When we’re young we tend to take the attributes of youth for granted. It’s only when we realise that they’re not there anymore that we truly value what we had. Any envious middle-aged person can relate to George Bernard Shaw who commented that “youth is wasted on the young” and this applies to the clothes that are worn as much as the energy and self-confidence that young people appear to have in abundance.
Funnily enough I haven’t had many clients in their teens or early twenties! They’re too busy experimenting with style and colours, and that’s exactly as it should be. However, I have noticed that by the mid-twenties, as young women are ready to take on more senior roles, clients begin to turn to me for advice on how they can use their appearance to convince senior colleagues, patients and customers that they are experienced and capable of accepting more responsibility. They become frustrated that employers and colleagues equate youth with lack of responsibility and knowledge. This may be especially true of young women.
The male uniform of suit, shirt and tie has been worn for centuries by men in their twenties upwards, making it less easy to identify a senior male member of staff from a junior male member of staff and more easy for the junior to fit in with senior colleagues. Women’s outfits have varied as much as their roles in society have changed, which allows for more interesting outfits but less autonomy within female corporate outfits. While the male corporate uniform doesn’t allow much flesh to be on show, a female corporate outfit may have short sleeves and hemlines, shirts may be buttoned up high or worn with several buttons undone. As well as their style preferences these differences in options for work wear might signal the age and experience differences between female workers. Regardless of age, men generally wear their hair short, they keep accessories to a minimum and bright colours are kept to ties, handkerchiefs and socks at the most. Therefore, they look alike and strong judgements about male colleagues cannot be based on their appearance alone. Women have more options for corporate outfits and very often the differences in their choices are based on their age. Younger women can wear short sleeves and hemlines more easily than more experienced colleagues. Differentiations between female workers can be more easily recognised, a united front is less easily maintained.
I would like to stress that I’m not suggesting that women of should agree on a corporate uniform to be worn by all ages but I do recognise that the military saying, “divide and conquer” could be appropriate in this instance. Nor would I wish to encourage a “boys against the girls” mentality in the workplace, but the glass ceiling is still very present and any opportunity to unite female workers will surely help chip away at the invisible divide. Therefore, I would suggest the following guidelines to all female workers regardless of age and position at work.
- Avoid wearing clothes to work simply because you’ve “always worn that kind of outfit”. Keep aware of contemporary versions of smart wear for work and embrace the opportunities that female workers have to vary styles and garments at work.
- Keep your “flashes of flesh” to the same proportions as you would if you were wearing a suit, shirt and tie. Sleeves can be half or three-quarter length, hemlines kept to the knee or below and necklines should be approximately an inch below the collar bone.
- Don’t use your clothes at work to emphasise the female form, definition is good but exaggeration creates divide.
This article was written to raise the issue of clothes that women wear to work and to consider whether this topic can cause divide between age and gender. I value your opinion so please do comment.