Dressing the Part

by Emily Jasper on November 3, 2009

There were two posts over the last few weeks that had me thinking: Women in the workplace have all kinds of pressures, with wardrobe being somewhere high on the list.

Most mornings I get ready for work at the gym. Now that I’m swimming, it’s easier to go ahead and shower there than drag my chlorinated self back home to change. Not to divulge any ladies’ locker room secrets, but I wanted to share an observation with you.

One morning, another swimmer (female, probably 40) and I finished our workouts at the same time. We then hopped in our respective showers, and finished about the same time there. We apparently had lockers in the same bank, so it looked like we were going to get dressed in the same area as well.

What I noticed was that she looked like the kind of business woman I didn’t want to be. I’m going to be honest: I was judging the book by its cover. But that’s what we call a first impression, isn’t it?

In the same 15 minutes it took us to dry off and dress, here were the results:

-Her: Plain blue t-shirt, cotton black pantsuit, black socks, orthopedic black shoes, and combed wet hair

-Me: Grey slacks, blue satin top, black sweater, black socks, walking shoes, blown dry hair, make-up, and jewelry

She left as I was getting my last earring in.

Now, there may be a few reasons she dresses pretty conservatively. She could be in finance. My college roommate told me her finance professors not only told her to dress as conservative as possible, but how long her hair could be. The woman from the gym could be an old school banker. She could be a mom with kids and conservative suits are the most functional. She could have had an injury that forced her to wear orthopedic shoes. She may be green and think blow drying her hair is a bad use of energy.

I may never find out those reasons, but if I needed to hire her for some services, wet hair isn’t going to get her the job.

On the other hand, I think my appearance is very important for my work. I may not wear a suit every day, but I do follow the “three piece” rule of top, bottoms, jacket/sweater. But I try to let my personality show. All the way down to my shoes (kind of like that red shoe in the DSW commercial). And I have my hair and make-up done every day. Something that really only takes a few minutes, but it can make a huge difference.

Just as there are those out there who find jeans a type of uniform, I feel the same way about my Nine West pumps. After all the conversations about women role models and attempting to do it all, the locker room observation makes it all the more clear: I can be Super Woman. I can have a successful career, become a wife and mother, balance friends and family, all while looking great. I don’t have to sacrifice pride in my appearance to accomplish everything else.

Especially if it only takes 15 minutes.

The views expressed in my blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.