Psychiatrist, Shweta Korgaonkar believes that “when it comes to outdoing fashion of same sex members, there’s no stopping the fairer sex. From gymming, shopping, salon visits, girls’ night outs to special occasions, pregnancy, or even funerals, women have a fashion sense for life’s every experience.”
Who can blame us when the office is becoming the new catwalk with short miniskirts, next to nothing tops and click clacking heels (I’m not just talking about the twenty-something young women!) “Considering that jobs [in the] office are a major part of everyday life, it’s no wonder that fashion has permeated the working space too,” states Korgaonkar. Three women who work in different offices and live separate lives have agreed to be interviewed about their work places: *Karen is a Dispatcher and has worked with her current employer for two years. *Jen is a Customer Support Agent and has worked at her current employers for six months. *Missy is a Sales Administrator and has worked at her current employers for five years.
Reasons to Be Beautiful: How much time do you spend on getting dressed for work?
*Karen: 1 hour or less
*Jen: Between an hour and half to two hours, I wake-up at 5a.m. just to make sure I have enough time to get myself ready before my children get up. My make-up takes the longest.
*Missy: I spend 10 minutes getting dressed for work.
[pullquote_left]“When the natural desire to be liked by those around is augmented by a need to attract attention to self or to stand out, then, one’s appearance may become an important tool,” says Korgaonkar. [/pullquote_left]
RTBB: Do you dress ‘up’ for work? (Dress ‘up’ is not being used literally; this means do they wear clothes that they would possibly wear on a night out or at home).
*Karen: No, I have a uniform for Monday to Thursday and then on Fridays it is dress down day. [Dress down day means they can wear what they like as long as it stays within the guide lines of smart/casual.]
*Jen: The dress code is smart/casual. When I first started I tried to dress as smart as I could by wearing black trousers, a shirt or smart top with a plain grey or black cardigan, but after a month it came to my attention that it is more casual then smart in the work place so I have relaxed, too. Now I wear leggings, long dress/top and my snow boots or heels depending on the weather as I walk to work.
*Missy: I don’t consider myself to be dressing up though I do insist on doing my makeup and hair, I cannot get out of the shower and just ‘go’!
RTBB: Do other women notice what you’re wearing and make any comments?
*Karen: Yes, on a Friday when I normally wear jeans, heels and a nice top. The comments I get are usually ‘Your top is different’ and ‘I like that.’
*Missy: I’m please to say no one’s particularly bothered by what I wear and unless I’m wearing an unusually bright colour no one tends to comment. Only once had I received a comment from a male colleague. I’d had personal problems with him before so I think he was being nasty when he said that my blouse was too low cut and I should think again before wearing it. I had it out with my managers who saw no problem with it. I prefer to get in to work and get on and not be a a distraction!
RTBB: Do you notice what other women are wearing in the office?
*Karen: Yes, we have a lot of young girls in the office and at times their clothes don’t leave much to the imagination.
*Jen: I love clothes, so I am always noticing what the other girls wear, some I agree with, some I disagree with their outfits for their body type and the environment we are in.
*Missy: Needless to say, yes I do notice what some of the ‘skinny mini’s’ wear to work. It’s hard not to when they’re trotting through the office full of men in their five inch heels, very skimpy blouses and their ‘floss hair’.
I call them ‘Skinny mini’s’ because they are diet obsessed, skin and bones that wear miniskirts with peroxide blonde backcombed hair (looks like candy floss), the sort I loathe just because it must take them 3 hours to get ready and I just think it’s not necessary for work.
Korgaonkar’s theory to these answers is “whether females are themselves dressing up to outdo others or scoffing at their colleagues fashion sense, they are competing either way.” It is evident that the competition to judge and scoff at the clothing of their female colleagues is linked to a greater juxtaposition of what women really want in the workplace.
RTBB:: Do women use fashion as a way of intimidating others at work; use clothing to their advantage or dressing to impress a work colleague?
*Karen: I don’t think so; they certainly don’t in our office.
*Jen: I am not sure if the women at my work dress to impress the bosses, if they are they are certainly going the wrong way about it, but I do believe they are dressing to impress the men in the office especially when walking down the gangway in-between the desks that splits the room up, it is like they are strutting down a catwalk.
RTBB: Compared to buying an outfit for an evening out and an outfit for work which would you spend more money on?
*Karen: Going out for sure.
*Jen: I know I have spent more on my work clothes as I have given in to the fashion code of the office and now also dress to impress for more acceptance rather than to lure a man. (I am happily married.)
*Missy: I tend to spend equal monies on outfits for work and play, most blouses or casual tops are ones I would wear with jeans, I’m a practical person and see this as more cost effective, its expensive being trendy and I just can’t afford to dress like a diva.
RTBB: Does it depend on the woman’s age whether they dress ‘up’ for work?
*Karen: Yes, women under the age of 25 don’t seem to try to keep within the dress code like older women do.
*Jen: I don’t think it does as some women in their 50’s having the kids fled the nest they now resort back to their youthful days and try to wear outfits that would look better on someone under the age of 25.
*Missy: I don’t think age comes into dressing-up as in past employments. Some of the ‘mature’ ladies have ‘dressed-up’ as much as the younger. I can definitely say that in Liverpool this was much the case, not quite so here.
Each answer for this question was completely different. Korgaonkar explains the behaviour of mature women leads to intimidation of other female colleagues. “‘Peer Pressure’ may seem underage to refer to working adults trying in to fit in their colleagues group, but to dress up like that trendy group of females at work so as to be accepted among them is exactly that- Peer pressure.” Peer pressure often associated with just teenagers is now commonly taking place in the working environment between women of any age as the fight to fit in, and ultimately, look good. “When most female colleagues in one’s office are fashion conscious, are likely to pass snide remarks on those they believe are fashion disasters, it is simply conformity that directs one to do the same. And to avoid being the target of the scoffing for any fashion faux pas, women may choose to dress up as well as or better than other colleagues,” says Korgaonkar.
RTBB: Does dressing ‘up’ for the office effect the working environment?
*Karen: Yes, because it makes everyone more relaxed at work and think they don’t have to do any work which causes arguments between staff, such as when a female colleague wore a pair of leggings with rips in from the ankle up to her bum which made the older women complain and the managers got involved by having a private word with the girl.
*Jen: Yes, definitely! When the girls strut down the ‘catwalk’ aka the gangway, the men’s eyes follow the girls with their cleavages and bare legs which makes them loose concentration on the customers calls. Also, many are in relationships with other colleagues which puts stress on the working environment, for example when one of the men who was training a young girl, she wore a tight fitting outfits, the blokes girlfriend was constantly watching the pair and instantly took a disliking to the new trainee girl.
*Missy: The ‘dressing up’ only effects the environment in so far as the boys tend to comment once the girls have gone to the other room and it can at times be as if feminism never happened! I can’t say I behave any differently but the boys definitely do!
It is not just men who can be affected by a woman’s appearance but also the woman herself who is trying to dress either to fit in with a particular group or to dress in a non-comformist style. Korgaonkar states that to“‘Look good to feel good” is “a tagline often used by apparel endorsements has some truth to it. When we feel good about our appearance, we feel more confident and at ease, and self-confidence is indispensable at work. But one’s assessment of self often is in comparison of those around, hence, how confident one feels about one’s appearance may also be based on how good one looks in comparison to others. Thus, this form of comparison very easily paves the way for envy and competition to look better than others.”
RTBB: Is fashion a competition between female colleagues?
*Jen: Not in our office or in any office I have worked in as the people in our office are quite close.
*Karen: Yes, there is definitely a competitive feel in my office between the women as they are constantly creating battles on who can be the most provocative or wear the shortest skirt, and if two girls have come in wearing the same top or something it is like they are sending daggers at each other using their eyes.
*Missy: I’m not sure if there is a fashion competition between the skinny minis – I would suggest that at times there may be envy but as I don’t part-take I couldn’t tell you!
Psychiatrist Korgaonkar’s take on this is hardly surprising as work is a big part of our lives: “with performance/target based appraisals, why isn’t work performance and working capabilities enough to compete with, that women, also resort to competing in what they wear at workplace?”
“Another plausible reason for outdoing other female colleagues fashion may be the hierarchical divide, by which I mean female on a higher post may want to dress better than those females working under her simply because she believes she should look like their boss- better than them even on the easily observable aspects like appearance.”
So why do women use clothing as a vicious weapon to obtain the upper hand on their female colleagues, aren’t males a threat too in the work place or is this because we subconsciously feel that men are inferior to us and that other women are the enemy? Korgaonkar explains, “People are quite easily visually stimulated, so ‘appearance’ is what human beings use as their first step of judging an individual and hence, human efforts to appear presentable and pleasant are only natural. However, when the natural desire to be liked by those around is augmented by a need to attract attention to self or to stand out, then, one’s appearance may become an important tool. Thus, to be noticed over other female colleagues the desire to better them or be different from them in appearance sparks the competition.”
*Names have been changed to protect interviewee privacy