Dress The Part

The hardest thing about working in a law office is having to get dressed up in a suit, makeup, and jewelry everyday.

I thought I would enjoy wearing suits. They’re so easy, all you have to think about is what shirt to put underneath. Wrong. There’s a whole lot more to the female suit. The clothes-i.e., deciding on pants or skirt, A-line or pencil, dark or light, and which goddamn blouse highlights my silhouette without making me look like the office slut-are just the beginning. Theres the shoes, the makeup, the hair, the jewelry. It never ends.

I put up with all that in the name of professionalism. I tell myself that clients will respect me more if I look put-together. But WHY? Shouldn’t they prefer that I spend that hour in the morning working on their case, rather than trying to remove the clump of mascara in my eye while throwing foundation on my face while deciding on earrings, all while the curlers are warming up my head? Such is our society.

Recently, I read an article in Marie Claire magazine about a female MIT Physics professor. She said that one of the hardest things for her was forcing herself to not wear makeup to work, so that her male colleagues would take her seriously.

Seriously?

She was complaining that she was taken more serious WITHOUT makeup, and that bothered her? What I wouldn’t give to be able to be that Teva and jeans wearing professional, judged for her work performance and not for her appearance.

And yet, she was being judged for her appearance, only in the opposite way I was. She was more professional if she didn’t dress up, and I am considered more professional if I do dress up.

I could easily fall in to the trap of blaming the male-centrist society, the society that reduces women to nothing but pretty faces who might have brains if they look like they have brains, but it goes beyond that. Men are judged on their appearance too. Like it or not, the lawyer who dresses in a sharp, fitted suit with the shined shoes and the silver cuff links is more “professional” than the one who comes in dressed in khakis and a polo. The problem is that we judge people, all people, based on appearances.

Some may say that’s not so bad. They say that there’s a reason we judge books by their covers, the covers convey what the author thinks is a central theme of the book. Our dress is what we present to the world.

The truth is, the covers don’t convey what the author thinks is the central theme of the book. They convey what the publisher, publicist, and managing editor thinks is the central theme of the book. Someone way back when decided that professionals wear suits, so suits indicate a professional employee. The employee that takes more time for his work and less for his appearance, he’s not professional. Neither is the hard worker who saves her paycheck to invest and buys fake jewelry rather than expensive gems. At least not according to the publicist. And frankly, why should they get all the say?

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