by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 20 May 2007)
Good ol’ Peeper touch on the topic of appropriate workplace dress for women a few weeks ago and I knew immediately that I would of course have an opinion about what he had to say. In fact, this is an issue in which I believe many women struggle.
Peeps said, “I saw a lovely young lady in a government office last Friday. She had on this lovely blouse that fitted firmly on her upper body. It was complimented by tight fitting jeans that seemed to highlight every curve, crease and bulge in her lower body. If the Peeper was working in the same office with that girl in the close-fitting attire, I would have enormous difficulty concentrating.”
In a world where society dictates fashion through magazines by shoving plunging necklines and stiletto heels at every woman’s subconscious, it can be quite difficult to translate that image into a conservative workplace environment.
Peeps even touched on the way the women in our own newspaper dressed. He said, “Some people are going to be blue mad with the Peeper but the dress code is also becoming a problem here at Kaieteur News. I am going to recommend to Glen Lall that some of the female staff dress more modestly on Fridays and weekends, while the males should try to ensure that their attire is less casual.”
For women whose personalities lead them to careers such as accounting and legal work, I would venture to say that their mindset is already one that plays it safe and will not find it difficult to adjust their wardrobe to suit a workplace environment.
However, for the more creative minded woman, like those who would be found in a newsroom, the process of creating an appropriate workplace wardrobe might be considerable more difficult. I know this first hand since I still struggle – even at thirty-eight years of age – to buy clothes that do not have flowing sleeves and extreme patterns.
In fact, even if I purposely go to the store to buy something conservative for an event, without fail I will return home with something that a writer would wear instead of something an accountant would wear.
I am not negating Peeping Tom’s point. In fact, I whole-heartedly agree with his premise that within a workplace environment, women should dress appropriately. However, it is far easier for a man, who can slip on a button-up shirt and some slacks, than it is for a woman to find that balance between creative and appropriate attire.
Women just entered the workplace a few short decades ago and as such, it can surely be expected that some ladies may find it a daunting task to define themselves within an environment that has been established and moulded by men.
I recently bought a book to help me with my own issues of finding the appropriate attire in various settings. The book entitled, “From Clueless to Class Act,” by Jodi R. R. Smith, said, “Before you leave home, think about where you are going and what you should be wearing. This doesn’t mean you always need to look like you stepped off the cover of a magazine. Different outfits are appropriate for different occasions. Think of your attire as a costume for playing a part.”
This statement could help the creative-minded woman because she might be able to envision herself in a more conservative style if she viewed the outfit as one of the many costumes she needs for her various roles in life.
The other day I watched a debate between Christians and Atheists on ABC’s news show, Nightline. There were two men who represented the Christian side (of course) and a man and a woman representing the Atheist side. Firstly, the debate was a total waste of time since it was not the academic event I assumed it would be.
However, I was totally embarrassed for all women because the sole lady who represented us in this debate wore a loudly printed dress with a neckline that exposed her breasts and was cut at the bottom with jagged edges. This was a dress that should be worn to a club for dancing – not to an intellectual debate on the existence of God that was broadcast around the world.
There is no way anyone with a thinking mind could possibly take this woman seriously no matter how intelligent she was or how solid her argument. She did in fact make some great points during the debate, but nothing spoke louder than the statement she was making with that dress.
We as women have to find the balance between being sexy in the bedroom and being stately in the boardroom. I am a free spirit that loves to be creative, but I am also an academic that loves to learn about everything that crosses my path.
Every woman has many roles to play in life. Women are mothers, lovers, students, teachers, housewives, legislators – and so on. We must wear the appropriate costume for every occasion of our lives so that we leave no room for the old patriarchal system to claim it was right that women do not belong in this “man’s world.”