As hard as I try to be open-minded and practice a certain degree of political correctness, there are certain thoughts that routinely go through my head that make me think I have a very long way to go in my path to worldly and cultural tolerance. My issue is that many stereotypes applied to particular races, religions, cultures, or social classes are perpetuated by the very people within the group. My judgments and thoughts are not aimed at particular group, but at any single person engaging in a practice or behavior that I find unacceptable and would question regardless of background. It is important, and legally wise, to practice equality in the workplace. I am passionate about workplace equality, myself a victim of “old boys club” sexism, which makes admitting my own form of bias all that more difficult. The cause of my prejudice might seem catty, but I am not alone in assessing people based upon a decision they make in their closets each morning.
It might seem unfair or old-fashioned to judge people by their fashion choices but “Dress for Success” is not just a kitschy little phrase but a ground rule for being taken seriously in work and in life. Outward appearance is our cover letter to the world and if people are uninterested or offended by the cover letter they will never read the attached resume; the personality, intelligence, and experience that lies below the surface. “Never judge a book by its cover” is a nice lesson we’re each taught by our parents, but in reality everyone and everything is critiqued in one way or another at how it is presented. If the cover of a book was unimportant publishing companies would not focus time and energy on determining the best colors, fonts, photos, and illustrations needed to sell more copies.
Costume design is as important to a movie as a powerful actor or a well written script. Moviegoers can instantly assess the historic time period of a film, the location and season of the scene, and the age, social class, profession and personality of a character simply through the attire. Producers, Directors, and Costume Designers put intense thought into every aspect of a person’s costume; costume design is a powerful tool in selling the believability of a character and the film. Wall Street Tycoons don’t wear jeans and tee-shirts in the movies.
Style is important to the image we each want to portray to the world and fashion choices should reflect the character you want to be in the world. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is a prime example of a person who communicated her personality, grace, strength, and charm through her choice of clothing. Without the use of provocative clothing Madonna might be recording memos in an office rather than platinum records. If you are trying to be successful in the adult entertainment industry then it is perfectly acceptable to dress for work in plunging necklines and daisy dukes.
Climbing the corporate ladder in a mini-skirt might work for Ally McBeal, but anyone who has climbed a ladder in inappropriate attire knows the risk of exposing too much. If a woman known for push up bras and stiletto heels somehow moves up in a company, most people are going think it is because she’s going down on the boss, no matter how smart or driven she is. In my career I have seen too many intelligent women “over sex” themselves at the office and guess what; no one thinks they are very intelligent.
Style in the workplace is not just for women. There are plenty of men who think black Chuck Taylors are the perfect dress shoe and ironing is optional. It is hard to take a man seriously when he looks like a childish, sloppy mess.
Clothing is one way we each assess a person outside the workplace as well. Many argue that you shouldn’t judge a person by their attire, but without judging outward appearances how would we each know who is okay to approach in a bar, or to ask directions. People make snap judgments to establish safety, comfort, and security. If you don’t want people thinking you are a thief and a murderer you should consider not dressing like a thug. If people treat you in a way you don’t like, analyze the message you are sending them.
It is hard not to judge people on their appearance, but especially hard not to judge a person by their clothing since that is something we can each control. You don’t need to be a fashion icon, lord knows I’m not. Nor am supporting the mindset that women “asked to be raped” due to their fashion choices. What I am saying is people make their initial judgments on the personality, intelligence, strength and character of a person by how they appear. This might not be right, but it is reality; you never get a second chance to make a first impression. We are each actors in our own life screenplay, making decisions everyday to further develop our script. Ensuring costumes match the script is an important step to have your story taken seriously.