When I was a kid, I really wanted to dye my hair blue. I even used a sharpie to dye my Chole Bratz doll’s hair with a blue sharpie and I thought she was the coolest doll in my collection. To my own dismay, my mom- along with a LOT of other adults- refused to let me dye my hair blue or any other color than my reddish-strawberry blonde color. I would have been burned at the steak if I dyed my hair at all. My mom’s words. Not mine.
As an adult I personally don’t have the urge to change my hair color at all. However, that doesn’t stop me from having a huge love for creative hair choices even though that look is no longer for me. My personal preferences are tattoos and expressive piercings.
I now work in a profession and in an industry where “crazy colored hair”, tattoos, and noticeable facial piercings are still considered taboo. Even though times have changed, many professions and industries haven’t. I still have to hide my tattoos around certain professionals just in case they have any bias against tattoos. The current workforce has become extremely diverse in generational gaps and cultural backgrounds. This can be quite trying when it comes to companies and them appearance policies.
As a professional, I firmly believe that someone’s appearance, hair, clothing, etc. has no indication on a person’s ability to do their job.
When it comes to MANY appearance guidelines, and dress codes in general, many of them are not only outdated, but can be rooted in racism, fatphobia, and sexism. Many companies can get away with hiring certain individuals because they don’t meet their standards of appearance. Many large corporations over the past decade have been called out for their “appearance standards” to not only be problematic but used to be able to individuals from finding suitable employment. Some of these companies, such as American Apparel, Lululemon, Disney, and numerous hospitality groups, have reported publicly that they have since changed their policies, however this is mainly on paper. The company cultures themselves have still stayed the same regardless of what policies they have updated.
I had been in working environments that were very strict when it came to “professionalism” to the point that it became so stressful and problematic that perfectly qualified candidates would not last long in the positions. One company I had for had restrictions on hair color, hair styles, how many and what type of jewelry you can wear, nail length and color, and even facial hair length. I also was told I couldn’t wear certain clothes because they were “too tight for my body type”.
I had been told by so many people that I needed to look a certain way in order to be taken seriously as a professional. I am not huge on wearing makeup when I am working. Just the idea of wearing foundation for ten hours a day, five days a week alone is making my skin breakout. Yet, for about five years that is exactly what I did. I wore full-coverage makeup for the vast majority of my working days. The times I would show up to work without makeup I always got comments that I looked tired, or I was told by a manager to go to the bathroom and “make myself more presentable”. And yes, that is an actual quote by several different supervisors I have had in my career.
This also translated into my wardrobe as well. The professional world tends to push gender norms when it comes to appearance standards. Some jobs I had I was “encouraged” to always wear heals, traditionally feminine colors, and wear more skirts, dresses, etc. Sometimes I feel like wearing a dress or a skirt when I am working, but other times I want to wear my pants, oxford shoes, and a button-down shirt and call it a day. In my personal style, I wear a lot of dark colors, and sometimes more “masculine” pieces from time-to-time. I like dressing comfortable. The fact that I couldn’t show those sides to myself in a professional environment was really discouraging.
There is a clear difference between the professional appearance standards when it comes to men and women. Men are not expected to wear makeup every day and not normally required to have certain grooming or attire standards.
The topic of inclusion and the “unprofessional hairstyles” in the workplace are ongoing. In my personal opinion and experience, many unprofessional hair policies are unequivocally unethical and have clearly racist undertones that blocks people of color from achieving employment. I am not the right person to speak on this subject and would much rather the one affected by this policy voice their concerns on this topic.
Fatphobia & Body Shaming
Many professional clothing was clearly not meant for people who are not the “ideal body type”. Here is a story. At one job, I wore a business-styled skirt to work. It was below knee-length but was “tight” around certain areas of my body. Look, I’m curvy. My proportions are all over the place, so clothing tends to fit me differently than someone who has a slimmer build than I do. Anyways, it should be noted that the skirt I was wearing was the same exact one another colleague was wearing but in a different color. I was brought in by my boss at the time and I was told I could no longer wear that skirt because it was “too tight” on my body. Even when I pointed out that another woman was wearing the same skirt, I was told that because she was “smaller” than it was okay because her body and hips didn’t show as much in the skirt.
Basically, because I was “bigger” than my co-worker, I was not allowed to wear similar style clothes because my portions were more distinguished than hers. I have so many examples of these types of situations I had experienced. So much so that I had developed severe body dysmorphia that I am still dealing with even two years after leaving these types of environments. I wasn’t any larger or smaller than I was back then, yet I wear those same “tight” clothes without ever being told I was too big for them.
Many people who have non-ideal body types have faced similar issues when it comes to professional dress. No body-type should be shamed or treated any differently than the other, especially when it comes to our clothes.
The way I see it the professional world needs to catch up with the rest of modern society. Fashion and “modesty” standards have changed drastically and is constantly progressing as time goes on. the whole concept of professional dress has taken on a completely new meaning. We can be professional with a full tattoo sleeve, facial piercings, and neon colored hair. We can be professional while also expressing our cultural identities through our appearance. And we can definitely be professional and plus-sized.
Professionalism isn’t what you wear or what you look like. Professionalism lies in how you act and how you treat others. That is what we should be focusing on. nothing else.