The Anthropology of Office Attire: The Lady with a Tool Set.

I don't know how many of you readers work in an office, and I have had the good fortune to work in place where office attire was a very relaxed set of prescriptions as opposed to a codified law. That being said, there is still a level of conformity required when you are working in an office setting.

I was having this argument the other day with my older brother, Gabe, and he was complaining about how easy women's dress code was to follow. He proposed, even, that women didn't really have to follow the dress code at all.

I get where he's coming from. From all appearances, women's attire is the exception to the workplace outfit. Women can ignore things like 'must wear tie' and 'dress slacks required'. Even prohibitions against flip flops can sometimes be circumvented by a fancy sandal.


Whereas men have to follow a strict code that involves dress slacks and a button-down shirt, women, from the outside appear to have more autonomy. Not so. Women have their own laws.

I know this because I stress everyday about what to wear. You can't wear anything too revealing, and you can't wear something that is too eye-catching, unless you want to, and then it better look good on you.

You can't wear sneakers, or other comfortable shoes, but wearing high heels will make walking anywhere tourture.

You should aim to be trendy and fashionable, but if you try for trendy and fashionable and fail, it's incredibly embarrassing.

having worked in offices all over the world, it's always an interesting thing to try to piece together the rules for office attire.

In Korea, someone mentioned in passing that, wow I sure did like to wear bright colors, and hmmm it must be different in America, Korean women don't usually feel comfortable wearing such low cut shirts.
 - as a side note on that, it wasn't that I was wearing low-cut shirts, it's that I wasn't wearing turtlenecks, and anything short of that shows much more of the girls than is necessary. I refuse to wear turtlenecks on principle.

In Saudi, it was all about being the most fashionable, which was hard when you could get written up/ fired for wearing anything too revealing. In Saudi Arabia, 'too revealing' was anything that showed your ankles and above, and anything that showed your elbows and above.

As you can imagine, this seriously cut down our choices, and I was content to go to work in anything that would fit those prescriptions. But I always felt the pressure from my co-workers to dress more fashionable. We even had an award for the best dresser among the teachers.
 - as a side note: we didn't have a 'best teacher' award....

In America, it's a little easier, but not by much. You do have to be fashionable, but most stores for women's clothes I go to either try to sell you something my grandmother would wear, or something I wouldn't even wear to go clubbing in. There are very few shops that sell something in between, and even those have few choices.

Covering the girls is always a problem - like I said, I don't like turtlenecks - and the girls will have their say if I wear anything but. I've come to terms with this, because this is the way I was made, but it doesn't help when I get disparaging looks from women in the metro or cat calls from men walking down the street.

Fashion fluctuates, but it is rare that it favors the lady with a tool set.

This is all to present the question: Who has it worse?

Men have to dress by a strict uniform code and can rarely deviate into something more comfortable or interesting, but they don't have to worry about what they wear.

Women are expected to walk the line between fashionable and professional, and are constantly worrying if what they are wearing is acceptable, but they can flout some of the more strict provisions in the dress code.

What do you think?

As a side anecdote consider this:

One of my male co-workers told me of his experience at my current job, which has a very relaxed dress code. He came in the first day with a tie, and many people joked that he was being so formal.

He considered the joking good-natured and was glad he wasn't expected to wear a tie.

But then.

One day, about three months into working for our company, my friend, let's call him Zack, decided he would spice it up, and wear a tie to work. Within three minutes of him coming into work, several people had strong reactions ranging from making fun to despairing that Zack was making everyone look bad. One of his bosses came in and good-naturedly, but very firmly, told him to take it off.

It kind of went from joking to panicked in zero seconds flat. The reason for this, Zack told me, was because our new CEO wears suits and ties to work everyday, and everyone is worried he's going to up the ante on the dress code for men.

Apparently, no one wants to give him any ideas that they want to start wearing ties.


DMS said...

What an interesting post! I sometimes think men have it easier, because it seems they don't have as many decisions to make when it comes to getting dressed. Pick a shirt, pants. and possibly a tie. A couple pair of nicer shoes. Done. Men sometimes blend in with their attire, but women are often judges (too much cleavage, shoes aren't nice enough. too fancy, not fancy enough, etc.). Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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About Me

I am a legit writer living in Durham, North Carolina, working at a publishing company, and ruthlessly fumigate for travel bugs on a daily basis. Follow my adventures as I try to get published, learn marketing voodoo, and pretend to be an adult.

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I have traveled a lot in the past teaching English and just being a general vagabond, so I have some blogs in my past. I will be consolidating them all - slowly but surely - into a single blog:

No Cilantro Extra Olives

This blog already contains my adventures in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, such as they are.

Updates on my other blogs, from Korea to India will be posted as I go through the laborious process of pulling them from their current blogs into that one.

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