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January 9, 2014 — Over the last few years professional women have taken center stage — making their own rules about power, authority and what it means to have it all. Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” started a national conversation focused on empowering women to lead, and in a few weeks, our nation will celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, designed to end unfair and unacceptable wage gaps in the workplace. Despite these recent advances for women, what has changed little in the conversation about the 21st-century professional woman are the messages and expectations surrounding her style and outward appearance. With the changing attitudes of career-minded women, the question is: Are professional women still expected to wear suits?

The predominant images of women in the workplace continue to be behind the times, but there are very public examples of women breaking away from those traditional molds. Take, for instance, Michelle Obama. Her style choices have been deemed cavalier when compared to the choices of many other women in positions of authority, and some have argued that there have been occasions when her dress-cardigan combo was less than appropriate. However, it’s fascinating to wonder: Despite her more casual fashion decisions, has her credibility as a leader diminished or been questioned?

Notwithstanding the example set by our current First Lady and others, by and large corporate culture still holds steadfastly to the images of professional women found in the pages of John Molloy’s 1990 edition of Women’s Dress for Success: women in black or gray two-piecers, white Oxford shirts, sensible shoes and barely there accessories. The unfortunate truth is that, for women, style is still tied to credibility. Professional women must be ever-cognizant of their personal brand; it is about the whole package. In a recent New York Times article entitled “Women Learn to Dress for Success,” author Catherine Chapman points out that the array of style and appearance choices open to women can still work to their detriment. “A man has a uniform, he knows what to wear, when,” and the uniform has not changed in 100+ years, she says, “but women have a wide array of clothing choices, so there is more of a chance that they won’t be able to project credibility through their image. Too little makeup, overdone makeup, long hair, an untidy-looking bag, jangling jewelry, too much perfume — all these things will take their credibility down a notch.”

So, in the multigenerational workforce of today, is it important to expand the definition of professional attire for women? What images of success does your organization perpetuate? Has the time come for a fashion overhaul in the workplace, a new normal? What do you think? Contact Shaun Stripling, chief marketing officer for Frank About Women, at 336.774.9397, or email her.

Source: The New York Times

This Frank Flash is brought to you by Cierra Raleigh, Front Desk Coordinator, with Frank About Women

Cierra Raleigh About the Author
Cierra Raleigh Former Account Coordinator

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