My workday often starts once I step off the bus and walk across the parking lot to the main entrance of my office building. Because of my commute, I tend to come into the office with my feet clad in practical, but not very stylish, socks and sneakers. My company happens to share space with the training center for a major bank so I often ride the elevator up to my office (where my work-appropriate footwear is kept) with a revolving assortment of banking professionals.
These folks are always easy to spot because they are either in uniform or three-piece business suits—in contrast to the more laid-back attire of my coworkers. Perhaps because I’m sensitive to my sneakers-with-a-dress styling, I pay a lot of attention to other people’s shoes as I’m waiting for the elevator to reach my floor. Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of women pairing their suits with sky-high stiletto heels. As I glance down at my own tatty gray sneakers, I often think to myself,
“Why would a woman voluntarily wear four-inch high-heels?”
Those shoes can’t possibly be comfortable, no one will see them if they are hidden behind a desk, and their bright red color seems out of place against the backdrop of a bland (yet impeccably tailored) gray pantsuit.
After several days of examining other women’s shoes (each one with a heel higher than the last), this is the conclusion I came to:
These women want to exude femininity.
But in an age of title IX, where gender discrimination is illegal and women are closer than ever to equal pay for equal work (although one could argue not close enough), is it still important for women to dress like women in the workplace?
We are in the midst of the first presidential race where there were two viable female candidates, and what is so extraordinary about the two particular candidates, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, is that they have extremely different styles both in fashion and in politics.
Hillary has often been criticized for her penchant for brightly-colored pantsuits. She has often pulled back her short hair in dowdy headbands. She has a reputation for being a ball-buster, masculine and (public tears aside) an equal match for male political opponents.
Sarah Palin once competed in beauty pagents, keeps her long hair in tasteful updos and parades around in knee-length skirts and demure satin jackets. A “pitbull with lipstick,” she manages to look feminine, pretty even, while taking a hardline in government.
Hillary’s path to the White House has been blocked for now, overshadowed by a younger, arguably more attractive Sarah. Would a more feminine wardrobe have helped Hillary win over supporters? Are Sarah’s looks helping sway independent voters, both male and female?
Do we have more respect for women who dress like women?
If the women I see in the elevator are any indication, I’d have to say the answer is “yes.”