Why We’re Worth More Than Our Work Clothes

For me, it all started when I was 11 years old. My parents and I had just moved to a suburb outside Ft. Worth, Texas, and it was my first day of sixth grade at a brand new school. Like every teen classic movie, the teacher sat me next to the resident mean girl who of course wanted nothing more than to take me under her wing and teach me how to be like the other popular girls in class. But first, she had to check the tag inside the back of my shirt. Limited Too: I passed.

While some might attribute this behavior to middle school angst and lighthearted bullying that many parents believe their teens grow out of, reality is that it speaks volumes to the prejudice women continue to experience throughout adulthood, specifically in the workplace: You’re worth just as much as your clothes.

At an internship in college, I wore heels. No one else did, so I was chastised for trying too hard. In a subsequent position after college graduation, I started wearing flats. The transition was not because I gave into the assessment given to me by my peers earlier in my career, but because I’d torn my kneecap and was recommended by the doctor to take a break from heels. But in this job, heels were considered the key to success; the more conventional femininity you advertised, the better. Again, I was criticized by my colleagues for the kind of shoes I chose to wear. This time it was because I wore flats and didn’t look professional enough, even though the flats I wore were Tory Burch, the holy grail of flat shoes. In both those positions, my commitment to the job remained steadfast and had no correlation to which kind of shoes I preferred to wear at the time.

I still wear flats and sometimes heels on occasion, depending on how I feel that day. Who cares what kind of shoes I wear? My work product speaks louder than the little art exhibits on my feet. At least, I think it should.

We’re approaching the end of 2015, and for some absurd reason, there’s this antiquated thought that there is a relationship between what women wear and how well they perform at work, and that it’s still OK to judge another woman on her appearance. It’s one thing for organizations to recognize these stereotypes, but it’s another to perpetuate them, especially in the hiring and negotiating process.

Research conducted in “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful,” shows that attractive women earn 10 percent more per year than those who are not considered to be of the same category. A 2010 study conducted by the Queensland University of Technology shows that blondes earn more than seven percent of what those with other hair colors make. Another study in the American Economic Review found that females who wear makeup are paid 30 percent more than their non-makeup wearing counterparts.

Oh, hey there 2015! 1980 called, and it wants its workplace politics back.

I like clothes. I can’t draw; I can’t sing. Hell, I can’t even put together a decent scrapbook. But what I can do is style an outfit that makes me happy, an outfit that gives me a boost of confidence and the opportunity to creatively express myself both at work and in my personal life. And that freedom of self-expression should not be thwarted by what other women at work think about how I dress and the value I bring to my organization. As long as I follow the company’s dress code, who cares what I wear? For real, who? From research findings, it’s the co-workers who feel inferior to you in some way, that’s who.

Female harassment is on the rise, especially in the workplace. However, it’s other women who are to blame, not men. According to Meredith Lepore at Levo League, “One of the major reasons we don’t see women being promoted is because women at higher levels do not help other women get ahead.”

Essentially, there are some women who break the glass ceiling and pull up the ladder behind them. They view other ambitious and ***Flawless women as threats. According to a study from the Netherlands, these same women are far more likely to become sexist than their male counterparts. They’d rather be seen as one of the guys, and to do that, they often times sabotage other women’s careers, whether it be in their reviews or office gossip. And what’s one of the easiest things to criticize a woman for? Oh my god, I love your skirt. Where did you get it? That’s right, darlings. Her clothes.

I’ll take Miranda Priestly’s straightforward bitchiness over Regina George’s Cheshire Cat grin any day.

Millennials now comprise one-third of the workforce, and we’re changing the way business works. The days of Hillary Clinton pantsuits are gone, and many companies are adopting a more casual dress code focused on employees’ style, and overall, their wellbeing. This allows us to be recognized for the work we bring to the table and not what we wear. Who cares if we choose to wear a DVF wrapdress or those comfy woven dress pants from Forever 21? Either way, I guarantee we’re all rock stars at the office in our own way.

Ladies, it’s our job as millennial women to come in like wrecking balls, and as dress culture at work continues to evolve, ensure we grow with it. We need to be each other’s biggest support systems. If we don’t stick up for each other, who will? It’s time we drop the mean girl act and start encouraging each other in the workplace, stilettos or not. So fetch.

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