That Damn Fine Line

Clothes in a closet

No one can walk it.

Last night, I attended a professional function, a holiday party sensibly scheduled AFTER the holidays.

Seeing as I work for myself, I no longer go to an office with other people every day. I have an office in my house, and I’m fortunate that it is a REAL office, a separate room with a desk and a filing cabinet and a printer and bookcases with all my books and a comfy chair to read them in. But it’s at the opposite end of the hall from my bedroom, and while I aspire never to work in my pjs (and mostly live up to that goal), I wear jeans and sweaters, or yoga pants and sweatshirts, or shorts and t-shirts. No makeup, hair mostly in a ponytail or bun. Maybe shoes (maybe not).

I am out of the habit of dressing professionally.

Additionally, several years ago, a woman colleague I respect and admire (or at least did as of then) shamed me, for my body and how I dress it.

(Now comes the time where I have to point out that I have NEVER EVER confused “dressing for a professional situation or function” – even a party – with “dressing for the club.” NOT ONCE.)

Since then, I’ve found dressing for professional situations to be incredibly fraught.

I was recently chatting with a friend, a woman who is tall and lean. I am not. I am a busty hourglass. My friend talked about how much fun she’s been having dressing more fun and sexy lately – she’s over 50 and has tenure. And great legs. I remarked, “I try to dress so as not to be noticed.”

And that’s true. I have a uniform for public speaking, which is a significant minority part of my business. Always and only flats, black or grey. I have one pair of black and and one pair of grey pants, same exact brand and style. They sit a few inches below my waist. They are loose enough around the butt/hips that I can jam my both hands, balled into fists, into the front pockets (gotta have pockets, so you have somewhere to put the battery pack for your wireless lav mic). The legs are loose, too.

I have two shirts, different colors, same exact brand and style. They both have a VERY high v-neck, which serves two purposes. One, lav mics are designed work best when they’re clipped to ties (and don’t think women don’t get the subtle “this isn’t designed for people like you – people like you aren’t supposed to be up on the podium, you’re supposed to be listening raptly in the audience” message – we get it), and two, a high v-neck is the least troublesome neckline for women who are built like me. When I tuck them in and blouse them out a little, that, combined with the pants sitting a little low, camouflages where my waist goes in.

(Oh, and whoever decreed that button-front shirts are a “wardrobe essential” is on crack.)

I have a few jackets, black and grey. There I did mix up the brands and styles a little, but the jackets are NEVER EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES buttoned. Can’t show any indications of that hourglass. It’s unprofessional.

Pearl stud earrings. Aggressively neutral makeup. Hair in a bun.

So dressing for a function where I can’t get away with wearing my “don’t notice me” uniform is enough to give me hives.

(Last night, I had started in a knee-length pencil skirt with a loose, high-necked, long-sleeved black top, black tights, and flat black knee-high boots. But I decided the pencil skirt was asking for trouble, or at least judgement, and switched to a slightly shorter – but still nearly knee-length – A-line. Mission to hide my body: successful.)

Why did I just drag you through this excessively detailed recitation of my wardrobe neuroses?

Because Democratic women are starting to declare for president and are taking office as new members of the 116th Congress. And we collectively learned nothing from 2016.

Nancy Pelosi’s goddamn pink dress got more press than the extraordinary fact that she’s STILL the only woman to EVER be Speaker of the House, that she led her party back to the majority after eight years out of power, and that she also regained the Speaker’s gavel, which is highly unusual.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got criticized for wearing a nice suit (and, apparently, for understanding the concept of outlet shopping).

People don’t like Frederica Wilson’s sparkly cowboy hats.

Bil O’Reilly got away with insulting Maxine Waters’s hair.

Kyrsten Sinema was criticized for looking TOO good at her swearing-in.

I could continue, and you can probably think of a bunch of examples yourself. Two words: “boxy pantsuits.”

Could we just not?

I mean, I had conniptions over dressing for an event that I knew was only going have about 150 attendees based on some catty comments made by a colleague several years ago. (And, come to think of it, why in the hell am I still letting her live rent-free in my head after all these years?)

I cannot even imagine what these women go through trying to seek and exercise power, focus on policy, and accomplish the important work of our democracy, all while under a microscope, constantly having to worry about being criticized for having a hair out of place, shamed for wearing a skirt that’s an inch too long (dowdy!) or too short (slut!), mocked for not hitting the “no makeup makeup” look perfectly 100% of the time.

Could we just not? No one can walk that line. NO ONE.

Photo by Adrienne Leonard on Unsplash

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter @MrsWhatsit1.

4 responses to “That Damn Fine Line

  1. Michal Nortness

    Or could we just tell the Bill O’Reillys of the world to go fuck themselves and dress in a way that is comfortable and practical – and makes us happy? there’s an idea!

    • It’s an idea, but it’s one that has a cost for women. When someone on the Board tells your boss that you were dressed “too sexy” for the presentation you made, there’s a cost. When your boss tells you that you dress “too stuffy” and need to “lighten up a bit” there’s a cost. When the judge announces that women’s pantsuits are inappropriate for his courtroom, there’s a cost. So while I’m all for comfortable, practical, and what makes us happy, I think we need to realize that lots of women can’t afford that.

  2. I know right. I was shocked to see Pelosi’s COAT getting more press than what she said. Insanity. More content less gossip and spectacle please. =)

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