I've been thinking about all the brouhaha surrounding Debrahlee Lorenzana, the Citibank employee who says she was fired for being too sexy, claiming that her bosses at Citibank axed her for her (ahem) assets which were "too distracting" to her male colleagues.
This story is interesting to me- not just because of the "sexy lady factor" and the "woman working in a man's world" slant (which, I believe is all of us)--but also because I am in the process of interviewing for my first legal co-op, which comes with some strict rules on how to dress.
I am no stranger to harassment and finger-pointing in the workplace. In my very first job out of college, I was called into my boss's office after one week to be informed that my attire was inappropriate and that "it's hard to believe that anybody does work around here with her dressing like that." It turned out that the person who reported me "mistook" me for someone else. I didn't get an apology, but I was left feeling like HR hated me and the only thing I could wear to the office was a paper bag.
I understand the importance of dressing appropriately, and always make a point to follow the dress code, wherever I work. My workplace attire has never been inappropriate, but ever since my encounter at the above company, I find that I continuously question myself whenever I have to make a choice about what to wear to work. You see, the thing is, I don't really have a choice in what to wear to work--not if I want a job!
And yes, I do want a job (even if it's unpaid)! However, apparently there are some stringent rules regarding the dress code: I've been told to wear "nothing too flashy" because I "didn't want to take away from what you're actually there for". Stockings must cover bare legs, and shoulders must be covered up. Suits may only be navy, gray, or black, and I must wear sensible heels. Hair should be up and pulled back neatly.
I will follow these rules and I won't purposefully deviate from them, but I wonder, what would happen if I ended up not interviewing in separates AND I forgot to wear nylons? This happened to me on Friday, as I rushed back to Boston at a very high speed to get to a job interview. I threw on a work dress and a blazer and scraped my hair back, but I forgot to wear nylons. I didn't get the job--even though I really wanted it, and now I am convinced it is because the interviewer saw my bare legs and said "Nope, this is not our girl. She has bare legs and that is inappropriate. She can't work here."
This is dramatic, I know, but what would happen if this were the real reason I didn't get the job? After all, I certainly have judged people who have come in for interviews based on their overall presentation. Who determines what is presentable? And why can't we show a little bit of personality in our look? Is it because of judgment? Is it because people really believe that beauty is distracting? Is it because of the knuckle-grazing Neanderthals who can't keep it together every time a woman (or a man) goes by?
Dammit, I can do my job without being distracted by bare legs--and I'm pretty sure that lots of other people can too.