The politics of attire

A professor once told me that in an interview setting, a woman will always be taken more seriously in a skirt than in pants. Luckily I’m on track for a profession with a lotta lesbians in it, or I’d be screwed.

Of course, a man could pretty much never go to an interview wearing a skirt and be taken seriously.  We’re still at the point where, in popular perception, man + dress = cross-dressing, where woman + pants = any number of things, but rarely cross-dressing. I’ve noticed that woman + tie, however, = extreme discomfort.

Now, I haven’t done a whole lot of reading on the necktie and its various significances, but I don’t buy into the tie as phallic symbol,* as the patriarchy, or as the shackles of the working drone.** I am, however, extremely jealous of men when it comes to the suit and tie. A dude can walk into most situations in a snappy suit and be read as respectable, stylish, and professional. When I walk into just about any situation but a gay club wearing a tie–never mind a full suit–I’m instantly read as a man (untrue), butch (true, but usually irrelevant to the situation), queer (see butch), a trouble maker (untrue), or worse.

Of course, the only real problem with me wearing a tie (unless someone decides to beat the shit out of me, which has thankfully yet to happen) is that I care about these potential perceptions. Arguably, greater visibility of women in ties–women who identify and are identified as women–would lead to greater acceptance of women wearing ties. So really, it’s chickenshits like me who are ruining it for the rest of us.

*Except that it allows the Belle & Sebastian lyric “a giant arrow pointing to my fly.”

**I’ve never actually encountered this argument in so many words, but it seems to me that I’ve seen the tie used as an example of male conformity to a certain ideal.


9 Responses to The politics of attire

  1. Claire says:

    My impression from my field in academia is that people are usually so astonished to see someone turn up looking neat that that trumps what they’re actually wearing (pick and fuzzy are the only two things I’d rule out for an interview).

    I’ve never thought of ties like that either. My school uniform included a tie, and while a tunic was the only option in the lower grades, older students could wear a skirt or trousers (with skirts being much more popular). This wasn’t all that long ago.

    Do you think that other pieces of “men’s” clothing would get the same reaction? e.g. a cravat? or a string tie vs a regular business tie?

  2. pandanose says:

    Eh… well, I suppose I can’t speak for all of the states, but my general impression is that cravats and string ties are rare enough that just about anybody wearing one is gonna get a funny look, male or female. I’d say bolos are more common in western and rural settings, but even there I’ve very rarely seen them worn.

    So, yeah, the tie–white or black–still seems to be unique among men’s clothing in its rigidity.

  3. Claire says:

    I’m in Texas so I see a fair number of string ties…

  4. madwit says:

    I have no interviews on the horizon, but in my interview fantasy I’m wearing a skirt suit and tie. Possibly suspenders. Heels.
    One does get looks- definitely part of the charm for me. I, too, would like to see the look more in the women who identify as women population. That’s just because I like it, though, not so it would make me more comfortable.

  5. dreamkindler says:

    I agree with you on the tie issue. I am a university professor in an environment which typically is more ‘liberal’ in terms of rules around ‘attire.’ Certainly males in this environment frequently wear even tattered bluejeans to teach in (some exclusively) and many even wear more imaginative garb including mutliple layers or leggings and shorts, with no apparent concerns. That said, almost ‘no’ female faculty lecture in jeans. I personally would love to lecture in nice pair of jeans, a v-neck sweater and a tie – as I have always loved that look. There have been few times I have dared to do this – not only due to concerns about how students would perceive me, but also colleagues. Actually, once following a period of time in which I was dressing more ‘male-like’ than usual, I was approached by a faculty member who informed me that the university would strongly support me if I chose a FTM transition (something which I don’t personally feel is me at all!). Anyway, I think wearning ties is made even ‘harder’ for me as I am relatively short – so either it comes across as a girly ‘Annie Hall’ look – or people think more is up than just preferring mens clothing. I wish that it was easier to fight this ‘tie’ stereotype, but I think it still in many ways remains a ‘male’ piece of clothing … and I don’t think unisex dress has moved us much in the direction of females in ties … that said- I guess scarf’s are still pretty female domain as well – haven’t seen any male professors go that far in their less constricted dress code.

  6. birdstakeflight says:

    Really? I think a girl wearing a tie is a really normal occurrence, I guess it just depends where you are. Attending a women’s college and living a bit liberal city, in a blue state, I see at least a handful of women with ties a day… lots of butches and various displays of all sorts of gender expressions outside the binary.

  7. pandanose says:

    I think it’s safe to say that a women’s college in a liberal city isn’t really an accurate barometer for the bulk of the country. And, for the record, I’m in a way liberal city in one of the bluest states.

    As for your comment, dreamkindler- it seems the power attire commonly attributed to a single gender is the hardest for the opposite to pull off. Hence my trouble with ties, and the reason so few men try heels or skirts. Scarves, to the best of my knowledge, aren’t really part of the power outfit.

  8. Dylan says:

    I don’t claim that a women’s college is an accurate barometer for the rest of the country, I just don’t believe that a woman wearing a tie is as transgressive as you seem to think it is. I think pop culture has made it much more normal, thought of course, not normative, and it often does come with the connotation of being a lesbian or even somehow rebellious in other ways.

  9. pandanose says:

    Normal as a fashion statement in daily life, perhaps. Normal as an acceptable way to show up to an interview? Not in most professions, no. Normal as a way to dress for dinner in a fancy restaurant that won’t lead to gender confusion? Not if your gender expression is otherwise ambiguous, no. And those were the main points I was trying to make.

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