Five Four and a Quarter

Questions, confessions, experiences, and inspirations of a twenty-something-year-old

The power that clothing gives you and the power that it takes away April 13, 2011

Filed under: College Experiences,Job Search — Arianna Bolotin @ 10:06 am
Tags: ,

This post is in preparation for my upcoming job interviews next week.

I like to think that I live in a world with a lot of opportunity. Where you can do anything you want to do, where it doesn’t matter what race you are, and where men and women are equal. Yes, the world has come a long way compared to how it used to be. Minority groups of people have many more rights than they every dreamed they would. And I hope that I really can do anything I want to and accomplish all that I hope to over the years.

However, my optimistic vision of where I stand in this world, as a woman, has recently been blurred.

I’m currently enrolled in a Gender and Sexuality in Communication class, and one of our readings was about nonverbal communications and what a person’s appearance conveys about him or her. Specifically, let’s talk about clothing and a person’s choice of dress. I have a sense of fashion. I know what to wear in different situations, I know what just doesn’t work on me, and I know what shouldn’t be seen on anyone. I guess the combination of growing up in rural Vermont and working at casual and dog-friendly companies is like living in a bubble. The most dressy place I’ve ever worked was when I hostessed at a country club. Working at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, it just isn’t necessary to wear anything fancier than jeans and sweater –or, now that it’s finally warmer out, a nice top.– You can even get away with wearing anything in the Burlington night life scene. If I decided to go out in pajama pants and a hoodie sweatshirt –which, just for the record, I never will– I would have no problem getting into any bar or club –wait, what club? We’re talking about Burlington!– When I came across the realization that it would probably be a good idea to own a suit for job interviews, I knew that I was stepping out of my Vermont boundaries.

My mindset to purchase a sophisticated pant suit was altered when I read the article in my textbook on nonverbal communications. When talking about job interviews, a career services expert shared that “Women should wear a business suit with a skirt, not pants, to the first round of job interviews.”

Business Woman Silhouette

After having discussions with my classmates and professor, I settled on the fact that as sexist as it is, I should not wear pants to my job interviews. While this may be completely acceptable in Vermont –actually, a suit would not even be necessary–, the Boston atmosphere is a little different. Anyway, I enjoy “dressing up.” I had no problem with the fact that I would be wearing a skirt instead of pants. What did cause me discontent was what I learned as I kept reading the article as Kelly Quintanilla, the author, explained an experience she had encountered:

As my male classmates and I strolled across campus, I was feeling very confident in my sharp new business suit. However, I quickly began to notice that this trip differed from the countless other trips I had taken with these classmates. Unlike the previous trips, I was having difficulty keeping up. Usually we are dressed in casual attire, but today we were dressed “professionally.” For me this meant high-heeled pumps, which hindered my walking. I could not proceed at the same rapid pace as my male counterparts in their flat dress shoes. Furthermore, my narrow skirt restricted the length of my stride. My classmates were all in pants. The fact that my purse had to continually be readjusted, as it slid from my shoulder, also slowed my pace. The men did not have this worry; their pants had pockets. My outfit did not have pockets, so I needed a purse for my wallet, keys, and lipstick. There I was–the picture of the modern woman, dressed in clothing that restricted my movement, clothing that sent a message that I was less active and less powerful.”

This experience really resonated with me. From everything I’ve been told, women have just as much power as men. However, the clothing that is deemed a woman’s professional attire immediately puts her in a less powerful position than men. As frustrating as this is to think about, I have to accept the situation, rather than allow it to anger me. After 22 years, I’ve learned not to waste my energy on the minute details of life. Even if the definition of women’s professional attire is changed at some point, this most likely will not occur in the next six days prior to my interviews.

Champlain College seniors

Our attire for a recent graduating dinner--the most professional any of us have dressed while at Champlain

So, I’m going to embrace the skirt suit. I’ll remember that although it separates men and women, it shows a girl’s class and sophistication. I’ll give the outfit some of my own style and character, too. When all is said and done, I’ll be able to confidently proclaim, “Damn, I look good.”

I’ll leave a little early for my interviews too, to allow time for walking slower while wearing a narrow skirt and high-heeled pumps.

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One Response to “The power that clothing gives you and the power that it takes away”

  1. sid bolotin Says:

    good luck!!!


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