The workplace is no safe haven from the ongoing battle between the sexes. Lets face it, in most cases (pay, promotions, team events that mostly involve drinking) the guys usually come out on top. Women are slowly closing the gap, but there is still much more to do. However, there is one domain where there is a clear advantage to being a woman in the workplace: work attire.
Whether it be business casual, business formal or any other variation of “work clothing”, I’ve observed an unmistakable edge that women have over the men in the office.
In the Summer, while my male colleagues at my Firm slog all day and night in their identical grey, blue and black suits, which grow ever more creased as the work week wears on, sweat patches expanding under their shirtsleeves and feet swelling and blistering in tight dress-shoes, I get to breeze around in sleeveless dresses and sandals.
In the Winter, when staffed in snow-stormy cities like Minneapolis or Chicago, I bundle up with tailored, down-lined coats that come down to below my knees, thick pants with sweaters, scarves, classy gloves and boots. My poor male teammates shiver away in their not-nearly-as-warm coats worn over thin wool suits, their feet once again blistering in frozen dress shoes and hands and faces freezing due to their macho choices to leave their gloves and scarves at home.
I also get to change my outfits every day of the week; my clothing being small in size and weight, and easy to fold. The men, however, end up wearing the same suit four days in a row, and having to carry their steam-ironed suit jackets in a separate bag on the plane.
I can express my personality with different colors and styles from day to day, choosing outfits, shoes, jewelry and accessories to match my mood or the season. The men have very little wiggle room to express themselves, although I will give credit to those who at least try and differentiate themselves with watches, cuff links, tailored suits or in some cases, embroidering their initials on the torso of their shirts. Unfortunately for them, these fancies often cost a small fortune compared with women’s clothing and accessories.
Our clothing is also much more versatile, allowing us to do more with less when we travel. I’ve worn the same black shift dress with a cardigan and flats on a regular business-casual work day, threw on a suit jacket and black pointy heels for a client steering committee meeting, and swapped the suit jacket for a trendy scarf and handbag for an after-work dinner meeting. You could mix and match five tops with a pencil skirt and a pair of trousers and look completely different each day of the week!
The dress code for women is also much more fluid and ambiguous, meaning we don’t have to try as hard to conform to it. A fitted dress and low heels could pass for both business casual and business formal, while men need to swap out their suit pants for slacks or jeans to look anywhere close to business casual.
When I worked as an engineer on a construction site, I got away with a ton more than the men could, choosing a bright pink hard hat, steel-capped safety boots with pink lightning bolts along the sides and breezy, light-colored blouses over well-fitted skinny-jeans worn under my reflective vest. I was truly Engineer Chic! The men on the other hand plowed around in identical, checkered, short-sleeved shirts and baggy, shapeless jeans. I almost felt sorry for them!
Now there are those that feel that having limited choice makes things simpler in getting ready in the morning, or packing for a trip. These people are right! Still, for me, and for many women, I love that I can still be myself and let my personality shine in the workplace! I love that I get away with brightly painted nails and designer shoes and handbags at work. Being a consultant, I spend most of my life at work, so I love that I can be comfortable wearing what I love during that time.
And if that weren’t enough proof that women definitely win work attire, consider this: women don’t have to shine their shoes!
I encourage other women engineers to bring their whole selves to their workplace. If dressing up is your thing, or if you want to try something a little more daring, just go for it! Don’t be afraid to be you. Don’t be afraid that people will take you less seriously if you dress well or express your creativity. Go ahead and nurture that creativity and cultivate a sense of style. This may even help you later on in your career as a high-powered manager or executive who means business and looks the part too!
Of course there are huge caveats to this message. You may work in a setting that makes you wear a uniform, or overalls, or dressing up may just be the most terrifying or soul destroying thing you could ever think of doing, or you may have another reason for holding back. One colleague said she dressed down to avoid another #metoo situation, after facing one at her previous employer. I find this really sad, and very, very real for a lot of us. In promoting gender equality in the workplace and tackling sexual harassment, we should work to build a workplace environment where everyone feels safe to express themselves.
And this should go without saying, but please stay well within the boundaries of you company’s dress code and in the realm of common sense. Frumpy, torn, dirty and very revealing looks are just not professional, and also not at all chic, so do give them a skip!
And remember, in your walk, your talk, and the clothes you choose to wear, always be Engineer Chic!
Follow me on Instagram for more looks for work, travel and leisure @rhea_lism