Sunday, May 29, 2016

Weekly Reading 5/29/2016: On Office Dress Codes

Screenshot of Rachel from Suits. Note that while this outfit is quite put together and actually more formal than is typically worn by associates at my office, most of the women's biglaw workplace fashion on the show skews a lot flashier than the real thing.

Did you hear about that recent controversy where a woman temp employee at PricewaterhouseCoopers was told to wear heels (between 2'' to 4'') or go home without pay? Thankfully, nothing like that has ever happened to me, even if there are other workplace dress code rules I must adhere to as an employee of a NYC biglaw firm. The rules get stricter in some settings, such as interviews, certain meetings, and court, but I also get a lot of room to maneuver on a typical day. For instance, I wear my black leather Vans all day sometimes, and I'm not even the only woman attorney-type here who has ever worn slip-on sneakers in the office. Wearing jeans is still a no-go zone, but that wouldn't necessarily be the case at a biglaw office elsewhere in the country.

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All of this is a way of segueing into a discussion of this recent New York Times article about "The End of the Office Dress Code," which discusses the rapidly changing norms surrounding workplace dress and how acceptable it is for workplaces to strictly dictate what employees wear. The author puts her point better than I can when she says, "We live in a moment in which the notion of a uniform is increasingly out of fashion, at least when it comes to the implicit codes of professional and public life." 

Make no mistake, there are rules, both implicit and explicit, about what I wear to work and about the standard for women's grooming and dress at work. At the same time, this article is still relevant to how I'm adapting to my workplace.

I've always had some predisposition for pushing business casual further into the "casual" direction than many of my peers would. Along with my newfound fondness for wearing pants to work, I'm generally finding that I favor rather loose-fitting, slouchy tops that I prefer to wear untucked. I almost categorically refuse to wear pumps, though I do wear wedges because at 5'3'', I'm noticeably shorter than my many male colleagues, sometimes enough that making eye contact is a little awkward.  Most recently, I've stopped wearing contact lenses and makeup to work. Part of the reason is medical: my eyes get irritated when I wear my soft contact lenses on my longest days (and nights) at the office and I might have an allergy to my eyeliner. Also, I put a lot of time, effort, and money into my skincare, which has paid off enough that there's at least a 50-50 chance that my skin looks better without makeup than with. Admittedly, this has more to do with my rudimentary makeup skills and my NARS Tinted Moisturizer not playing nicely with my skin when it is having a flaky day than with how my skin actually looks. Oh and I never put any time or effort into my hair either.

All of the habits I describe above might result in a relatively unpolished daily look, and I honestly have no idea if that could harm my professional life going forward. (I honestly don't think it would, that much, as salaries are on a rigid and transparent fixed scale and the likelihood of promotion eight or nine years on was always nonexistent anyway.) I would dress up for important meetings or court days, but that's about it. I'm comfortable and happy with what I'm wearing, but, I must admit, it could come across as a bit... dowdy.

How formal is your industry or your office dress code? Do you wear heels in the office? How often do you wear makeup to work? There are so many things to think about when it comes to office wear!

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