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Does a Woman Have to Dress Down to Move Up in her Career?

Does a Woman Have to Dress Down to Move Up in her Career?

Recently, one of my younger clients who works in a male dominated field, emailed me with the following question:

“I wonder if you would post about a specific topic for executive women. I have worn the dresses you picked out for me with much success, but almost too much success. I look so good it's detracting from my message and attracting some unwanted attention from men.”

To say that I was taken aback by her request would be an understatement, as I truly thought those threatening days were long gone.

I experienced her quandary back in the 80s when I was a hard-working and ambitious woman, surrounded by men with huge egos who had no fear of sexual harassment charges or even knew they existed. Actually, I had bosses and encounters with men who thought nothing of inappropriate behavior. In a way, it was their badge of honor and my baggage to carry. So, how could this still be going on?

My client, and apparently other women in male-dominated industries, as per an article in Forbes, on the subject for sexism, clearly shows that the good ‘ole boys club shenanigans that I’ve had to face, still go on, especially in Silicon Valley.

So here I am, three decades later, showing women which clothes will flatter them the most, so that their careers can soar, only to find out that unwanted and uninvited attention from men is clipping their wings.

[Related: ‘Say what?!’ When Inappropriate Behavior Creeps Into Professional Environments]

The majority of women I work with are not in male dominated fields and do not have to forfeit looking and feeling attractive, in order to show power and receive respect. Yet, I can’t stop being disturbed about how women in tech industries have to wrestle with deciding if they have to dress down so as to move up in their careers.

I asked my client if she is getting more deals and interest in her services, since working with me, and wearing the clothes I selected for her professional wardrobe. Here is her response:

“Yes, a lot of doors opened and the deal flows is better, however I think I'm pitching a deal and the men think they are getting a date.”

Could it be that when some men behave like predators, it is their attempt to keep powerful, smart and talented women from passing them on the way up the ladder of a successful career? Or are they simply afraid of what their prey could accomplish if they are allowed to survive?

It is wonderful that she, and many of my other client’s, careers and income are expanding, yet tainted with the fact that even in 2015, women in certain industries still have to decide if they should dress like a man by wearing a suit, or dress so that they feel beautiful, while risking being made to feel that they are sending the wrong signals.

How disappointing and sad, that many women still have to say ”eyes up here.”

A woman can and should be able to wear clothes that are flattering and give her the ability to command the room, instead of the wrong attention. Her career will always grow, when her appearance reflects her confidence, skills and creativity.

[Related: The Frying Game: On Vocal Fry and Sexist Feedback]

Clearly, our work in leveling the playing field in the workplace is still not done, but in no way does that mean women should allow the “uber” testosterone of some small-minded men, to determine how they dress and feel about themselves.

Scarlett is a professional Image Consultant whose clients no longer stress about dressing and have confidence in their appearance and clothing choices. They don't just walk onto a stage - they OWN it! @ScarlettImage

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