How (Some) Women Dress For Work

As workplaces get more casual overall, not just with regard to clothing, fewer and fewer things are codified, and more is left up to judgment. Just because there are no rules doesn’t mean there aren’t (wildly varying and complicated) expectations, and often unspoken consequences. It’s nice to be treated like a human and not be condescended to in that way, but people aren’t born knowing some of this shit, either.

Which is why I love this: A group of six senior women at Buzzfeed (+ Aminatou Sow!) did a roundtable discussion on what they wear to work, how they think about it, and their expectations for the people who work with and for them. It’s great.

Sapna Maheshwari: …I think it’s way easier for guys and I’m insanely jealous of that. I think workplace clothes can be harder for women in certain situations. Like if a guy has a huge meeting, he knows he can wear a suit. And fine, buying a suit looks a little stressful, but that’s a manageable task. It’s way harder as a woman to decide what to wear for that same situation. Do you look “nice enough” in slacks and a blouse and heels? Should you go for a dress? What kind of dress? What materials? Some of that uncertainty can be frustrating.

Katie Notopoulos: What’s frustrating to me about workplace clothes for women is that there’s a lot of judgement about it — some of the stuff we talked about earlier. If we all love fashion because it’s a way of self-expression and making your own identity, then office fashion kind of fucks with that. If you dress a certain way, people will make the wrong judgements about your work. I think this make it so much harder for women than for men.
Doree Shafrir:
This gets at the heart of my struggle over talking to young women about their office attire. There’s an element of it that feels anti-feminist to be telling a young woman what she can and can’t wear, especially when the complaints originate with men. It’s like, I’m sorry you can’t stop staring at this woman but maybe you should check yourself. On the other-other hand, it made me stop and think about what IS “professional” and why we have workplace dress standards in the first place.

Re: Doree’s point, that is how I feel about bras at work. Philosophically, and politically, I support you not wearing a bra. You should not have to wear a bra ever, and that includes work. Fuck bras. And what undergarments you wear or don’t wear are CERTAINLY none of my business. But also: wear a damn bra to work, okay? Jesus.

Also, Aminatou Sow’s response for the ideal interview outfit she’s recommend “to a young woman for a job in media/journalism or a non-suity industry,” is excellent:

AS: I’m at the point now where I will just call the office and ASK! If they say casual or biz caj then I know what is! People are always so happy to tell you that stuff! Especially bomb ass receptionists who are glad you took initiative!

This is a very good call. I can’t tell you how many times, however unethically, I have tried not to laugh as some poor withered soul came to interview at at a startup sweating under a business suit while we interviewed him in jorts and a t-shirt. Dressing up and looking polished for a job interview is always a good call, of course, but part of a job interview is that ethically questionable but always inevitable assessment: are you a “good fit”? Do you belong here? Overdressing sends a signal, subconsciously or no, that you don’t get it.

Again: I don’t think people should be judged by what they wear to interviews. And yet, they are and they will be, as much as that sucks and can throw you into a self-doubting tailspin when you’re picking out an outfit for an interview. But that’s why these conversations are important.

For the record, I second Madewell (with the necessary caveat: if you can afford it/fit into it, because it’s not for everyone), and generally any cute, semi-nice dress, flats, interesting necklace combo.