouser socks), because I didn't have any suit skirts, and I got job offers at S&C and Cravath, so there's that. And I am definitely not some kind of 5-ft-8 willowy blonde who looks dashingly androgynous in a pants suit and buttondown. I really think the skirt-and-hose idea is outdated, except in the complicated specialized situation of a jury trial.
posted by praemunire at 9:24 AM on August 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


(Also, if it helps for your friend, having done the other side, honestly, there is nothing in the world you could wear to one of these cattle calls that would cause you to be remembered "a little--but not too much!" There are the few people who are wildly outside the norm [Ronan Farrow interviewed in pajamas, though it wasn't his fault] and then there's the five thousand nameless faceless masses who want to work in litigation because "....um.")
posted by praemunire at 9:27 AM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


These things can be so much more complicated for women than they are for men for so many reasons.

That said, both men and women often make things more sartorially difficult for themselves through an insufficient understanding of how these things work. Case in point: Black is a terrible color for clothing except in formal wear (or if you attend a lot of funerals). You really can't wear brown shoes with black pants or a black suit. You can, however, wear brown shoes with charcoal or navy blue and these colors are infinitely more versatile. And yet, for some reason, people continue to stock up on black pants, skirts, jackets, suits, etc.
posted by slkinsey at 9:31 AM on August 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


A large company I worked for had pretty strict dress code - Whistle and Flute and the female equivalent.
We eventually persuaded them that being as Friday was pretty much a half day as the offices closed at 3pm anyway we should be allowed to "dress down Friday" which meant still smart, but not the usual suites.
They eventually noticed that productivity went up and the companies clients preferred to visit on a Friday.
They extended the relaxed dress policy to the rest of the week and relations improved even more.
posted by Burn_IT at 9:38 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Au contraire, you can wear almost anything with black except a competitive neutral (navy or tan--and I'd say many tan accessories you could get away with, just not shoes) or, depending on setting, some neons which you probably aren't wearing to work anyway. Also it looks good and doesn't show stains. You can't wear an all-navy suit or people will think you're a stewardess; all-tan washes out most white folks, though can play well with other skin tones. Et voila, black. Pretty straightforward, really.
posted by praemunire at 9:41 AM on August 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


And yet, for some reason, people continue to stock up on black pants, skirts, jackets, suits, etc.

I am fat. Very fat. Fatter than you're imagining right now.

If I want to buy pants that almost fit me, my options are generally: denim, black, black denim, whatever excessively bright trendoid colour was fashionable 3 years ago.

Which would you choose for workwear basics?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:50 AM on August 5, 2019 [20 favorites]


Adding to what I said above, when I got to buy shoes that fit and don't hurt, my choices are generally: black, black, black, black or hospital tan, so that plays into my choice of fashion basics, as well.

I know that black shoes don't go with 70% of the dresses I wear (I escape from the tyranny of black pants by not wearing pants) but I don't have other choices.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:03 AM on August 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


> We eventually persuaded them that being as Friday was pretty much a half day as the offices closed at 3pm anyway we should be allowed to "dress down Friday" which meant still smart, but not the usual suites.

casual friday is trash. it's just a demand to buy yet another set of expensive clothes that i don't like in order to adhere to the rules of a place i would never set foot in if i didn't need money to eat food and live indoors.

there are reasons why i picked reclusive novelist as a career. i keep a list of those reasons. casual friday's not at the top of the list by any means, but it's definitely on there.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:21 AM on August 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


I’m not a lawyer, nor have I ever been expected to wear a suit to any of my many office jobs, but I hated navy and could never find the right shoes to wear with it. Also, I bought the same pair of pants once in navy, olive, khaki and black. I had sad days when I wore the navy pants. Not sure why. And I never wore the olive. So, khaki and black it is. Or was, since I don’t work in offices anymore.
posted by 41swans at 10:21 AM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Well, this thread prompted me to head on over to eddeibauer.com and order a third version of my work uniform (skort and button-down shirt both in unwrinkleable water*-repellent stretch fabric). Fuck it. They're all in different colors, they're not exactly identical, what do you people want from me?!

*Let's be real: tea, pasta sauce, and soda repellent.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:28 AM on August 5, 2019 [12 favorites]


I reject the brown shoes/black pants rule. It's stupid and arbitrary.

If anyone thinks black and brown don't go together there's something wrong with their eyes.
posted by yonega at 10:31 AM on August 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


the brown shoes/black pants rule is one of the many weapons that the cool kids use to bully and terrorize everyone else. it's not arbitrary. it's malicious.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:38 AM on August 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


I worked in offices for 10 years before launching a freelance career that would allow me to work from home. I do not think that I was dressed correctly for a single day of those 10 years. I also remember whole days when it was impossible to focus because some aspect of my body had decided to revolt against the world and I had to spend all fucking day trying to tame it. (My tits, hair, and skin resist all efforts at what passes for "professional" for a white lady in my region.)

Any time I think I might do well to return to staff life I think for a minute about the clothing and the makeup and the hair, and then decide fuck it, life without insurance or retirement beats that fucking nonsense any day of the week.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:17 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


The infuriating thing is that you can break all the rules provided you break them in a way that looks purposeful and up your other aspects of feminine presentation a notch. Which you can't unless you know what the rules are, unless you know what you're doing wrong. Class gatekeeping all the way.

(The secret to black shoes with brown top or handbag is grey trousers. Or have the shoes be sandals on a cork sole, or any other kind of linkage-transition between the cold and warm colours which requires knowing black counts as cold and grey can be either...)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 11:37 AM on August 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Ugh, this is so relatable to me today, because for the past 5 years I have worked in places where jeans + casual shirt (at my previous job, the company polo, at current job, any geeky graphic tee will do, including the ones we make and sell) has been the defacto uniform. I live in a casual city and don't go to a lot fancy events, so my wardrobe has gradually evolved to pretty much only jeans and t-shirts with various cardigans and sweatshirts as needed. There are a couple of dresses appropriate for weddings and the like, but basically... I have more t-shirts than one adult really needs.

However! Today I am interviewing for an internal position, so I scrambled around to find something more business-like, and the result is a black pair of yoga pants that are not obvious yoga pants, a black lightweight blouse with embroidered trim that I bought years ago, and my grey work cardigan because it's always freezing in here even though outside is 95F. Also am wearing my everyday black Bob's (waves to jacquilynne; hello from another wide-footer who can't wear Tom's!), after making sure they were tidy enough (no weird stains or scuffs). I briefly considered wearing heels but I had to be honest with myself because I also want to be reasonably comfortable doing my actual job, versus a half-hour interview where these people already see me every day and know that I never wear heels at work.

The kicker is that I am wearing fancy dangly earrings and switched up my usual fun/funky makeup to something more subdued and elegant, and instead of a messy bun it's a sleek chignon. And that's what pushes it from *squint* businessy-casual to "Yeah she's serious about this interview."

The funny thing is that, even if I get this position, I'll go back to jeans/t-shirts -- and my coworkers (hopefully) hiring me, who are also currently wearing much nicer outfits than normal, will go back to jeans/t-shirts -- so it's just this weird farce of "I must present myself in a more suitable attire to convince people I mean business" from both sides of the coin.
posted by paisley sheep at 12:03 PM on August 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Jaysus. Out of all the shitty things I've had happen to me at work, being criticized for the way I dress has actually never been one of them. And clothes are one of the things I care about least in life and put close to zero into beyond being clean/tidy and dressed appropriately for the weather.

As a fat chick, I do indeed have some polyester blazers from Lane Bryant. I was interested to learn in this thread that these make me look "tacky and low class". This is news to me. I can't decide if I care enough to look for better blazers, but am so glad no one I have worked with has seen fit to share such an opinion with me (though they have not been shy about sharing their opinions on a wide variety of other things, including bullshit sexist stereotypes).

The concept that a colleague or god forbid a supervisor would actually notice, let alone verbally criticize my SHOES is... *shudder*. It has literally never occured to me up to this second that that was a thing I needed to worry about. I have a single pair of flats for work that I like and that are comfortable. Well, actually they are two pairs of the same brand and style that I alternate. No one has ever commented. I genuinely believe no one has ever cared.

In this one very specific way only: Long live IT!
posted by nirblegee at 12:17 PM on August 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


i haven't worn anything but pajama and outdoor pajama analogues for 6 years now due to chronic illness, and the thought of one day having to go back to wearing clothes that are not chosen solely for comfort is fucking unbearable. can't believe i might have to go into academia.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:32 PM on August 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


There was a previous Metafilter post around Tressie McMillan Cotton's essay, "The Logic of Stupid Poor People," which included this passage:
I sat in on an interview for a new administrative assistant once. My regional vice president was doing the hiring. A long line of mostly black and brown women applied because we were a cosmetology school. Trade schools at the margins of skilled labor in a gendered field are necessarily classed and raced. I found one candidate particularly charming. She was trying to get out of a salon because 10 hours on her feet cutting hair would average out to an hourly rate below minimum wage. A desk job with 40 set hours and medical benefits represented mobility for her. When she left my VP turned to me and said, “did you see that tank top she had on under her blouse?! OMG, you wear a silk shell, not a tank top!” Both of the women were black.

The VP had constructed her job as senior management. She drove a brand new BMW because she, “should treat herself” and liked to tell us that ours was an image business. A girl wearing a cotton tank top as a shell was incompatible with BMW-driving VPs in the image business. Gatekeeping is a complex job of managing boundaries that do not just define others but that also define ourselves. Status symbols — silk shells, designer shoes, luxury handbags — become keys to unlock these gates.
I think about that essay every time I buy clothing. This piece is part of the same genre, the same insistence that rules are designed to the benefit of a very few while reminding everyone else that because they don't automatically comply with the rules, they don't deserve to ever feel as if they will.
posted by sobell at 1:01 PM on August 5, 2019 [21 favorites]


I claim sanctuary: The infuriating thing is that you can break all the rules provided you break them in a way that looks purposeful and up your other aspects of feminine presentation a notch. Which you can't unless you know what the rules are, unless you know what you're doing wrong. Class gatekeeping all the way.

This 100%. There's even a word for this (although it includes a bunch of other things as well): sprezzatura. A very famous example is Giovanni Agnelli who was known for things such as, for example, wearing his watch over his shirt.

There are a lot of things about clothing overall and professional dress in particular that have aspects of class-signaling and gatekeeping and so on. But its also the case that these things do make a difference and it is to most people's advantage to at least know "the rules" regardless of whether or to what extent we follow them. As Bruce Boyer once wrote:
On the one hand, most people don’t take clothes seriously enough, they feel that clothes don’t matter, that we can and should all wear whatever we want. That idea is at the same time delusional, non historic, and frankly stupid, and people who believe such a blatant misreading of the obvious get what they insist on deserving. Whether we should or not, the reality is that we do all judge by outward appearances, if for no other reason than we simply don’t have enough time to get to know deeply enough most people with whom we must daily deal. We must get our signals where we can and as quickly as we can. Uniforms, to name the most obvious example of clothing, are both inclusive and exclusive. We use clothing to tell us about the people we meet. What the clothes tell us depends upon how closely we listen.
posted by slkinsey at 1:44 PM on August 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


My job has me working at several locations in any given week - sometimes 5 locations in five days. One of my favorite things about my job is that since I don't see the same people every day, I can wear the same clothes every day. So long as they pass the sniff test, of course. I have three, maybe four work-appropriate outfits in my very small closet.

I think having a uniform would be the efficient, reasonable thing to do. But I LIKE clothes. I would be the saddest person ever in a Star Trek Uniform Universe (especially if it's a jumpsuit season).
posted by Gray Duck at 1:52 PM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


The infuriating thing is that you can break all the rules provided you break them in a way that looks purposeful and up your other aspects of feminine presentation a notch. Which you can't unless you know what the rules are, unless you know what you're doing wrong. Class gatekeeping all the way.

My friend was trying to sell me on dyeing my hair a sort of subtle smoky mauve which I did sort of like, but I knew the only way I could get away with it, if at all, was if everything else about me was hyperfemme all the time, so it looked like part of an extremely cultivated and expensive look. Not even if I were a Biglaw partner would I have the energy for that, though maybe the money.
posted by praemunire at 2:15 PM on August 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'm working my way through the articles below the fold and just wanted to say thank you for pulling together such great work.

Tranna Wintour makes articulates why trans women are so threatening in an awesome way.
posted by lab.beetle at 7:08 PM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


This series is really good, and gut-wrenching in places.
Téa Mutonji's essay on the price of being pretty.
Whereas the physical pain of “pretty” came with a certain amount of maturity and excitement, the psychological and social stigma took away all the warmth. I got attention in ways I didn’t want. Talked about, watched, and followed. Even outside of school, in public transit. A knee grab here, an ass smack there. Logically, I assumed this was the reality of many women, if not all. But I wasn’t a woman; I was a fifteen-year-old girl. I spent most nights googling “boob reduction surgery.” I cried for four years straight but showed up every morning all smiles, personable, outgoing.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:10 AM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


The secret to black shoes with brown top or handbag

Wait. The colour of your shoes and the colour of your handbag are meant to relate in some way? The colour of your shoes and the colour of your top, not just your trousers, are supposed to go together?

Oh good, yet more ways in which I've been Doing Female Wrong all my life.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:34 AM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


the tenuous sense of stability I’d gained in that job, so I spent money I didn’t have on a new piece of clothing in the hopes of fitting in.

I actually have a drafted Ask that I came here to post today (and probably still will). I start my first real management job on Monday - like it’s in my actual title and not just a range of tasks I have to carry out for free for my shitheel ex-boss. And I am freaking out because I have one solitary appropriate piece of clothing, a pair of tailored black trousers. I do not have the clothes of a manager, my hair is too long and I’m rubbish at styling it, and I have gained 30lbs since I started my last job (hai stress-eating). And I am broke and I have no idea where to start to buy one of those damn capsule wardrobe things to see me through the first few salaries. After which I can use some of my new money to buy clothes I don’t really like to make sure I’m taken seriously in the job so that I can keep it and use the money to buy more clothes I don’t really like so that I’m not wearing the same things all the time and not taken seriously...etc forever. My last job was a fairly relaxed environment and because of gaining weight and only buying a few cheap replacement tops and jeans I basically wore the same few things for a couple of years. One day I visited my niece and she said “why do you always wear the same thing when you visit?” And I thought a) oh ffs she’s 7 and she’s already learned how to judge women on their wardrobes,, and b) she’s just saying out loud what my clients and colleagues think oh shit! I should be excited about the new challenge and instead I’m just wondering what on earth I’m going to wear on Monday morning that won’t make my new boss look me up and down and realise she’s hired someone who’s clearly not management material.
posted by billiebee at 4:35 AM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


%Obligatory rant about pockets.

Right now, it's trendy (I think) for women to not wear stockings, so you have women in offices in cute, lightweight dresses, bare legs, and men in slacks, socks, shoes. Women in cocktail dresses, bare legs, me in suits. This never makes sense to me, I assume everyone is too hot or too cold. Also, what's with women on tv and maybe in life who wear cocktail dresses and heels for a date with a guy in a tshirt, jeans, trainers. I'm not upping my game for someone who doesn't up theirs.

Makeup is hugely popular now, and women seem to be expected to wear lots of it daily. Hair must be blown dry, within a specific range of length and straightness. A while ago it seemed like it went from thin eyebrows to bushy eyebrows all at once, sorry, those of you who had your brows waxed into oblivion. And, sure, women have tons of free time for all this crap. Is makeup a form of emotional labor?

I like clothing, color, shape. I do not and will not wear clothing I which I can't function, walk, dance, sit. I (ironically) recommend capital punishment for those who make crippling shoes for women. The fashion industry preys on women, is misogynistic, is always and only about profit. I buy clothing on clearance or thrift shops, except shoes, because feet.

The worst for me is the clothing for old women. I love my grandbabies, but I don't need a sweatshirt to advertise that fact, or any clothing that's especially 'cute' or endearing. If I am ever given such an item, I swear I will get a mohawk.
posted by theora55 at 9:46 AM on August 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


Right now, it's trendy (I think) for women to not wear stockings,

IDK if it's trendy but stockings are incredibly uncomfortable for me and always have been. I feel like I've been stuffed into a sausage casing and most of the time I get crotch droop because my legs are a standard deviation longer than average for my height. So I can either get stockings that I can pull up to my tits, or ones that have a crotch somewhere around my knees. Stockings: Not now, not tomorrow, not ever.

In winter I wear fleece leggings because at least they're soft and a bit more forgiving if I have to pull them up to my armpits.

It's going to be freezing fucking cold in this basement I work in no matter what, so I'd rather just bring in a blanket for that issue.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:07 AM on August 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


Makeup is hugely popular now, and women seem to be expected to wear lots of it daily.

Wear lots of it and apply it skillfully (just watch a dozen YouTube tutorials!), and make sure it is smudge-proof and water-proof and just life-proof, I guess. My reaction to the current style of makeup is to just not wear any whatsoever, but not every woman has that option.
posted by LindsayIrene at 10:08 AM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


nirblegee, I actually think Lane Bryant blazers would fall on the "expensive" side for people starting new jobs (in quotes because I think it was still under $100 so not like big corporate expensive but pricy) - I've had a couple and the finish has been very nice, as opposed to when I was really broke working retail and had to get black dress pants, but the only ones that fit and I could afford were the worst kind of squeaky scratchy polyester.
posted by brilliantine at 10:27 AM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Right now, it's trendy (I think) for women to not wear stockings, so you have women in offices in cute, lightweight dresses, bare legs, and men in slacks, socks, shoes. Women in cocktail dresses, bare legs, me in suits.

Whenever I watch the news lately, the male anchors are in suits and the female ones are in these tiny, skintight, little sleeveless minidresses. Are they being told to dress that way, or is that just how it's done nowadays? It looks weird and uncomfortable, like the uniforms on the original Star Trek.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:18 AM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


(I think one way we dismantle these rules is by being transparent about what they are and where they come from, so I'm about to do that. I also think there's nothing wrong at the individual level with wanting to get and keep a better-paying job so one can have the leisure time necessary to dismantle the system)

Hey billiebee from one new-ish manager to another, is TK Maxx a possibility for you? They have a fairly robust online store (UK) even if there's no physical one near you and they carry a wide array of work-appropriate clothes at cheaper prices and more sizes. They have a lot of cheap-looking stuff but also a lot of middle-class looking stuff.

I'd recommend a store like that over Zara, H&M, and the other fast casual places, which are cheap but better suited to casual clothes than work clothes.

I don't recommend the mid-level stores such as the US brands Ann Taylor and Banana Republic and White House/Black Market (this Ask offers comparable U.K. Brands) because they are not particularly cheap in price but they sometimes are in longevity and just quality. You can do better elsewhere.

Super obvious but bears repeating: clothing is workplace-dependent. I'm an academic (which leans casual in the US) in a very formal southern city (which leans to suits and heels), so I know I can't be as casual as some colleagues elsewhere. My question here is, what level of clothing formality does your industry and your geography ask for?

Other tips (some of which you probably know already; all of which lean femme):
-At budget, you're often buying polyester rather than natural fibers, but there's signals which give away quality within this fabric type. In the US, the following have class connotations: full-on jewelry attached to the shirt or dress, big prints, too tight/too short/too shiny
-Do buy: items in single colors, natural fibers, skirts and dresses in knee or calf length, more discreet patterns
-Buying one piece, like a dress, can be much cheaper initially (because it's a whole outfit) than buying separates (shirts, shirts, etc.)
-A blazer hides a lot of sins (I buy stretchy jersey ones because of fit requirements and because I don't work in a formal profession; your mileage may vary)
-A cardigan can also get you pretty far
-An outfit instantly looks more put-together with an accessory (scarf, watch, bracelet, etc.)
-Fit is really important. Watch out for the shirt that puckers across the beasts, the trousers that bunch in lines around the hips or waist or are too long (likely must be hemmed at this level of workplace)

As a person with curly hair (aka 'unruly hair' for some unpleasant people), I am all about changing sexist and racist perceptions about hair. To that end, I've found that if you have a flattering, low-maintenance cut then you can get away with ignoring quite a lot of other rules. Straight-haired people may need to go with an up-do if they skip brushing their hair.

I wear nice ballet flats for shoes, skip makeup, and ignore fashion trends entirely. This may or may work for you/your workplace.

But I do know that until we start making these rules transparent, people with difference will continue to trip over them and not even know they're being judged.
posted by librarylis at 12:28 PM on August 6, 2019 [17 favorites]


Thank you!!
posted by billiebee at 1:11 PM on August 6, 2019


Is makeup a form of emotional labor?

Yes. Yes it is, when you're wearing it to meet someone else's standards.
posted by MissySedai at 9:16 PM on August 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


> Whenever I watch the news lately, the male anchors are in suits and the female ones are in these tiny, skintight, little sleeveless minidresses. Are they being told to dress that way, or is that just how it's done nowadays? It looks weird and uncomfortable, like the uniforms on the original Star Trek.

my uninformed knee-jerk sense of things is that these sartorial standards obtain in societies that are, or are becoming more, regressive, patriarchal, and violent. I think of it as part of our political 80s-revival, even though I'm not sure women on television news shows had to dress in weird and uncomfortable tiny clothes back in the 80s.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:32 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Underpants Monster: "the male anchors are in suits and the female ones are in these tiny, skintight, little sleeveless minidresses."
Exactly. These tight dresses require women to be a particular shape, and I assume many of them have a blanket on their lap, since the guy in the suit has required lots of AC. Yes, even local stations have requirements for what on-air staff wear.
posted by theora55 at 12:27 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Just coming to say thanks for posting the lazy eye essay, and I wish it had it's own thread. I'm lucky enough to have had a relatively mild form of it my whole life but this essay really helped me feel SEEN haha. I had sort of heard about all the effects of strabismus but I didn't really realize they are ALL related (klutziness, bad depth perception, not seeing 3D or those Magic Eye things that were everywhere in the '90s, using only one eye at a time, people asking if I'm talking to them or not answering me when I ask a question because it appears I'm not making eye contact, my eyes get worse when I'm exhausted, etc). I'm not going down the YouTube strabismus rabbit hole quite yet but it is nice to feel less alone and also sucks to understand more about how something that is completely out of my control and is not understood well affects how other people see me (and how I see the world).

And also as a raised middle class white cis size 10-12 "curvy" smaller chested larger butted lady who has never ever felt ok in a blazer, I feel like I finally learned how and where to shop for my body, affordably, and truly dress "professionally" until 35. Prior to that I spent waaaayyyy too much time and energy trying to figure this out. I also have unresolved bitterness at going gray at 24 and feeling obligated to dye my hair, which I really hate doing and spending money on, as well as wearing makeup to work because if I don't people will definitely comment about me looking sick/sad/tired. I don't wear makeup outside work (except special occasions) and guess what, no one has ever said those things about my appearance unless they are a good friend and extremely true in that moment.
posted by wannabecounselor at 2:33 AM on August 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


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