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March 28, 2014

The Eye of the Beholder

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion...

- Robert Burns

Many moons ago, the Blog Princess aroused the wrath of the assembled villainry by daring to suggest that the way a female politician (or any female professional, for that matter) dresses affects how she is perceived:

Women, whether they dress for social occasions or the workplace, have far more fashion options than men do. No matter the occasion, our attire is more individualistic and more nuanced. The standard male wardrobe, on the other hand, tends to be fairly formulaic. In a formal office environment one sees charcoal grey suits with white shirts and small patterned ties. A more artsy (but still formal) workplace or a sales environment features colored shirts and suits with edgier tailoring and fabric. For social occasions, ensembles range from the suit to the quintessentially Southern khaki-pants-and-navy-sport coat to khaki pants and polo shirt/button down oxford, to the truly casual jeans and t-shirt. On the negative side, male dress codes don't provide much opportunity for the expression of personality. On the positive side, deciphering the dreaded "Business Casual" or "Casual" on a social invitation is far less fraught for men than it is for women.

My mother and I returned home triumphantly brandishing a cute navy suit with a short, peplum jacket and pencil skirt. It looked good on me. Like Palin, I look best in closely tailored suits that are nipped in at the waist and skirts that don't flare out at the hems. After regaling Dad with carefully chosen examples of our shopping mojo, I was dispatched to the back bedroom to subject my purchases to paterfamilial inspection. And this is where I love my Dad. As I paraded back and forth across the living room carpet showing off my best fashion-show model pivot, he beamed with paternal pride. "You look marvelous", he said.

"Well, the skirt needs to come up about 2 inches", I said. At only 5'4", I've learned that skirt and sleeve length makes all the difference between looking sharp and looking like a child playing dress up in Mommy's clothes.

My Dad said, "No. Leave the skirt where it is. And you should wear a lower heel for the office."

I wasn't pleased. Not by a long shot. Anyone who knows me knows I love my high heels. But after a short time in my new office environment I had to admit something: he was right. I didn't like admitting that a shorter skirt and higher heels injected the wrong note into what was supposed to be a professional environment. I'm a woman. I wanted to like what I saw in the mirror; to feel pretty. But that wasn't the goal. The goal was to look professional; to get work done, not attract admiring gazes from my co-workers. I knew Dad was right. It wasn't the office that needed to adjust to me: it was I who needed to adjust to the office.

Thus it was with considerable sympathy that she observed the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth occasioned by this poor man's sage advice.

Jeez, ladies: sometimes it really isn't all about you and your beautiful and natural right to embrace sex positivity in the workplace. None of this has anything to do with sexism.

The real double standard is that men are expected to conform to a certain standard and we women are all too often given a pass. From a male perspective, one might even say that women are given an "unfair" amount of latitude.

If you want to be seen as a professional and a team player, try conforming to the standards of your profession. If you truly don't care how you're perceived, person up. Own it. Stop expecting other people to conform to your standards when you've plainly shown unwillingness to conform to (or worse, utter contempt for) theirs.

Why yes, the Princess is feeling feisty this morning!

UPDATE: Hmmm... so *that's* why I thought of Burns...

For a moment I was feeling positively erudite. Dang.

Posted by Cassandra at March 28, 2014 07:44 AM

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Comments

Yeah! You girls had better dress properly for work!
OR ELSE!

Posted by: spd rdr, unshaven and sitting at his desk in a UVA sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers at March 28, 2014 10:11 AM

Poor, poor women, the greater their knowledge of things beyond themselves the less they are persuaded by it. All women, from the time they are girls, become aware of a pre-existing condition, their attractive force. No-one need consult ancient Sybils of intentions to understand why females dress down when they are dressing up. The female gyroscope is what it is. Personally, I blame God.

☺ ☺ ☺ (one per each insinuation)

Posted by: George Pal at March 28, 2014 10:14 AM

"Dress code inequality"?

There MUST be a government program to address that! (laugh)

Posted by: frequent flyer at March 28, 2014 11:14 AM

spd rdr, unshaven and sitting at his desk in a UVA sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers

I'm pretty sure you wouldn't go to court dressed like that, though.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 28, 2014 11:32 AM

Posted by: Grim at March 28, 2014 12:05 PM

That was awesome :)

Posted by: Cassandra at March 28, 2014 01:00 PM

I'm pretty sure you wouldn't go to court dressed like that, though.

Sure I would! In handcuffs.

Posted by: spd rdr, unshaven and sitting at his desk in a UVA sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers at March 28, 2014 01:13 PM

Why I oughta.... :p

Posted by: Since you asked, my Butt IS made out of springs at March 28, 2014 03:16 PM

I still think Sarah Palin was badly treated. The woman was beautiful: physically, to be sure, but morally as well. She had a big family, a loving and successful marriage, a record of successful reform against entrenched government interests, and a playful spirit that she displayed joyfully.

The culture's insistence on treating her beauty as sexy was, and is, disgraceful. The woman was a grandmother, for goodness' sake: not that a grandmother can't be sexy, or oughtn't to be, but that a culture ought to be prepared to excuse her from its fantasies by that stage in her life. I can understand why it's too much to ask at the height of hormones and fecundity, but at some point the dignity, especially of a woman who had so obviously chosen to express herself sexually in faithful and monogamous private family life, ought to be treated with greater respect.

I think it was wrong for journalism to translate her dress into articles about her sexuality, or for Andrew Sullivan to throw himself into fevered imaginings about her reproduction.

A life well-lived is an artistic creation. A healthy culture could see the beauty of the art, and not merely lust after the gold from which the creation was made.

Posted by: Grim at March 28, 2014 03:54 PM

I think it was wrong for journalism to translate her dress into articles about her sexuality, or for Andrew Sullivan to throw himself into fevered imaginings about her reproduction.

I shared your feelings wrt Sullivan's lunacy (otherwise, I would hardly have created an entire joke blog just to mock his ravings). Let's face it - I wasn't as big a fan as many of you were of Ms. Palin, though I did defend come to her defense when I thought she was being treated unfairly.

Palin is very much a polemicist, and people like that tend to draw fire. It goes with the territory, and it happens to male politicians too. That doesn't justify the way some people treated her, but it does make that treatment not terribly surprising.

I can see the vitality that drew so many of you to her, but I didn't think she was anywhere near ready for the position. The same (and more) was true of Obama, Biden, and even McCain.

I agree she was badly treated by the media. I wrote about that many times. What mystifies me, though, is that people seem to have trouble separating out various issues. If a woman dresses in a certain way, she is more likely to be ogled or to draw unwelcome attention/emphasis on her looks or sexuality. That's just the way it is. A woman who wears short skirts and has good legs can pretty much count on people noticing her legs or even focusing on them. The same woman could wear her skirts below the knee and avoid much (though not all) of that kind of attention.

There's a subtle difference between the way Laura Bush or Michelle Bachman (both beautiful women in their own right) dress and comport themselves and the way Palin did. As I've said many times though, that doesn't excuse other people's actions. To me, these ideas aren't at all incompatible - that other people can be jerks, and that one can dress or act in a way that is more or less likely to elicit jackwaggonry or unwelcome emphasis on their sexuality.

Posted by: Cass at March 28, 2014 04:16 PM

Just as an aside, I've worn shortish skirts for most of my adult life. So I have nothing against short skirts at all.

My point is, if you intentionally display yourself and you're attractive, you WILL get that kind of attention. That's just life, just as my decision not to take that pinup down from the top of my blog has drawn a fair amount of unmerited nastiness.

I don't complain about it - some of you asked me not to take it down, and I voluntarily chose not to. But it sends a message, and not the one I intended when I put it up for one day on the 4th of July many moons ago.

Posted by: Cass at March 28, 2014 04:20 PM

Having just come from a funeral, I can state that for most males, the dress code is ... gone. Probably ten percent of the males in a suit or sport coat, all of them veterans, almost all wearing a tie. Most of the suits (4%?) were dark (black, charcoal, Navy blue, dark grey. There wasn't anyone wearing shorts (but then it was only 36ºF when we got to Ft. Snelling National Cemetery.)

That first volley is always so loud.

Posted by: htom at March 28, 2014 04:55 PM

Having just come from a funeral, I can state that for most males, the dress code is ... gone.

I think the idea that people show respect for the sensibilities of others by restraining behavior, speaking carefully, or dressing in a manner appropriate to the situation (wearing a suit to a rodeo makes no sense) is pretty much dead.

Oh, and GET OFF MY *&^% LAWN! :)

Posted by: Cass at March 28, 2014 05:06 PM

Some thoughts on male dress codes, and their variations:

If you look at pictures of Steve Jobs and his successor, you will see that Apple had a very severe dress code. (After I noticed that, I read that Jobs wanted his people to dress like him.)

Some years ago, I read that the head of Boeing would change his clothes during the day to fit his audiences. If he was talking to potential customers, airline executives, he would dress up in a suit. If he was talking to Boeing engineers, he would wear something less formal. (Engineers often refer to managers, disparagingly, as "suits".)

The fellow who wrote "Dress for Success" (Malloy?) recommended that guys dress down when they were getting car repair estimates -- and did a little experiment that suggested you could save 20 per cent, or so, that way.

(BTW, he agreed that people should not be judged by their clothes as much as they are -- but thought that people would be foolish not to understand what messages they are sending in the real world.)

Finally, to come back to the example that inspired this post: I think that woman attorney was deliberately trying to manipulate the judge (and other men in the court) by the way she dressed.

Whether that worked as she intended is unclear to me.

Posted by: Jim Miller at March 28, 2014 05:20 PM

...to come back to the example that inspired this post: I think that woman attorney was deliberately trying to manipulate the judge (and other men in the court) by the way she dressed.

This is an astute point, and jibes with George's comment earlier today.

I often hear guys attribute women being critical of other women who dress provocatively to jealousy or insecurity. And there may be some of that going on, but other times it's really not that at all. Most women know they can easily get that kind of attention (if they actually want it, that is) by dressing the same way. The bar isn't set terribly high for that sort of attention.

I've always felt more threatened by women who are pretty but *don't* dress that way. When I think of women who have made me feel threatened or insecure about my own attractiveness in life, they have generally not been flashy or obvious because they don't have to be to get all the male attention they want or need.

Generally goes through my mind when I see a woman dressed that way is that she is being manipulative.

Posted by: Cass at March 28, 2014 05:43 PM

Some years ago, I read that the head of Boeing would change his clothes during the day to fit his audiences. If he was talking to potential customers, airline executives, he would dress up in a suit. If he was talking to Boeing engineers, he would wear something less formal. (Engineers often refer to managers, disparagingly, as "suits".)

My office started with full suits and ties (or for the women, suits and heels). We eventually toned it down to business casual b/c software folks are more informal (you match your dress to the rest of the profession). For client visits or important occasions, we still get dressed to the nines but these days I mostly wear a nice dress to work rather than a suit.

Fridays a lot of folks wear nice jeans or khakis.

Posted by: Cass at March 28, 2014 05:46 PM

BTW, he agreed that people should not be judged by their clothes as much as they are -- but thought that people would be foolish not to understand what messages they are sending in the real world.

I agree with that, too. But I used to tell my boys that most people never bother to look below the surface. If you look clean and neat, they get a positive impression. If you don't, they get a negative impression.

If you look confident, they'll assume you are confident even if you're quaking inside.

Most people aren't focused on seeing the real you. If you're expecting them to gaze deeply into your soul and divine that your outer appearance conceals your inner beauty or intellectual depth... well, you're heading for a big disappointment :p

One of the weirder things I noticed when I went to private school is that the same people behave differently when they're dressed up. Makes no sense, but there it is.

Posted by: Cass at March 28, 2014 05:53 PM

You should dress for the effect you want to have on your audience.

All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts ...

Used to be that even the guards knew what I was going to be doing when I walked up the sidewalk. Upper management meeting? Boring banker uniform. Prime Contractor meeting? Banker, but with flair. Day at my desk? Sportcoat. Down in the lab? Jeans and Tee.

Clothes do not make the man and should never be taken for him, but it's true, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Con man in a banker's uniform, college dean in farmer overalls, I've known both (and a banker who was also a farmer.) I tend to overdress just a little ... because I can always "dress down" from that. Thanks, Dad. One of the few social skills I have.

Posted by: htom at March 28, 2014 06:27 PM

Here's a question for the men:
If you thought could get away with it, would you grow your hair long? Seriously. Shoulder length.
I'd do it starting tomorrow. Would you?

Posted by: spd rdr, unshaven and sitting at his desk in a UVA sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers at March 28, 2014 06:42 PM

Do you mean, if I thought it would actually still grow to shoulder length? Well, I suppose the sides might.

Posted by: Grim at March 28, 2014 06:58 PM

I couldn't believe it, but MH actually managed to let his grow out for well over a year after retiring. It was down over his shoulders and hung down over his eyes when he finally decided he should probably look respectable for the interview with the big boss for his job.
0>;~]

Posted by: DL Sly at March 28, 2014 07:41 PM

spd -- No. I had it that long for a couple of years, gave it up decades ago. Every once in a while I'm tempted to grow it out into a pony tail, but it won't happen. The handlebar mustache is happening, very slowly. It will probably last through Christmas and then go away, I'd forgotten what a hassle it is.

Posted by: htom at March 28, 2014 08:18 PM

Hi Cassandra,
I'm not much interested in what women attorneys wear to court, but most of them do dress well. This judge was patently wrong to disparage any attorney in this petty way.
Quite agree clothes are a simpler issue for a guy. Unless he's metrosexual or French (?), there always a reliable 'uniform of the day.'
Also agree there is much more latitude for professional women, though as a guy I've never been able to discern the fine line between 'sharp,' and maybe a tad provocative. Even so, it's always obvious when a woman is trying just a little too hard to be noticed . . .


Hi Spd,
My hair *was* nearly should length in High School! and you guys thought I was kidding about Gym class . . .

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at March 29, 2014 09:47 PM

I quite literally have never been able to grow my hair past my collar. Even when I went for months without any haircut. It gets to a certain length and stops. I generally keep it shaved down, because that's free and I can do it myself.

On topic, I do find it a little strange that women do not have a "uniform of the day" in the way that men do. Even "business casual" for men is generally a pair of khakis and a polo shirt. And yet I've never seen anything standard like that for women. Normally I don't even think about it because it doesn't affect me personally. And frankly, I can't say I've ever judged a coworker on what she wore, but then I'm pretty fashion oblivious.

Posted by: MikeD at March 31, 2014 10:00 AM

"It's not about you, especially if you're in front of a jury." That was spot-on.

These days, if I work at all, it's tele-commuting, so it is about me. Nevertheless, back when I was in an office, though I've always been naturally slovenly in dress, I put what was (for me) a lot of effort into at least appearing unexceptional. I was awfully glad when the dress code relaxed to the point of including pants and flat shoes.

I've always struggled with the assumption that pretty young women should strive to be sexually alluring at all times. There were very few men I'd ever have wanted to attract sexually, and I wasn't working with any of them. I wanted clothing that created the fewest excuses for anyone (1) to ask me to make coffee or (2) to be distracted from the advice I was trying to sell. That made it easier to dress professionally. My only struggle was caring enough to bother, when I'd have preferred to wear old painting clothes, and wished that more people would just pay attention to the advice and skip the mating rituals. There's a lot to be said for telephone meetings.

I was lucky to find a husband at an early age for whom flirting didn't much involve what I wore. I never got all that.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 31, 2014 10:56 AM

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