I guess this is off-topic week here at Thrift Odyssey, while I try to do some research on replacing my near-defunct laptop (so that I'll have something to post that's more relevant to the blog theme!). In the meantime, here's a post inspired by a discussion with my brother.
Waiting for a bus one day, I saw a young woman approaching. She wore a pair of those fashionable aviator shades, reasonable heels, run-free hose, a nice black skirt and shirt and a business blazer; her hair was impeccable. As she walked by me I thought, "That is a very professional look."
Until I saw the back of the knee-length skirt, that is. The slit ran nearly the full length of the skirt, threatening to turn into a wardrobe malfunction. She continued along the sidewalk and I was left with a different impression entirely: "Now that just tears down how professional the outfit is."
With outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, people have become used to increased freedom of expression, true. But regardless of how others perceive you based on your online presence, your physical presence still counts for a lot. For example, I know my frizzy hair is a going concern because, just like that skirt, it subconsciously suggests to other people that I do not put a lot of thought into how others assess my appearance. And if I'm not taking care of myself, would a reasonable employer believe that I would take care of their business? For good or ill, first impressions still count for so much, and standards still exist for what constitutes a professional appearance and what does not. Is it shallow? Maybe. Is it fair? Maybe not. Is it a reality? Definitely, and even if no one says anything outright to the lady in the skirt, that skirt is changing the way people think about her.
As students, whether or not we are working while at school, the idea of professionalism is nothing new. In my first few days at Red River College, I was bombarded with messages about my professional career having started on orientation day, and how I should treat my time here as though it is a job. Should I, then, be dressing as though I am showing up to a high-profile job rather than appearing haggard, water bottle in hand, at the door of a classroom, wearing ratty jeans and sneakers?
My brother, a student at the University of Manitoba, disagrees. "I'm for a more relaxed dress code, where you should wear a reasonable amount of clothing and have nothing offensive," he told me. He suggests that comfort and professionalism should be able to meet in the middle, with no one needing to wear a full suit or starched blazer everyday but at the same time understanding that unwashed hair and shirts full of holes are unacceptable. "I don't think a professional style of dress begets a professional attitude or a professional anything else," he said. "Sure, it can encourage such [an] attitude, but it certainly doesn't preclude one."
Some workplaces try for a balance. One of my previous employers permitted jeans and t-shirts (though without words of any kind) to be worn on Fridays; another company I've heard of has a Pyjama Day on which bathrobes, fuzzy slippers, and tasteful flannel duds are permitted. The argument here, as my brother puts it, is that " it keeps the atmosphere light, which [employees] work very well in."
While the issue of dress codes is still up for debate, one thing remains certain - appearance is among the most important things on which a first impression is based.