Should we all Wear a Uniform to Work?
As women there is so much that defines us, and too often, it’s not us. The “feminine aesthetic” is as mutable as it is descriptive, and though we’ve arguably achieved a far greater degree of freedom in how we express ourselves with outward adornments than have men, there is no debating the allegorical significance of our sartorial selections, especially in the domain of professionalism.
Perhaps because the spectrum of our wardrobes has expanded so extensively since our second-wave sisters fought their ways out of beehive hairdos, cinched silhouettes, and prim petticoats, the modern woman must contend with a spattering of possible “looks”, each of which steeped in cultural significance about what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a woman who wears that.
Indubitably, we women should be, and are, happy for right to use fashion as a tool of personal expression. But what happens when there’s too much choice? What happens when our clothing options overwhelm expediency, and we are left standing amongst piles of tried and nixed blouses, pants, skirts, tops, jackets, and dresses?
Matilda Kahl, an art director based in New York, found her daily struggle to choose the perfect work outfit each morning got in the way of her professional success, and so she decided to take a page out of the boys’ book and standardize her workwear to one simple outfit. Spending a day shopping for the perfect simple white blouse and a classic pair of black slacks, Kahl purchased about a dozen of each, and simple as that, eradicated the struggle of getting dressed for work in the morning.
In her personal essay published in Harpers Bazaar earlier this year, Kahl described agonizing over what to wear to work before a particularly important meeting, only to regret her decision the moment she reached the subway platform. What’s more, she’s late to an important meeting. While standing outside the conference room, watching her male coworkers inside networking with their new boss, she resolved to never again let profundity of getting dressed for work limit her professional aspirations.
“The frustration I felt walking into that meeting late remained with me,” wrote Kahl. “Should it really be this hard? I knew my male colleagues were taken seriously no matter what they wore—and I highly doubted they put in as much sartorial time and effort as I had.”
With that, Kahl identifies one fundamental privilege enjoyed by men from which women are excluded: freedom from the rigors of a morning routine that is both lengthy and involved, and lest we forget, informed by a patriarchal, capitalist society that all but demands women exhaust resources in sake of meeting its invented standard of beauty.
To delineate male privilege, as writer and professor Jon Greenberg did in his recent article published on the website Everyday Feminism, is to contextualize the gender-specific minutia that accumulate over time to prevent women’s unabridged equality in society.
Greenberg explained how the privilege to skip that very morning routine Kahl iconoclastically rebuked means that “I can roll out of bed, leave the house with my short hair still wet, and arrive to work at 8am, makeupless, shoving my shirt into my pants – without any repercussions.” It’s just one of the benefits conferred by his gender, amongst the implicit authority of maleness, the widespread and positive representation of men in the media, and the liberty to walk to streets largely unafraid of rape or harassment, which Greenberg describes.
As Kahl dares to commit the cardinal sin of outfit repeating on a daily basis, not only is streamlining her own morning routine, she is making a feminist statement. After all, she points out, standardized workwear has existed for decades, and it’s called a suit. Her white and black uniform therefore dismantles the oppressive notion that women should should be equally as adorned as they are adornments—objects first, humans second.
So the question remains: would you wear the same thing to work everyday?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: AMANDA BURKE
Currently a journalism student at Boston University, formerly a line cook with a side gig selling vintage jewelry. I am interested in the way our narrative species communicates and consumes information and images, and the power of storytelling to connect us all. I am passionate about social politics and policy, and hope one day work for an organization that shares my dedication for feminism, culture, and the arts.