As a woman who regularly travels for work, has external partner meetings, and goes to conferences (they're coming back!), I continue to face the issue of what is and is not appropriate professional women's attire. I've had numerous people, ironically, mostly women, tell me I should not wear form-fitting clothing or that too much of my shoulder is showing (i.e. the straps to my top or not covering enough), or even when I am fully covered, my outfit isn't professional basically because I have large breasts. I'm getting quite sick of it but also know that education is much more conservative than many other fields. What do you think? Should I just suck it up and "cover up" even though I think it's completely ridiculous?
My Clothes, (Should be) My Choice!
Dear My Clothes, (Should be) My Choice!,
After two years of working from the couch at home, it is a new world getting back into professional attire and heading out the door. You’re not alone in wondering how the landscape has or has not changed in terms of appropriate workplace attire. And it has changed. While we perhaps can’t get away with pajama bottoms and t-shirts at conferences, there is a visibly shifting bar that is leaning towards a much more casual approach to the office setting. That said, there is still an expectation that workers will be savvy enough to know what is appropriate and what is not, recognizing that we are all ultimately representing the company for which we work. However, the quandary you share here seems to be one in which your personal style is being questioned as it relates to your work in the field. I would urge you to consider two things:
1. Your motives. If your choice of clothing is based on your comfort, what you deem to be becoming, and what you feel is appropriate for the work you are doing, then you should feel fine about the choices you're making. If they veer into a desire to be noticed, to give off sex appeal, or to make a statement about your femininity or body, then I’d reconsider.
This brings me to the second point.
2. Your purpose. All of us have a responsibility to the jobs we’ve chosen to do and our goal is to carry out that work to the highest possible standard. In our daily jobs we are always called upon to face multiple challenges and overcome constant distractions. Ask yourself if your choice of clothing is distracting others from hearing and seeing you as the professional that you are. While our fashion is a wonderful way for us each to exhibit individuality, flair, and creativity, it may be that there are places where these expressions should be tamped down in order for the focus to remain on the objectives we are seeking to meet. If you are constantly getting comments about your attire, this suggests that your colleagues are distracted by your outfits. Should they be? Probably not but there is only so much we can control in this world.
If you don’t know the answer to the questions above, then I’d consider finding a colleague that you trust and respect as a professional and asking them point blank. Tell them that you’ve received negative feedback on your clothing and that you want an honest opinion.
In the end, you want your colleagues and partners to take you seriously for who you are as a professional. If you think your clothing is distracting people from that, then a change up might be needed. It’s frustrating, I know, but you have to decide which battles are worth your effort. And if this is a battle you want to wage, then find a response that you can gracefully deliver when someone questions what you’re wearing. Make it unemotional and clear. Who knows, if this is truly something that needs to be tackled in the field of women’s professional attire, you might just be able to start moving that needle.
P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!
Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.