The British accounting firm of Ernst and Young recently held a voluntary workshop for its female employees to teach them how to dress appropriately for work. Reports the Telegraph, "Fleur Bothwick, head of diversity at the firm, said that while men could simply opt for a uniform of dark suit and tie, officewear was more fraught for women." Accordingly, the 400 women who showed up were told not to wear heavy perfume or low-cut tops or carry evening bags to the office, and given a lecture on their best colors. From Sarah Palin's fashiongate to stories like these, we've been hearing a lot about the double standard applied to women in the workplace. Weirdly, more and more it seems like the message is, "as long as it's there, let's use it to our advantage!"On the one hand, it's true — it is trickier for women to know what to wear for work. From the number of queries we've gotten here about appropriate work dress, I know that a workshop like the one at Ernst and Young, however problematic in principle, could actually be a godsend for women in a workplace who just want to be told what to wear for once, rather than trying to figure out what's appropriate. The fact that 400 women showed up could be proof of this — or did the workshop's very existence merely provoke a set of anxieties that hadn't existed before? Anne Freden, chairman of Ernst & Young's women's network, says, "You don't want to be remembered as the woman with red lips, or leave people wondering, 'How does she walk on those heels?'" Well, sure, but most people probably don't have these reps: it doesn't take a course for most women not to wear a low-cut blouse to the office; it's called common sense. But apparently it is an issue for the company; says Freden: "There is a huge number of capable and talented women at Ernst & Young looking to maximise their achievement in the firm and in their career, and looking for the skills and tips and tools to do that...The firm doesn't view this as something that is nice to have, but as an integral part of the business strategy." Maybe that is what is worrisome about this: the implicit judgment — even threat — behind such policies. Consider Fashiongate: while there was almost unilateral condemnation of the amount Sarah Palin managed to drop on clothes, many in the public eye themselves came to the governor's defense, talking about the unusual scrutiny placed on women's appearance. The attitude seemed to be, not merely does she need to look okay - she needs to look great. This is both a pressure — and in some dubious lights — advantage that male counterparts simply don't have. While no one wants to make a poor first impression in a professional context, some of what's troubling is the insinuation that a woman can use wiles — work her colors, sport designer — at the expense of those, be it men or other, less savvy females, who are simply professional. Not to get Cold War on you, but all of this kind of makes me want a uniform — because it's not like we're dealing in self-expression here, anyway. Or at any rate, let's stop pretending "business casual" really allows us any freedom — clearly all these superficial relaxations have just created a hundred new pitfalls for women to look too sexy, not feminine enough, or insufficiently professional. When we're told, 'wear what you want, but what you want is wrong — take this optional class you all need'— well, can we just drop the charade already and bring on the dress codes? Some of that Socialist Chic wasn't half bad! Female Accountants Sent On Course To Learn How To Dress Appropriately[Telegraph] Clothes That Add Up: Female Accountants Are Taught To Dress For Success [Daily Mail]
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