Working Girls: TV's Office Dress Codes Are Business-Cocktail

We get that TV has to sex stuff up. But is it a good thing that every female exec in Prime Time is wearing 5" heels?

It's no secret that the clothes on TV tend to be aspirational: we get that. We, after all, know first-hand that a freelance writer who peacocks like Carrie Bradshaw is mere fantasy, and don't begrudge the dame her Manolos. But it also strikes us as a little curious that the spate of prime-time shows whose avowed goal is to portray powerful women (Lipstick Jungle, Cashmere Mafia, Dirty Sexy Money, anything set in a hospital or law-firm) then feel they need to glamorize and sexualize these careers in order to make them interesting.

On a basic level, it's misleading. Says one female exec in a Financial Times piece, “You’ve got to be able to run up stairs and chase down taxis...I see programs like Lipstick Jungle, where the women walk around in 5in heels, with outrageous jewellery and low necklines. That isn’t practical.” Or professional: whenever we see Whitney Port swanning around Manhattan in a 3" skirt we worry uncomfortably how many young women are going to appear for an interview for some summer internship dressed in just as "aspirational" a getup.

While "real-world" ladies are toning down their work wardrobes in keeping with somber times and a shaky job market, the high-powered execs of prime-time corporate America hover ever higher and their clothes shout ever-louder. Says Lipstick's stylist, Amanda Ross, to the FT: “I dressed the characters on the show to look polished and impeccably groomed,” adding that it “goes to extremes with layering and accessorising” but otherwise stays the straight and narrow. While a viewing of the show leads us to respectfully disagree (and by the by, costumes are the least of its problems), no costume designer should have to apologize for upping the ante. Perhaps what seems problematic is the wrinkle as old as Ally McBeal: it's one thing to glamorize for entertainment, but at what point does that veer into disrespect for actual dames?

This is a relatively new issue: professional women have rarely, historically, been the focus of shows and as such didn't require much sexing up. But it does seem like even when professional women were portrayed, it wasn't in a sexualized way: when Melanie Griffith's Working Girl goes corporate, she becomes less sexy, more professional: her clothes are impeccably tailored, but serious. In prior eras, a working gal might be glam, but that was very different from sexy. Mary Richards hardly showed cleavage; acting and writing added the character's allure. Is it good that a character can be both a sexy woman and a career pro? Sure. But why does that require a "sexy" outfit to prove it? A little less showing, more telling, plz.

The Wardrobes Of TV’s Career Women [FT]