THE thorny issue of what to wear to the office has once again reared its head, but this time it's men getting hot under the collar when it comes to workplace attire.
According to a recent survey, nearly a third of males don't like seeing their female colleagues in skimpy outfits, with mini skirts, revealing tops and hot-pants topping the veto list, and leopard prints also deemed inappropriate by 30% of men.
Barefaced cheek? Sorry ladies, but I have to heartily concur with the guys on this one. Spout off all you like about a women's right to choose, express individuality or whatever other feminist badge of honour you wish to brandish, but – like it or not – we are all judged on what we wear.
You may be regularly exceeding your sales targets or single-handedly running the company – or the world for that matter. But if your dress is hideously out of kilter with the job you are doing, then it is bound to affect your colleagues' perception of the way you are doing your job.
Debate the feminist implications of that until the cows come home. In a perfect world, whether you wore stilettos or wellies to the office would matter not a jot, but here's the clincher: it does.
Granted, deciding what to wear to work can be a minefield. While for men, expected office attire is a no-brainer (in most cases a suit will suffice), women, especially those who work in creative industries and wish to express that element of their job, face a precarious balancing act between appearing arty or playful, while still maintaining an image of professional integrity.
According to a University of Maryland study into human perceptions, something as simple as taking off a jumper to expose flesh can significantly change the way our intelligence is perceived.
Researchers found that wearing few, or very revealing clothes, in an office environment can imply a lack of competence and leadership. Those who are characterised in terms of their bodies, it concluded, tend to be seen as more reactive and emotional – traits that may serve to work against career advancement. When a man sees a scantily-clad woman, they concluded, he focuses on her body and less on her mind.
Sexist? Maybe. But if a man turned up at work with a shirt slashed to the waist and bottom-hugging hot pants, he would probably find himself categorised as odd or creepy, labels arguably no less demeaning.
There are those who dismiss the notion of "appropriate" workwear, believing that defying convention makes them edgy or interesting. But few things stick in my craw more than women who exercise their right to dress as they please, but then complain when their cleavage or bare thighs attract unwanted attention. It's fairly simple: if you don't want them gawped at then don't put them on show. That's not a betrayal of the sisterhood, but a statement of facts.
I have a friend who is a personal fitness trainer and she wouldn't spend her working day in a dress and kitten heels any more than I would wear jogging bottoms and a Nike crop-top to interview an important dignitary. One colleague has the sage mantra that her office wear should be equally appropriate to attend a funeral, wedding or christening, should the occasion arise.
Imagine a police officer in a cleavage-displaying mini-dress and teetering high heels arriving to break the news of the death of a relative. Not appropriate by any stretch of the imagination. So what makes it OK to loiter by the photocopier in this kind of attire?
As a general rule, if you would wear it on a beach or to a night club, it's not the best choice for a desk job. Or to frame it slightly differently: you wouldn't wear a suit to the beach or a work uniform to a club, so why the other way around?
Knicker-skimming skirts, plunging necklines and any other garments better suited to a fortnight in Magaluf have no place in a work environment. Unless, of course, your workplace happens to be a pole-dancing establishment.
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