Dress for Success?

I’ll make good on my promise, here are my head shots, narrowed down to my favorites with the help of some Facebook friends:

 

  

Yay! There you have it. I definitely felt pretty darn awesome looking all glammed up in my black kitten heeled mary janes and super cheap but adorable dress from Target. AND I even bought new earrings. Yup you guessed it, when I get stressed, as anyone might be who is looking for full-time work so health insurance doesn’t drop at age 26, as I get stressed, I shop. At least I’m a few states away from family who would influence me otherwise to spend even more money at Nordstroms (although with my cousin newly-relocated to Minneapolis, a splurge to Nordies might happen in the near future).

So I’m excited to use these pictures for LinkedIn and future presentations, and I’m hopeful that opportunities will come up that require my picture! But something happened at choir practice (yes, I’m in the church choir, only by proxy because my husband’s the director), that made me stop in my tracks. One of the basses, a good friend of ours, said “So you’re dressed for success today?” To which I was pretty flattered, wearing a skirt and or dress two days in a row, trying to look more “professional” (whatever that means in the facebook and blogging age, see Here Comes Everybody), especially now that I’m part-time staff and not a student of my school.

Replying to him I said, “No one wants to hire me in flats!”

Which was hilarious, at least I thought (especially since I don’t really own any cute flats because I find they give me blisters) but then I realized what I had just said. I stood in disbelief that I had said such a sexist thing. Seriously? Did I just imply that I have to wear high heels in order to be noticed, in order to get a job? My job “getting” skills as a woman are not dependent on my looks but on my brains, I hear my Mom screaming in my sub-consciousness at this point. But is this true? Now, to some degree, I’m saved by the fact that no one is a perfect human being, and everyone’s a little bit sexist and racist (see Avenue Q), even including this left-leaning feminist.

But really – I am so conflicted. I’m guessing a deep-v business blouse under a sharp charcoal suit could get a potential employers attention, and make me feel pretty hot – if I’m being honest, and that feeling of being noticed because of your authentic beauty (that everyone has somewhere in them!) is not so bad. But at what point, especially for young women with higher education degrees under their belts, does the intention to get a job by wearing nice clothes becomes further motivation for society to appreciate a woman’s outer beauty more than her intellect and brains? For crying out loud some of us have Master’s degrees and can’t even find a full-time job weeks and weeks and weeks out of grad school!

Now, I recognize that I am very privileged – we have a savings account, I live in the United States, I appear “white” (with Norwegian and Japanese layers), I am in a publicly accountable (and critically, socially acceptable) union with my husband (in heterosexual marriage), I was raised in a middle-high class family, I have access to loans, healthcare, scholarships and grants for even more education if I so desired. I live in one of the most advanced countries in the world, and yet women make 77 cents for every dollar men make. This is not justified, that women and men can work the same hours at the same jobs and yet a woman makes 23 cents less than her male co-worker, merely because she is a woman.

I’m not saying that women should not take pride in their work and themselves, and showing that pride by wearing dresses and mary janes. But I am saying that we send a mixed message to the girls growing up next to us in our neighborhoods – when we encourage women to reach their potential by thinking critically and using their gifts of inquiry and intellect to serve the world – but we also encourage them to dress real nice when a potential employer might show up. This is a tension that won’t be relieved over night, but I do believe it’s one that is worth talking about as a nation.

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2 thoughts on “Dress for Success?

  1. Good thoughts on a tough issue to think about. I don’t grapple with this directly as a white guy, and I can’t say I’m jealous. As a future educator I’ve had to think about issues like this though, and there is a tension between preparing students for the real world and staying true to ideals. What women should wear is a perfect example of how tricky this crossroads is. My goal as an educator, for what it is worth, is to provide students the skills they need to navigate this broken world and get in positions to bring about their ideal version of how the world should be. I’d say dress how you need to, even if it feels a little wrong, as long as it is in an effort to let people see your true talents and get yourself in a position to branch your view of an ideal world further then you can without the position.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your thoughts! I’m glad this resonates somewhat with a male reader, because honestly I want to hear from men and women about these weird gender dynamics that are a place in the broader world of “leadership.”

      Reply

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