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She Wouldn’t Wear That! She Shouldn’t Wear That!

It’s not revolutionary to suggest that the clothes we choose to wear are a reflection of our personalities.

Every time we pick an outfit it is an opportunity to portray ourselves to the world, and work wear certainly epitomises such sentiments.

Choosing an outfit that is both appropriate and empowering for the workplace should be as individual a choice as the wearer’s DNA. Unfortunately, many women still feel that this opportunity for self-expression is thwarted by the archaic expectations placed – formally or informally – on dress codes in their day jobs.

A highly publicised story about Nicola Thorp, a receptionist based in London who was sent home from work for refusing to wear heels, has created much debate amongst employees and employers alike. Nicola’s reasoning behind her refusal to wear high heels was to question how wearing flat shoes would impair her ability to do her job, and that male colleagues weren’t subject to the same strident sartorial rules.

However, the company in question, PwC, were of the opinion that Ms Thorp had “signed the appearance guidelines” and, due to her refusal to comply, should be sent home without pay.

Who is correct? Does the company have the right to choose whatever guidelines they want and should Nicola have conformed? Was the company being unreasonable and sexist to insist that she wore clothing that would have no impact on her ability to be a receptionist? Is there even a male equivalent for such a debate?

It can be argued that if employees don’t agree with certain rules made by their employer, then they simply should not work for them. But why should that person have their job opportunities limited simply because of how they choose to dress?

PwC seemed to imply that if a female is to be deemed as a professional then they should look a certain way and, for them, this meant wearing high heels – an ideology that seems to be echoed throughout wider society, too.

A woman should be judged on her ability to do her job rather than the height of her heels.

Take for instance Mark Zuckerberg. We all know who he is. They made that movie about him with that awkward, skinny actor who portrayed him perfectly. Because that is who he is: he can come across a little uncomfortable in interviews, he can stutter and sweat on stage, and he does turn up to major conferences wearing clothes most people would consider suitable for painting the spare bedroom at the weekend. But he is still lauded.

What would happen if Susan Wojcicki, the current CEO of YouTube, turned up to a TED talk or an international press conference wearing her yoga pants and hoodie, and was awkward and uncomfortable on stage? She would be laughed out of the auditorium and probably sent home without pay, much like Nicola Thorp. She certainly would not be taken seriously.

So what does this say about society’s seemingly contradictory views on gendered apparel? The implication is that Zuckerberg doesn’t need to pay attention to his wardrobe because he is far too busy and smart to be concerned with such frivolities. On the flip-side, Susan should be paying a significant amount of attention to her wardrobe because she doesn’t want to come across as sloppy and lazy. A woman has to look a certain way to be successful. A man does not.

It is a fine line for women to conform to the paradox of the female business woman; she must look professional and classy, feminine and strong – but not too feminine, or she will seem overly sexualised and won’t be taken seriously, and not too strong or passionate, or she will seem cold and unapproachable.

This piece of writing will not draw a conclusion because there simply isn’t one at the moment. There is no finite solution to this debate. Companies are entitled to make guidelines as they see fit and employees will have to follow them.

This issue does need to be kept alive in everyday dialogue, however, if we are to banish some of the stigmas surrounding the appearance of women in the workplace. A woman should be judged on her ability to do her job rather than the height of her heels, after all.

Written by:

Ruth is a content writer and multimedia journalist who works in a freelance capacity for a number of digital and print publications. Her hobbies include cooking terrible food, telling (even more) terrible dad jokes, and creating stuff to put on the internet.

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