There’s no doubt that dress codes are helpful in terms of creating a professional and unified workplace environment. It also takes the guess work out of dressing yourself every day. Problems arise when these dress codes start towing the line (or else crossing it completely) towards being sexist. The crown for demonstrating sexist dress codes goes to Ernst and Young. Here is an excerpt of their now famous memo.
“When women speak, they shouldn’t be shrill. Clothing must flatter, but short skirts are a no-no. After all, “sexuality scrambles the mind.” Women should look healthy and fit, with a “good haircut” and “manicured nails.” These were just a few pieces of advice that around 30 female executives at Ernst & Young received at a training held in the accounting giant’s gleaming new office in Hoboken, New Jersey, in June 2018 says HuffPost in their article that is guaranteed to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up straight.
The effects of sexist dress codes
Sexist dress codes can be extremely harmful for your wellbeing. They perpetuate the image that women have to dress themselves to appease others, and that the wrong outfit can label them a distraction.
It’s an understatement to say that sexist dress codes are often demeaning and many times inappropriate. I can never shake the Barbie feeling when I read things like this. An investigative report by Business Insider Japan revealed that some companies made female employees refrain from wearing eyeglasses, as these gave the workers a “cold impression.” Other Japanese companies encouraged female employees to wear high heels, which is not just uncomfortable if you stand or walk a lot, it’s also really bad for your feet. Earlier this year, cabin crew members from British Airways filed complaints after new guidelines went so far as to restrict the kind of bras they wore under their blouses.
Sexist dress codes are a global problem and also a generational one. In fact, sexist dress codes in American public high schools actually end up sexualizing young women. 71% of sexist dress codes in schools ban midriff exposure. The problem is, that this paints the image that this body part is overly sexual and must be covered up. I go back and forth on this issue. Chime in if you have a comment about this.
Wearing high heels and skirts, covering up your midriff, and being forced to wear makeup are all signs of sexist dress codes. Because someone else tells women what to wear. Such guidelines perpetuate the image that women’s bodies are public property, and that a woman’s value derives from her appearance rather than anything else.
Connecting sexist dress codes to body positivity
The problem with sexist dress codes is that they inevitably make all women look the same, creating the image of an ideal woman. Barbie anyone? The body positive movement thus sheds light on the ways that women can celebrate their bodies of all shapes and sizes, providing a way for women to gain empowerment and take the reins back. Model and business mogul Tyra Banks is the perfect embodiment of this cause: her famous speech on body-shaming still remains popular today, and her business empire is built around body positivity.
As a response to this scrutiny, some brands have popped up that solely champion body positivity: Woman Within’s wide range of dresses offer comfort and versatility while suiting a variety of body types. While sexist dress codes are still on their way out of the door, women everywhere are searching for and support their favorite brands to make a statement without sacrificing personal style. Universal Standard has also created a workwear line that encompasses sizes from 00-40, ensuring that no woman is left out.
My post on 10 Demands Every Woman Should Make highlights the importance of being vocal in order to elicit meaningful change at work. Questioning the purpose of sexist dress codes is a crucial step when it comes to fighting back. In the meantime, leaning on body positive clothing can give you a much-needed confidence boost to navigate the different social codes that come with being a working woman.
Let me know how you feel about this topic.