When I entered a magazine job straight out of university, I knew inherently that jumpers, jeans and joggers weren’t appropriate for the office.
But years later, working at a female-led start-up, those same clothes were basically the uniform of my colleagues. For us, neat hair was optional, and make-up was the anomaly, not the rule.
Gendered expectations around appearance can vary drastically depending on workplace culture. But the data shows that, regardless of the environment, women face more scrutiny than men about how they look and what they wear.
For many women, particularly those in corporate environments, getting dressed for work can be an expensive affair.
Research has found Australian women spend $15 billion on grooming annually. In contrast, men spend only $7 billion.
And expectations to look a certain way don’t just drain us of cash, they also consume our time.
In her TEDx talk, which has had more than 5 million views, journalist Tracey Spicer quoted statistics from a survey on grooming. It found women spend an average of 27 minutes per day getting ready for work. Across a year, that equates to 10 full working days.
Clothing and make-up can be an avenue for personal expression, but some women feel external pressures — be it from their boss, the media or society at large — to look a certain way.
Even when a woman’s appearance has nothing to do with her competence or chosen profession, she may be questioned about what she’s wearing.
We’ve seen this scenario play out multiple times in the Australian political sphere. From Natasha Stott Despoja’s boots to Julie Bishop’s stilettos, female politicians’ fashion choices are observed far more closely than those of their male counterparts.
Tara Moss is an author, former model and human rights advocate, whose nonfiction book Speaking Out explores issues facing women and girls in Australia, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, online abuse and casual forms of everyday sexism.
She believes many women face a “beauty expectation gap” in their workplace.
“Women’s grooming is … often an expectation, with career consequences for those who don’t ‘look the part’,” she says.
Of course, shoes aren’t the sole problem. Expectations around dress and make-up can set women back financially, but Ms Moss says that hair is one of the biggest examples of a double standard.
“Another concern of mine is the expectation that women keep grey hair covered — which is not an expectation generally foisted on men — and the expectation that curly hair, and particularly the naturally curly hair of women of colour, must be straightened and ‘tamed’ to look professional,” she says.
“These expectations require dyes and chemical treatments that are costly, and for some cause adverse allergic reactions.”
Women face time, financial and physical pressures as a result of the expectations placed on them.
For more information visit: www.abc.net.au