Gender Equity in Appearance


The upcoming presidential election has my brain swirling. Hillary Clinton breaking the ultimate glass ceiling has got me thinking about remaining gender differences in the workplace — one of the largest gaps being appearance. As I thought about this over the past week, I got a little punchy. My inner comedienne emerged. In no particular order, here are my musings:

  1. It has been a vastly entertaining to watch gender equity in hairstyle commentary unfold. The internet of all things has declared Donald Trump’s hair one of the greatest mysteries of our time. Commentary on his hair has basically shut down the decades-long commentary on Hillary Clinton’s hair. Over the years as I contemplated gender equity and I thought about what that might look like, I have to say, this is not what I was expecting. I can’t say what I was expecting, but it definitely was not comedy for the ages.
  2. Terminology with regard to suits. Interestingly, when a man wears a suit with trousers, it’s a suit. When a woman wears a suit with trousers, it’s a pants suit. I imagine this is to differentiate from a suit with a skirt. I’m going to go out on a limb and start a campaign to just call them suits. Women can wear suits with trousers or skirts. Men can wear suits with trousers or kilts. Along with Vogue, I’m predicting a big upswing in kilts for men. I have a friend who, when UPS was running its “What can Brown do for you?” campaign, wrote a real letter on real paper and requested that UPS delivery persons start wearing kilts. I can’t say I hate this idea.
  3. Exposed toes and other footwear. One of the biggest differences between men and women’s work attire remains shoes. When the great flip-flop debate began about 10 years ago, I was famously quoted for saying, “We hire people for their brains, not their footwear.” Toward the end of my career, since Washington in August resembles Dante’s seventh circle of hell, even I wore sandals to work. For me, exposed toes were never an issue. I did have an issue with people wearing shoes they couldn’t actually walk in with sky high heels more appropriate for the Paris runway. I used to say, “The closer you get to the White House–the tighter the skirts, the higher the heels.” I felt pretty sure those women were not wearing those shoes to draw attention to their very big brains. I now concede I could be wrong about that. If you can quickly evacuate from an exploding building in those shoes—wear them as much as you want. As for exposed toes, gentlemen, I hand that over to you. If it’s OK for women to bare their toes in the workplace, it’s OK for men. Figure it out.

At the end of the day, we are different. We are all unique individuals. We like to express our personalities through our appearance. I think we all hope that at some point in the future appearance will make no difference at all. Maybe we will get there, or at least get closer. I’ll know that day has arrived when my male coworkers appear for work in kilts and sandals.

Jeri Buchholz is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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