Thursday, November 6, 2014

Holiday Party Dress Code - An Exercise in Sexism

      I received an email invite for my corporate holiday party, and there was some fascinating information provided.  They were helpful enough to provide two different links for men and for women to help them understand appropriate cocktail attire.  The stark contrast between the link for the men and the link for the women was staggering and infuriating to me.  I have copied the links to the websites and provided my own summaries further down.

      Of course there is the basic issue that clothing requirements are different for men and women, and women are judged far more harshly for any choice that is made in terms of what they wear.  Men can wear a button down shirt and slacks everyday and it is accepted that he is appropriately dressed.  If a woman wears only button down shirts and slacks everyday, they're odd and stuck in a rut, and not as professional as other women or as the men.

      But in putting these two links in the email, they took it further than that basic issue.  In the link that my company provided for the men, it's very straightforward, discusses color choices and shoes choices, and that's about it.
      In the link for the women, there's a whole guide about how a woman should present herself and manners, and for those plus sized women, how to look slimmer.  A woman's appearance is considered and judged first and foremost, and it is a woman's duty to present herself well.

What do these links in the invite tell me?
  - First, the organizers what people to dress in a very particular way.  Instead of just saying that the dress code was cocktail attire, they provided these specific links.
  - Second, they thought that these links were appropriate and helpful.  They didn't think there was anything wrong with telling "plus size women" that they need to do everything they can to look slimmer, or that all women must wear a classic little black dress and idolize Audrey Hepburn.

      I am making the assumption that the organizers agree with all the sentiments in the articles, otherwise they would not have sent the links.  This means that they embrace a double standard of requirements for men and women.  They find a woman's appearance to be her best attribute, and there are strict guidelines as to what is acceptable for her.  They also believe, and are trying to enforce, the idea that there are only two genders and everyone must fit into one of these defined roles.  Pants for men, dresses and make up for women.  Any deviation is inappropriate and unprofessional.

      The organizers of this event sent me a ten page long article telling me that I, as woman, will only be dressed appropriately if I wear a little black dress that accentuates my best feature and is slimming, high heel shoes, modest accessories and a small clutch.  They believe that this standard is normal and appropriate, and never gave it a second thought.  Why would a woman want to wear pants after all?  Never mind the fact that high heels are bad for your health and safety.  Never mind that men aren't judged on every aspect of their clothing everyday of their lives, but women are.  Never mind that women are required to adhere to a male defined dress code in order to even get a foot in the door while men are judged first on merits.  Never mind that women get paid less than men for doing the same work.  Never mind that an assertive woman is called a ball-busting bitch, while an assertive man is called a good businessman.  Never mind any of it, and just keep putting on that makeup, and wearing those dresses and losing weight until your ribs show.


      The men's link discusses different types of fabrics, the colors of the clothes and shoes, accessories such as rings and lapel pins, and fabric patterns.  There's brief mention of having a "proper hair cut" and being clean shaven.  it's maybe a page long not including the 50's style illustrations.


      The link for the women however, is more like 10 pages long.  It starts with a discussion of the cocktail dress.  The dress that allows you to recreate a vintage style worthy of the ultimate elegance of Audrey Hepburn.  Of most importance is the defined waistline, because you want to draw attention to your best feature.
      Next we discuss the more flirtatious type of cocktail dresses and dresses that have a more figure enhancing style.  To add sophistication and femininity, one could add a ruffle or some lace at the neckline.  Equally important is to have good manners, because those never go out of style.
      Now there is a discussion of attire for women over 40, because we all know how one must not only act their age, but dress for it as well.  This section seeks to address some of the apprehension that older women might feel about what to wear for cocktail attire.  Of course the iconic little black dress is the best option, with a variety of accessories and handbags to switch it up for different events.  But for shoes, you should really leave those high heels for the younger crowd, and if you choose to wear open toed shoes make sure you get a pedicure prior to the event.
      Another important category is for the plus size women.  Cocktail dresses should be dark colors, which help by creating a slimming effect.  Also to achieve a slimming effect, choose a floor length dress of one color, because large patterns, stripes and ruffles can make you seem even larger.  There is a lengthy discussion of how to choose accessories to make certain features look slimmer.  Here we also have another discussion on manners and decorum, and an emphasis on how plus size women should not drink too much alcohol.
       The last sections provide all the detail that wasn't provided before on manners and etiquette, as well as guidance for several themed events.