Office Wardrobe Options: Bitch Chic Or Slut Style

Writing on MSNBC, Eve Tahmincioglu really kind of sums it up: "Too sexy. Too frumpy. Too conservative. Women can't get a break when it comes to what they choose to wear to work." Which is, it turns out, a problem.

See, it turns out that 93% of managers polled by staffing agents OfficeTeam say one's choice of dress effects promotion. While this may seem clear in the abstract — someone who's consistently inappropriate probably alters colleagues' perception — the scope of the issue is surprising. And in a world without clear-cur dress codes, dispiriting. Not surprisingly, the greater challenge falls on women who are both confronted with more choice and frequently stigmatized for that choice. From the MSNBC piece: "Women send messages through clothing." Valarie Birk, a Ball State professor who specializes in fashion and advertising. "It's referred to as ‘the silent language' and there are feelings that are often attached to what they wear."

The language, apparently, consists largely of "slutty" and "uptight." And is spoken primarily by men.

"The male brain and female brain are wired differently," said Shaunti Feldhahn, author of "The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace." "When a man looks at a women who is dressing in a way that is emphasizing a good figure - low cut top, fitted skirt - he automatically thinks she's saying ‘come get it,'" she explained. Most reasonable men, she said, try to suppress those thoughts and focus on what a woman is saying instead of what she's wearing. But during that battle in a guy's brain, the men end up missing about 25 percent of what the women says, according to research Feldhahn conducted.

So what to do? "You can never be too conservative," says one career expert. Except that elsewhere in the piece, it seems you can; "too buttoned up and conservative can mean she's not hip, or worse, a bitch." The article also mentions the pressure to conform to trends — like the recent Mad Men craze. But let's not forget that Joan was accused of looking like she's "trying to get raped" in the same episode Peggy was called a "humorless bitch." Clearly, the retro look has its pitfalls, too.

So, what's a gal to do — besides repeating a quarter of what she says, that is? Well, at the risk of curtailing personal expression: this seems to me a perfect argument for adult uniforms. Sure, it sounds a little Soviet-era, but imagine how much workplace anxiety it could alleviate. That, or, y'know, the "reasonable men" will restrain their evolutionary programming and the unreasonable few will stop being promoted.

Women Can't Catch A Break On What To Wear
[MSNBC]