September 28, 2009
Is corporate fashion killing you?
I recently went to see "Suffer for Beauty: A Revealing Look at Women's History Through Undergarments," a fantastic little exhibit at the White River Valley Museum in Auburn.
I marveled at the impossibly tiny waist-cinching corsets of the 1880s and the aptly named "hobble skirts" of the 1910s. I gasped at the gray post-war "new work dress" and accompanying white apron, which looked far too frou frou and constricting for preparing food, cleaning house, or whatever other paid domestic work they were designed for. If I had such a dress in my possession, the only thing I'd be wearing it to would be a cocktail party.
An essay at the exhibit's entrance offered this overview:
"To leave the home and work for wages, to vote, to be involved in society from beyond the domestic front, a woman had to be able to walk, be reasonably comfortable, and be free to express herself -- so away with the bustles, shorten those corsets, make free her movement!"
Hear hear, I thought.
But I soon began to take inventory of all the times in the workplace I, too, had worn shoes that pinched, hose as tight as any sausage casing, and silk shirts that made me sweat buckets -- none of which I'd describe as "reasonably comfortable."
As an employee, I eventually I caught on to the difference between commuter shoes you wear on the bus and impromptu-meeting-with-the-boss shoes you keep under your desk. Likewise, I learned the beauty of leaving a power blouse and blazer on a hanger behind my office door in the event of an unexpected client meeting.
I'm certainly not the only worker -- female or male -- who's had to juggle more than one pair of shoes or multiple costume changes throughout the workday to strike the right balance between comfort and office appropriateness. I'm also not the only worker who eventually opted out of starched-shirt corporations altogether because they didn't, well, suit me.
Sure, in terms of workplace apparel, women (and men) have come a long way, baby. But as long as there are still employees downing Ibuprofen to dull the throb of their aching feet or sponging off the sweat pooling under their dress shirts between meetings I wouldn't say we're there yet.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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