The Beauty Spot is Zoe Scheltema’s weekly column that dissects the world of beauty and fashion. This week she delves into the gendered double standards of appearing ‘professional’.
I have a friend who works for a large Auckland advertising agency that recently gave their staff reviews. It went well, but there was one area in which she was told she could improve – her footwear. According to senior staff, she didn’t wear high heels often enough. Her colleague in a different department was told to improve on the fact that she didn’t wear enough makeup to work.
My friend is someone who describes her style as “often quite tomboyish,” so you can see why she wouldn’t want to wear heels everyday. Also, here’s a secret for anyone who has never worn heels before: they fucking suck. They’re incredibly sore and make you highly unproductive due to losing the will to live shortly after morning tea.
It begs the question, at what point do you conform and lose your sense of style in the workplace? Not just that, but to what extent can workplaces dictate what you wear?
While working in a very similar field, I was told that I was allowed to take the company credit card “if I needed to buy some more clothes.” Hint: what you’re wearing sucks. Not only is that quite intimidating for someone in their early twenties who has just taken their rung on the working ladder, but it’s pretty bloody offensive.
I worked in a creative agency, I wore heels (of a sensible height, might I add) and shirts on days when I had client meetings, and Nikes on the days that I knew I would be working at my computer all day.
I wasn’t entirely sure what I was supposed to buy with said credit card. I wasn’t going to buy a pencil skirt, because I don’t like them and they don’t look good on me. Similarly, I wasn’t going to buy five pairs of heels because I knew I wouldn’t be wearing them to work. In all honestly, I probably would have gone and bought a pair of Timberlands.
On the other side of the coin, it seems that it is much easier for men in a similar workplace to know what they’re expected to wear. The ‘man uniform’ is typically a suit, or a shirt and slacks, hell maybe even jeans, and they are instantly deemed professional. Some even wear trainers with their suits and, although erring on the side of funky, it can still look professional.
So why is it that when you chuck a lady in a pair of flats she’s “not trying hard enough” or “not representing the company well”? Who cares about her rapport with the clients, work ethic or efficiency – just care about her shoes.
The makeup argument is a little more complicated.
Is it alright for a boss to ask a woman to wear more makeup? Do the men have to wear makeup? What is so wrong with a woman’s bare face that they have to spend precious time and money covering it up?
I’m a huge fan of makeup. Not because I feel like I need it to cover my face, but because I enjoy wearing it. It gives me confidence and I also find that it is a creative outlet. I always wear it for myself. If anyone told me that I needed to wear makeup, I would never wear makeup again.
Going back to those reviews, I can guarantee you that none of the men were told to wear makeup. That would be ridiculous. I also guarantee you that men aren’t told they look ‘tired’ or ‘sick’ or get the old “are you feeling okay today?” card when they don’t wear foundation or mascara.
Then there’s the sheer cost of all of this. If we’re talking the cheap end of the spectrum, to do a basic face of makeup you’re looking at $40 for foundation, $20 for mascara, $20 for blush, and $20 for lipstick. And that’s the cheap end.
I think it’s about time for some workplaces to consider that the height of a woman’s heel, or the amount of blush on her face, isn’t going to affect her ability to kick some ass.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.