May 26, 2010

The Toes Know

Yesterday a colleague of mine and I were discussing an article from the Sunday Post talking about "pretty people" discrimination.  Long story short, our conversation morphed into a discussion about my (in her opinion) fabulous and chic but oh-so-conservative wardrobe, and whether it helped or hindered me.  She knows my professional background is Capitol-Hill based, and that prior to my coming to work for my current employer, I worked for 15 years for a couple of conservatives, both who were quite staunch in their views that women needed to look "professional" and not "pretty".  That isn't a bad thing, it's more of a "you can dress presentable and still be female but not a hoochie-mama" kind of thing.  I said they were conservative, right?

Of interest, is that the first boss was a true child of the deep south and the 1950s. I had to wear skirts to the knee, hosiery, heels (and at 5'10" the heels were a hoot) and my hair needed to be "appropriate".  Appropriate meant I couldn't push it up into a bun and secure it with a pencil, as I am still all these years later, prone to doing.  About 4 years in to my time within this office, my then Chief of Staff got the boss to cave and the women were liberated!  We were allowed to buy pant suits, BUT on the condition that we still wore hosiery, heels, appropriate hair and accessories and that we did not deviate from black, brown, navy or dark gray.  The colors were important and I freely admit to being sent home one day because my shirt was "too red".

I'm not kidding.

My second boss was a bit more laid back, but by then, I was the boss - so I was seen daily by everyone and I was often on TV.  I was also no longer 21/22 and thinking that my midriff showing half-shirt was "conservative enough".  The reign of black, brown, blue and gray continued, and a truly bold move on my part was a bright colored shirt, a funky shoe, and every once in a while, beaded jewelry.  It was hard then and it's still sometimes hard now to break out of a mold that took 15 years to form.  I only bought my first really cool pair of patent-red slingbacks with buckles about 3 years ago.  I still feel totally naked when I wear them with a suit, as if all of DC has been tweeted that "Phee is wearing the red hoochie shoes!"

I'm still not kidding.

Capitol Hill is, regardless of your political persuasion, a conservatively decked out and coiffed sort of place. Staffers who have worked up there for a while will tell you - if you're going to be taken seriously, you dress seriously.  If you're an intern or a hoochie-mama, you wear the open-toed shoes, the see-through shirts, the bangled, clanging jewelry and too much make-up.  You take attention AWAY from your boss, versus blending into the background, which is pretty much what you're paid to do.

To my horror, the feds don't quite live by the same dress-code or professional ethic. Shocking, I know.  My friend worries that I might never truly morph into a crime-fighting fed if I am still dressing like a conservative staffer.  I am fascinated by this thinking.  If I pull a weapon, would it mean more to you if you could see my bear-claw tattoos on my boobs? (Um, I don't have those, but there are women in my building who apparently have an Eve-fetish and got some of their own.  As the E-trade baby states, it is truly "haunting"...) Will I prosecute a criminal or terrorist more effectively if my open-toed shoes are 3 inches high and my toe-nails are multiple colors with tiny daisy and diamond clusters on them?  Will I be asked to testify more often if my shirt is 3 sizes too small, my perfume is outrageous and I have "Ruby Rhinestone Red" on my lips and on my teeth?


I like my conservative grays and blacks and blues.  I like my pearls and I like that my hair is appropriately coiffed and presentable.  I like that I am taken seriously and that in my heels and with my professional repertoire in tow, I'm actually rather intimidating. 

So go ahead and flaunt the bear claws my friends, and shake those toes.....  I will stick with my conservative day-wear and my black pumps, boring as they may be.

Besides, what I wear during the day and what I wear at night are entirely different things.....  but that's an entry for another day..... or night.

1 comment:

FoggyDew said...

A friend of mine who works for a southern senator is quite proud of the fact that she has, on many, many occasions, sent interns home to change. At my agency, where everyone dresses *uniformly* the civilians pretty much have a choice between blue, light grey and dark grey trousers and blue or white shirts. Although, you can get away with pretty much any tie.