ProfessionalThe road to hell is paved with good intentions…and sexist advice for women in the workplace.

Jezebel.com recently reported on a controversial “before and after” pictorial being floated by colleges that advises women on how to dress for job interviews. Read: super feminine.

The pictures, which were actually created by petite blogger Jean, had advice for women that included avoiding “boxy button-ups” for “feminine” blouses and avoiding flats in favor of heels. Schools that include the University of California-Irvine have promoted Jean’s images in email blasts to recent graduates without context. The images of male workers did not include a before and after, Jezebel reported, but rather just a happy guy in a suit with glasses.

When she created the images, Jean said that she was speaking directly to her experience as a small woman who looks young and wants to appear her age during interviews and on the job. That’s awesome and it totally makes sense that she would advocate heels over flats, for example, but colleges giving this out as standard pre-interview prep is pretty ridiculous.

There are undue burdens for a woman’s appearance in the workplace, just as there are for our appearances anywhere. Women who aren’t feminine enough, with their boxy tops and slacks, are punished for being too masculine even as there’s a fine (damn near invisible) line that women who do choose to wear dresses and heels have to toe before being deemed too sexy. Remember that Citibank employee in New York who was fired because her male co-workers said her decidedly professional attire was distracting?

Workplace culture is also extraordinarily varied these days with many places accepting, if not advocating, a more casual dress and remote offices eliminating the need to think about work wear as much. But even with all of that, there is still so much unsolicited advice about how to look at work, most of it directed at women.

Beauty privilege and beauty capital are very real concepts that none of us can wish away or eradicate with a button-down top, I realize this. The idea that heels and skirts automatically present a more professional image is also completely dubious, since not all women feel comfortable in those items and, arguably, the best interview or work attire is what makes you feel comfortable and ready to work.

What are your experiences dressing in the workplace? Do you think women should be more feminine for interviews?

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  • Tori

    I have never been fond of skirts, but particularly when it comes to professional attire. I am most comfortable, confident, and look best in pants. As for shoes, a low heel or a flat is my footwear of choice. I think I’d be far less productive if I was constantly worried about minding the skirt and combating pain from tortuously high heels every day.

  • I live in Silicon Valley (Bay Area California), and we tend to get away with a business casual atmosphere. Although, depending on the field you work in, I think people she be neat and clean period. You are judged and might not know it showing up in clothes that are not appropriate even if you think it is OK to wear. When I hear people say, wow you look nice to my other coworkers, that pretty much tells the story behind those “fake comments”. Then again, that’s just my 2 cents.