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  • Writer's pictureRaychel Plath

The Politics of Workwear

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As someone who is employed in a corporate office environment, my biggest bug-bear is trying to find pants (with pockets), that fit my ever-fluctuating shape (that, and wearing a bra for longer than 8 hours).

As a white, cis-woman, I enjoy a privilege that is not always bestowed to woman of colour (WOC). Teen Vogue recently published an article citing a study by the Perception Institute (“The ‘Good Hair’ Study: Explicit and Implicit Attitudes Toward Black Women’s Hair”), the results of which have been long-felt by WOC for years. That is, many WOC feel pressure to conform to beauty standards enforced by their white counterparts, and that a majority of people do actually hold a bias against WOC based on how they style their natural hair.

Conversely, (barely) a handful of Australian corporate employers are stepping up their game to support female staff from Muslim communities, with Westpac joining the Commonwealth Bank and Optus by including hijab options in staff uniforms. More recently, The Guardian reported on a parliamentary enquiry into the UK Equalities Act 2010 which found that women continue to face sexist demands to wear high heels or revealing clothes, demands that aren’t extended their male colleagues.

For me, comfort is a priority when choosing workwear. As someone who hasn’t had a thigh gap since I was 12 years old, I try to opt for pants-based outfits as much as possible. During the blistering Queensland summer, that’s not always practical, so I rely on basic shift dresses and several industrial-sized tubs of Neat 3b Action Cream (for more tips on how to beat the Summer Chub Rub, I highly recommend Maeve Marsden’s article). That’s not to say that I haven’t had difficulty negotiating the varied workwear demands from different employers. These are just the highlights.

Shoulders = off limits

Not being able to wear work-tops with either small straps and/or that reveal my shoulders SUCKS. Because, you know, as soon as someone sees my shoulders or collar-bones, I’m sending a signal for sexy-times. And it obviously lowers my IQ and value as an employee.

Never wear pants to an interview

This gem was passed onto me by a female colleague who held a management position. Apparently, it is very important for women to not appear to aggressive, and pants scream aggression. What infuriated me about this suggestion (other than everything) is that women’s work-value is still defined by their clothing, and their ability to conform to outdated standards.

out of control gif

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Don’t wear “aggressive” colours

I was told that women need to stay away from reds, oranges and all-black, because we are sending a signal that we are unapproachable. WTF. On the flip-side, this is one that also affects the boys. How often have you seen men in corporate attire, and it’s always the same blue or white work-shirt? Heaven-forbid a man should mix it up ala John Boyega’s purple suit or Michael B. Jordan’s red plaid suit.

Hemline trouble

Principal from The Simpson's

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At one of my workplaces an email was sent out to all staff advising that if women were unsure of whether their hemline was work-appropriate, to go to the bathroom, bend over and touch their toes with their back to the mirror. If anything other than legs was visible, the hemline was too short. I have several issues with this one.

First, how dare you.

Second, when will I ever have to bend down to touch my toes at my place of employment at a corporate office?

Third, it enforces a sexist culture whereby women are unable to wear whatever the hell the want because, OMG, what if a male was to see some thigh?! It clearly means that as a woman, I’m incapable of performing my role, and am just a sex object.

woman with her hands up

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