Fashionable People, Questionable Things. | NSFW: the S is for suitable | Fashionable People, Questionable Things.

Mel: NSFW or rather, Not Suitable for Work. This usually refers to racy website content that “the man” probably wouldn’t be down with. But let’s discuss NSFW work place attire shall we?

As somebody relatively new to the whole office work game, there are many, many things that I have been leaning over the past months. For instance, sitting down = good thing and nobody cares when you go to the bathroom, you can schedule your own breaks and in fact are supposed to take them. The list goes on.

One thing I think I have had some difficulty coming to terms with is the concept of workplace attire.

I work in a fairly casual office; it’s not a 3-piece suit kind of place. However, it’s not a ratty jeans and t-shirt kind of place either.

Some of the dudes in my office wear jeans on a daily basis, albeit with a snappy blazer or a dress shirt and nice shoes. And they still manage to look professional.

When I wear my version of that outfit (skinny dark jeans, nice boots, a blazer and a nice shirt) it’s only appropriate for Fridays.

source of both blazers

What’s up with the double office standard?

Why should the clothes I wear even matter? Should it not be about my ability to do my job and interact with people on a daily basis?

Conversely, when I wear a skirt or a dress, I feel like I am overly dressed up. Because I work in a more intellectually-based industry, I also feel like “looking too nice” will not get me taken seriously. I had my first experience with this a few weeks ago. I was wearing nice pants, a sweater and a scarf. I had grey nail polish on, and my hair was down. I had a meeting with two guys about my dad’s age.

I walk into dude #1’s office and he greets me and I sit down. Dude #2 arrives and before I even get a hello, I get a “Oh Uhh.. umm.. I ahh.. oh. I somehow thought…. Uhhh….. you would be umm…… of the uhhh….. different…. Persuasion…what I mean is…. With a name like Mel……..”

He thought I was going to be a man. How could a twenty-something blonde haired GIRL have a job in MEDIA RELATIONS?! Sound the alarms.

Choosing to brush this awkward encounter aside and get on with my job, I pressed on only to be interrupted several minutes later.

“You know, I just don’t think I would ever think of painting my nails black….” Surprised, I looked at him and said “to be fair, it’s grey” and kept going.

It was clear that dude #2 was just a little too stoked by the fact that I was a young woman talking to him about serious science stuff.

Ok… so maybe that rant is a little off-topic. But the crux of the thing is this, with society moving the way that it is, and formalities are going out the window left right and centre, why do I still feel societal pressure to simultaneously dress up while I try to hide the fact that I still have youth on my side?

To be clear, I’m not trying to make this some sort of feminist thing by any means. I’m just really trying to figure out what is “work appropriate” and what is NSFW.

So, I’m interested: Jeans for work for the ladies (and the boys)? Do the clothes make a difference? What is work appropriate in your opinion? Is this age dependent? Should it be?

I think I have to go file some TPS reports or something…. Where is my stapler….

13 Responses to NSFW: the S is for suitable

  1. Allene! says:

    I think it totally is a feminist thing, though. If you’re not allowed to wear the exact same thing as your male counterparts, that is a total gender bias. There have been all sorts of publicized issues about female attire in the workplace and I definitely think that the underlying issue is there are still men out there who are uncomfortable with lady parts in their offices. How are women supposed to know what to wear to work, when looking attractive means not being taken seriously, and looking drab means we aren’t trying hard enough? Also: what a dweeb, commenting on your nail polish! Would he ever say to another dude, “I just don’t think I would ever wear a blue pocket square”? Probably not!

    Anyway. I have no idea what to wear to work, I work in the symphony and we wear ratty ass clothes to rehearsals and formal attire to concerts so “business casual” is a total mystery to me. :P

    • M. Hennigar says:

      It’s so stupid and at the risk of sounding like some kind of crazy communist or something, it really makes the case for uniforms…

      Wait. I take that back. Uniforms would suck…. but you get the sentiment…..

  2. Intern Krista says:

    Unfortunately, since it’s Halifax, young women have to dress both up and older to be taken seriously by the menfolk. They also have to work twice as hard, but that’s another conversation.

    I’ve worked in the public sector for 10+ years. In my early 20s, I was a novelty (“Look at that youngin’, she says smart things!”) and usually suited-up to avoid distracting them with my youth and vitality.

  3. nataliejoan says:

    The gender thing goes both ways. Guys I work with get very annoyed come summer when I am in a skirt or capris and pretty sandals, and they are still required to wear dress-pants (maybe jeans if it is casual day). No matter how nice they may be, a man cannot show his legs or his toes in most offices, yet we do it all the time.
    And I actually do wear jeans & blazer fairly often, with no problems. Might depend on the jeans you are choosing. Has someone told you this is not acceptable, or are you just not comfortable in it?

    • M. Hennigar says:

      It’s more of a comfort thing. I pity the fool who dares mention how my attire is affecting my work…

      I’d like to think I have a fairly astute sense of fashion, but I just feel pressure to wear dress pants over jeans. And yeah, ok maybe it is all in my head, but either way…

  4. Sarah says:

    I like this post! I work from a home office – right now I look like hell but that’s another story. Since moving back to NS after spending my 20’s working in downtown London (UK) I was utterly dismayed at the state of professional dress for women in Halifax. Only a few seem to get it right and I am sure they all suffer from the old fart comments but persevere by brushing them off in the name of fashion and more importantly – self-respect. For me it’s all about finding a local icon to inspire you! The best dressed woman in Halifax for the workplace in my humble opinion is without doubt the lovely Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons ( Marketing & Events Manager for the WTCC) Her office fashion blows my head off! When I put on my ‘closing shoes’ to head into a meeting – I think of her flare and make sure my warpaint looks fresh for those awkward old farts… Never give in. They’ll be gone soon enough.

    • M. Hennigar says:

      I can imagine going from London to HFX was a bit of a shock. Ladies in London know how to dress. I guess I just hate that there is no middle ground really. You either can look like an old biddy or you have to look like a young schlub. We have a serious lack of good clothing stores here (I’m thinking Zara, Mango, a decent H&M….) to work with. It’s hard to strike the appropriate balance of youth and professionalism working with what’s here in town.

      • Gill says:

        Amen!

        I am also new to the workplace and my office prefers suits and close toed shoes. I have learned to like it a little more in the last few months but I find it so hard to maintain a sense of personal style and individuality.

        Great post!

  5. Kim says:

    I can’t believe that guy you work with reacted like that to the fact that you were a young woman. And I can’t believe that in this day and age women still have to fight to be taken seriously on the same level as men – it’s mind-boggling. Anyway, I won’t get into that rant right now…
    In terms of the NSFW question, I have never worked in an office where I was allowed to wear jeans, regardless of gender. Well, one where we could at first but then they changed the policy, but they still had to be “nice-looking” jeans. Men usually wore khakis. That being said, I don’t see the big problem with wearing jeans to work – as long as they are a darker wash and “clean”, i.e. no rips and holes and the rest of your outfit is polished (e.g. I would never think a t-shirt and jeans is office-appropriate for anyone, even if you work in a more laid-back, creative atmosphere). IN any case, it’s always important to look clean and polished no matter where you work – it sucks but it’s reality that ppl judge you immediately on your outward appearance, and how you look can certainly effect how seriously someone takes you and that can make all the different in the workplace. I mean, think about it, would you want to hire someone who looked like they just rolled out of bed? I sure wouldn’t! Great post!

  6. Sarah M says:

    Dressing appropriately can be a minefield. I am still famous in my office as the girl who wore stilettos to the Sydney Tar Ponds.

    As a woman in the business world it seems like you have to walk a fine line. If you dress too formally, you run the risk of “trying to hard” or even inapropriately for some workplaces (like say, a construction site or manufacturer). If you dress too casually that doesn’t work either. And for women there is the additional issue that stylish or very flattering clothes can get you noticed. And not for your intellect.

    Men just don’t have the same challenges. As long as they are wearing something clean and neutral, men can manage. Woman have a bigger challenge than just fashion – taking our place in the business world. It IS a feminist issue. And I think we need to work hard to ensure that our voices get heard no matter what we are wearing.

  7. jo says:

    It’s a rock and a hard place, isn’t it? … I seem to recall during the most recent US presidential campaign, not too many were reporting on Obama’s choice of clothing, but an awful lot was being said about Hilary’s!

    I worried about this when I transitioned from the non-profit arts world to a corporate world. From freely expressing my fashionable self, even if that meant jeans and jackets, to suits. BAH. Since you have worked with me, at my workplace, you get a sense for what I think it possible: professional AND stylish. I LOVE a good suit, but that doesn’t mean it’s a boring one! But I also trend towards the feminine. Lots of a-line skirts, great shoes, fun accessories…

    And in a world of mostly male engineers, it doesn’t take much to stand out. Most meetings I go to, I feel like I’m being observed like a strange, exotic bird. Like they’re thinking, “Wow, look at all the colours! Wait, I think she’s actually saying something…”

    I say, keep doing what your doing. Put it right out there. Eventually, they will stop with their ignorant gazes, and won’t notice for all the wrong reasons. Don’t conform, don’t wear the boring suit. After all, isn’t that what we want to do…change it?

  8. Allene! says:

    Also: I totally forgot about this till now but I thought it was apropos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lA7pPtPs5tE

  9. […] up: Mel’s post on what is/isn’t suitable for work is possibly one of my favourite things in awhile. And not just because she covered my ass on […]

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Fashionable People, Questionable Things.