Be Pretty, But Don’t Wear those Slutty Heels to Work

Recently, the prestigious Loyola Law School issued a memo to students including a statement about how female students should dress when clerking.

As is often the case with professional dress codes, women’s clothing choices were addressed, with no suggestions about what is appropriate for men.

This gets at the double bind faced by women in something as simple as choosing what to wear to work.  On the one hand, women are encouraged to look beautiful in their work appearance, as traditionally defined in our culture.  On the other hand, often women are judged for looking too “sexy.”

Ultimately women’s job performance should not be evaluated on their appearance.  It is an example of how “appearance counts” as a theme of femininity affects women in their professional lives in a significant way.

As Drexler argues here in a CNN editorial about the memo what should matter most is, “how women perform their jobs, and not which shoes they happened to choose that morning.”

8 thoughts on “Be Pretty, But Don’t Wear those Slutty Heels to Work

  1. While reading this post, it made me reflect on my days in High School. I went to a private school that did not require you to wear a uniform,however, it had an extremely strict dress code. Female students are not permitted to wear skirts/dresses that end above the knee, they are to have their shoulders and backs covered at all times, low cut shirts are not to be worn, etc. because it could “distract” other students from learning. The dress code for male students was strict as well, but they did not have those restrictions because their clothing was “too distracting for students to learn.” I think that society over sexualizes women. An exposed shoulder on a woman can be seen as revealing whereas an exposed shoulder on a man is seen as no big deal. I think that rules placed on how women dress in school or the workplace should not be taken to the extreme.

  2. I find this interesting for several reasons, one a serious note and the other somewhat of a funny note that I will get to later on in my response. I am from a small town in North Carolina where farming is very big and conservative republicans is an understatement to describe this population. Anyway, I attended a small private school for many years (it was not a Christian school) and the dress code was very strict, but only for the girls. No strapless dresses were to be worn, no jean shorts-they had to extend the length of your fingertips when the girls arms were by their side, no thin strap shirts-they had to be at least three finger widths wide and many other clothing rules that were very gender specific towards girls. I can remember teachers coming around and asking girls to put their arms by their side to see if their finger tips exceeded the length of the shorts and if so they would call home or if their shirt was too small they would have to wear an men’s extra large black shirt for the entire day to show that what they had worn was inappropriate. It was funny to me at the time because I didn’t see anything wrong with it but now looking back, the way the girls were treated for wearing something that was comfortable and just a little expressive was wrong and unfair, especially since we, as boys, could wear whatever we wanted. The fact that this is still going on today, nine years after I first encountered this, is uncalled for. The dress code must be enforced on both sides especially since today (here is the funny part) a lot of guys are wearing these new “Chubby” shorts which are much shorter than what a lot of the girls are wearing.
    here is a link to these chubby shorts:

  3. When reading this post, it reminded me of a seemingly parallel blog post I came across a while back that I really think is of great interest not only to my fellow classmates and you, Dr. Naomi, but also quite relevant to everyone. You can find this very powerful blog entry here: and it is written by Brittany Tuttle. This post talks about the difference between the expectations of how to dress for a young girl or boy at a summer care program the blog author sends her children to. It says how girls need to wear tankinis or one pieces, and if they chose to wear a bikini, then they need to wear a t-shirt over the suit because its not “modest” and male students and teachers may find it distracting. To me this is appalling, especially at the young age these girls are currently. While I agree there needs to be some guidelines for dress codes, I believe it should be reasonable, and not in place because a male (especially one in a position of authority and responsibility) may find it distracting and as an interference.

  4. Reading this post really took me back to the days in grade school with strict dress codes for women. I remember in middle school, we had uniforms, I was wearing a skirt (they were supposed to be to our knees), but being a 5’3 middle schooler made it hard to find skirts that were long enough. I got in trouble on the first day of school because my skirt was 1-2 inches above my knees, phone call home and everything. The lists for women were way longer than they were for the mens. Ours had so many specifics, inch requirements, limits on the skirts we could wear and the pants we could wear, but the guys list only said “khaki or navy pants with a polo in these variety of colors.” What I found is that often times the excuse for the strict women’s dress code is to minimize distractions for men, it’s as if society believes that they can’t control where their eyes and hands go so we need to do everything we can as women to make sure we don’t distract them. I pride myself in the way I dress, and I believe that’s something I’ll carry into my future professions. I’m seeing a double edged sword where if we dress really nice and feminine then we won’t be taken seriously, but if we don’t then we still won’t be taken seriously because we’re not abiding by society’s norm for feminine dressing.

  5. When reading this post it took me back to a few years ago in high school. There was a dress code for both males and females but it seemed as if there were ten female dress restrictions for every one male dress restriction. Not only were there more rules about what females could and couldn’t wear to school, they were also more likely to get in trouble if they violated the dress code than were the male students. It is interesting how this type of thing can carry over into the workplace. I feel that if it is necessary to have a dress code, then there should be equal rules for each sex to follow.

  6. While reading your post, I began to think about “girlie feminism” as we learned about through our online lecture and readings this past week. “Girlie feminism” refers to a group of mostly younger women who embrace feminist politics at the same time as traditionally feminine or girlie pastimes. “Girlie feminism” is a way of valuing elements of a traditionally female life that have been looked down upon by society in general, such as cooking, crafting, and fashion. While I don’t consider myself girly, I am a feminist, and I believe that if people want to wear those “slutty” heels and want to show a little cleavage they should be able too. Now it becomes a little different when dealing with a business and dress codes, the double bind. If it wear mean, I would wear a nun habit to these places of work just to show how ridiculous this theory is: that a woman’s job performance is not based on how they look. I believe in the saying, “Look good, feel good.” My coach used to always tell us this when we would get new gear at the beginning of the season, and usually, it worked. But if businesses are going to establish this “double standard” for women, then there should be some rules and regulations for men in the work place. For example, no skinny khakis or dress slacks, facial hair must be trimmed or go clean shaven, ties are necessary, and a jacket must be worn at all times. I would understand these memos were sent to all employees, but by targeting women and only women, this is the problem. These “double standards” in our culture are the ones we should be changing and standing up too, if we want to change the archaic gender norms that are still accepted in our society.

  7. While reading through your blog post and the links you provided, I found myself saying comments such as “preach!” and “thank you!” in aggreance with this to-be-sexy or not-to-be-sexy issue. When it comes down to it, does appearance really matter when getting a job done? We find this disconnect in organizations that are primarily online, or deal with a lot of telecommunications that dress code is not the #1 priority of employees compared to that of a public relations firm, or one working in human resources. (Lucky us, right?) In the example from the “Worst Workplace Dress Code” skirt lengths, heel height, and appearance are all key factors in the Airline industry, and yet there are no qualifications of men. What if men were required to have facial hair? Be clean shaven? Have tighter or looser pants than usual? This “double standard” of women required to be beautiful and successful while men can just simply be successful shows the extent of how our society has developed a stereotype in the business world.

  8. I completely agree that it is not fair for women to limited on their choice of dress when it comes to the work place but some “dress codes” have a point. Clevage and skin tight clothing is not appropriate when working in a professional setting. But neither are jeans, tshirts or tight dress pants and these are things that men might wear to work that is not mentioned in dress codes. There should be a drecc code for all employees and women should not be looked at any less professionally if they decide to wear a skirt. I do not think that this issue is that their is a dress code, it is that it is a dress code for women and women only.

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