I am an Adjunct Professor of Interpersonal Psychology at my local community college. I enjoy the opportunity to help teach young people basic inter-personal skills. On the first day of class, I do a perception activity. They walk into class, and I say, we will begin class with a test. They look quite surprised to say the least! I start with this series of questions. What kind of car does it look like I drive? Do I look like I have kids? What level of education does it look like I have? Do you think that I was born and raised in North Carolina? It’s always interesting the answers that I receive. The only information that they have to answer of course is how I look, I am dressed, and how I speak.
I also conduct Positive Self-Image and Dressing for Success workshops to teens, tweens and female college students. I do this same activity, but I am dressed in a what I consider less than professional attire. I will ask those same questions and while they are thinking, I exit the room, change into what I consider professional attire and when I re-enter, I ask them about their answers. I ask them if they would have answered the questions the same way if I have been dressed in the later ensemble. And inevitably the answers are most always no! When I ask them what they think the purpose of the exercise is, I smile when the one person in the group say perception!
Many people look forward to casual Fridays and reasons to wear jeans. When I was younger, I wanted to be like the actresses in the soap operas. They had more “dress up” clothes than not. They would come up with a reason to throw a party. They would get ‘gussied’ up for any everyday occasion. But today, casual dress is more the norm. What has led us to becoming such a dress-down society? Perhaps it has to do with our collective self-esteem. You’ve heard of “You are what you eat?” Does the same apply to “We are how we dress?”
For example the “Power Suits” that our Former Secretary of State First Lady Hillary Clinton made stylish and acceptable, also made a statement. It said, “I am woman, hear me roar!” It said,” I can compete with any man, in any space, at any time and hold my own.” It said, “I am free to be me!”
It’s no secret that there has always been conversation surrounding women’s personal appearance and getting ahead in work, society, in the political arena and in life. THEY say, “Don’t wear your skirts too short.” “Don’t wear your blouse too low.” “ If your hair is long, they won’t take you seriously.” “Don’t wear your heels too high, they’ll think you’re a _____________?” Who is THEY anyway?
Of course we know, men don’t have these issues, per say. They can wear a dark suit, white shirt, black oxford shoes and a tie of their choosing for the office, place of worship or board room and khakis and a polo shirt on dress-down days and they are set. They don’t have to worry about too tight, too high or too low. They also don’t have to worry about being judged as harshly for their choices.
It’s no wonder women have complex issues over what to wear and how they will be perceived or accepted. At what point does our ability, skill set, level of education, knowledge, training, character, and intelligence become enough?
The truth is that “they” may never think that any of the aforementioned will ever be enough. That means that we will collectively have to keep chipping away at the glass ceiling until a large enough crack in it for us to shatter it.