Big thanks to one of my favorite Career Girl readers for passing along the Washington Post’s thought-provoking article, “The Colorful Evolution of Newswomen’s Attire.” In it, writer Katherine Boyle covers everything from hemlines to suit jackets to J.Crew sweaters, with the overall point that the world of women’s professional dress has changed drastically in the last decade or so.
I implore you, as women, to read the passage below. Perhaps it’s Ms. Boyle’s incredible writing style, or perhaps it’s the sheer honor to know some of the women who wore suit jackets and string ties as armor one day not so long ago, but the first line of this passage nearly brought this Career Girl to tears:
For decades, the suit jacket transformed women into workers. With jackets required for entrance at male-dominated clubs and boardrooms, women bundled up their breasts to blend into a professional culture that predated their arrival. But in recent years, even as men continued to assume corporate uniforms of suits and ties, newswomen — one of the last vestiges of female suit wearers — have resoundingly dismissed them from their closets. They now flank themselves in bright sleeveless sheath dresses and stiletto heels, renouncing the once hard-and-fast edicts of television news: no bare legs, no long hair, no feminine distractions from the news. The revision of the female anchor’s dress code happened swiftly and broadly on network and cable television. And if newswomen are the most visible barometers of workplace fashion, the women’s suit may one day go the way of the petticoat.
What this means for women, not just newscasters, but all of us, is that we no longer have to wear something or prove something to transform from women to workers. There is no need for the silk-string ties and the shoulder pads that made us look and feel like “one of the guys.” We no longer have to try to be “male” to be “successful.”
Somewhere deep inside me is the female version of Patrick Dempsey’s character in “Can’t Buy Me Love” screaming, “Isn’t it just hard enough to be ourselves?” Yes. It is. It’s hard enough to decide what you want to wear in the morning when you love it. It’s hard enough to want clothes to be your armor on a date let alone in a Board meeting. But one by one, we’re tackling those suits of armor. And hey, you might love yourself a blue suit, and that’s okay. It’s the choice to wear what you want, and not what makes you look more male, that empowers us as a gender. Yeah, ladies!