Dressing well doesn’t only do a service to ourselves; it does a service to all working women by slowly chipping away at the gender stereotypes that have been drummed into you by film and print advertising throughout your life. Fighting gender stereotypes has been no easy task for us women in the business world. Magazines and television have told us that you should look beautiful and sexy. Media stylists and costume designers are particularly aware of the messages that can be telegraphed through a carefully considered sexist wardrobe.
These sexist messages are everywhere. In recent years, the push to look sexy has infiltrated weekly TV episodes and even the news. Female newscasters are delivering vital information to the public dressed in too-tight or too-short dresses, thick and heavy false eyelashes, hair extensions, and five-inch heels. They get attention, for sure. Unfortunately, these women do not send the impression of an accomplished, intelligent professional woman. Instead, dressing this way only serves to reiterate the stereotype that women should be prized for our beauty and sexuality rather than for our intellectual abilities.
The gender gap has widened in the media arena with vast consequences. Women have been conditioned to emulate and seek this self-sabotaging attention. Let me share an example of the type of negative precedent this can set in the business world.
Erika, a senior partner at a large law firm in New York City, writes, “The dressing for success, for business women needs updating . . . Male partners are coming to me to ask how they address younger associates who are showing cleavage or wearing dresses or skirts that are too short as they sit around the board room table in the midst of billion dollar negotiations. Some of the senior partners won’t staff big deals with these women, who may be very talented, simply because of their outfits. They fear the harassment allegations, and they don’t want such women to taint the integrity of their law firm.”
Nobody was going to go knocking on the young lawyers’ doors to tell them the way they were dressing for work was inappropriate. The hard work those smart women put into getting into law school, not to mention the grueling bar exam itself, was unfairly and unnecessarily undermined simply because they believed their business attire didn’t matter. No one taught them this. It went unspoken.
When you get dressed, it pays to be conscious of what you are trying to achieve and what motivations may be contributing to your choices. Take a moment to consider what image you want to portray and whether or not your current (and perhaps unconscious) choices are drawing negative attention or opportunity.
Marja Norris is the CEO and Founder of MarjaNorris.com, a company dedicated to helping women achieve their career goals with style and confidence. With a distinguished career in finance, Marja has successfully navigated the male-dominated business world. Working her way up from an entry-level assistant to a Senior Vice President, she draws on her three decades of experience in the corporate world to empower women to pursue their highest goals and blossom into everything they can be.
Marja is passionate about coaching women on projecting their best professional selves. With the publication of her latest book, The Unspoken Code: A Businesswoman’s No-Nonsense Guide to Making It in the Corporate World, Marja’s mission is to provide women with the tools to successfully navigate the workplace through heightened confidence, excellent communication skills, and dressing the part to achieve career success.