Critique of women’s work wear and appearance

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Critique of women’s work wear and appearance

An article I wrote a year or so ago was about women being judged more harshly on their appearance at work than men. Generally, people agreed that this is unfortunately how it works, largely because men are more judgemental of women than of their own sex and women always notice things! Click here to read that article.

So just what aspects of women’s work wear are they  judged on, should we care and what can we do?

Style of dress or dress code, if either sex gets this wrong then it means others noticing but also that you will feel awkward. This can happen being either over or under dressed so it’s always worth considering carefully what the day holds. Think about the client you turn up to see who is casually dressed and you are in a suit. Whilst I would always suggest being one dress code ‘up’ from a client, that is several dress codes up and both of you will feel awkward and in all likelihood somewhat disconnected. The opposite is also true – if you turn up more casual than your client, you are likely to feel even more awkward. It’s important to assess what to wear by what they are likely to be wearing but also what they will expect you to be wearing. It is often said men have it easier, in some senses they do as a tie and jacket are easy to remove last minute if not required.

Too much colour. My perception would be this is rarely an issue in the UK and I think I understand why. At several events recently, women have told me men have commented on them wearing colour to the office and also mentioned their male partner’s disparaging comments. Clearly this means women feel awkward wearing much colour outside of neutrals – black, greys, navy, creams and whites so tend to avoid it at work.  This is a shame as wearing the right colour tones does make us look healthier and more vibrant, as well as differentiating us. Wearing colour doesn’t mean having to wear a fuchsia dress (although it can!). Click here to read more on how to wear colour to work

Patterns. At the same events where colour has been mentioned as an area of criticism, patterns have also had some air time. It is true that patterns are more informal than plain clothing. It is one way to make yourself look more approachable. Therefore whilst they have a role, they clearly need to be chosen carefully, especially in a formal environment.

Selecting something with a subtle pattern or a small item with a pattern is usually a good idea, if you are unsure. In addition, making sure it is in the right colour tones to suit the colouring of your hair, skin and eyes is important – to make sure people see you first, not the pattern.

The second important factor is the size of the pattern – if you are a petite lady then wearing a large pattern will overwhelm you and make you look smaller, a good thing to avoid at work.

The third thing is the type of pattern, whilst I spend a lot of time encouraging women not to try and dress like men, clearly some patterns are overly feminine e.g. very floral patterns, especially in pink! The shape of the pattern is important too so that it is in harmony with your facial features. If you have softer, curvier facial features then softer shaped patterns such as spots or swirls will suit you better. If you have straighter and narrower (more angular) facial features then more angular patterns such as stripes will suit you better.

women's work wear

Spotty top more suitable for curvier facial features

Women's work wear

Stripey top more suitable for angular facial features

Whilst I am in no way suggesting we bow to men’s criticism (if they are widespread criticisms!) and completely avoid controversy, I am suggesting there are ways to help us wear what we want to whilst also being appropriate to get where we want to in our careers. Gradually today’s ‘norms’ can be changed. A good start with patterns and colours is to introduce them gradually. If you suddenly change from wearing very plain clothes in neutral colours to lots of patterns and colours, that is bound to attract attention and questions which might not be what you want to achieve.

There is also something to be said for how we wear things – if we feel good in something and confident in our appearance and who we are, we will always communicate ourselves better and others will respond to us better.

Women's work wear

Cycle of success

So if you are going to reach for that spotty top or pink dress, wear it with confidence (and make sure it works for your features!).

Ladies, it would be great to hear what critique you have encountered at work, either about yourself or heard about another woman.

Men, do you agree? What do you notice? It would be great to hear your views on this topic.

Click here to contact me to see more on how I help professional women with their image and impact to boost their career success

Click here to understand how I work with client facing teams to present the right image for themselves and your organisation to win more business

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