The first time I had a professional interview was in October of last year. I was applying to be a part of a scholars program at my university, and knowing the program was both prestigious and competitive, I was incredibly stressed about what to wear. But a lot of things went wrong on the day of my interview.
I’d hurt my ankle so I couldn’t wear my heels, the only professional shoes I had with me at the time. It was raining so I chose to not wear my blazer because I didn’t want to risk ruining it. So I went to my interview in a semi-professional blouse, black pants, and floral flats. Not ideal, but my roommate said I looked fine so I didn’t give it a second thought.
I went to my interview, answered every question to the best of my ability, made the interviewers laugh, and walked out feeling great. Then I saw the next candidate to be interviewed, dressed in a crisp pencil skirt, heels, and a fitted blazer. I felt so small and my mind flooded with doubts.
“She’s clearly more qualified for this than me.”
Why did I think that? I’d only seen her for a few seconds. Was her outfit really enough to shake my confidence?
But the fact of the matter is, I know how deeply appearance is valued in the professional sphere, and I believe the extent to which it’s considered, is not okay.
When people go for job interviews, it’s not uncommon for them to cover up any exposed tattoos and to take out unconventional piercings, such as any nose or facial piercings.
For most companies, if you show up to an interview in a t-shirt and jeans, you’re not getting the job. If you show up to work in leggings, you’re getting in trouble.
Most companies have dress codes that are intended to maintain a “professional atmosphere”. Even ones that are more lenient draw the line of professionalism at some point.
To be honest, I understand the argument for professional clothing. Some people believe that establishing standards of professionalism is an important part of an effective and successful working environment.
But I can’t find it in myself to support it. The culture of professional appearance is really nothing more than another tool of capitalism and white supremacy.
Just take a look at the cost of professional attire in the United States. High-quality suits can cost up to one thousand dollars. If you’re on a budget, you can get an acceptable suit for about three hundred dollars, but to a lot of people that doesn’t make their situation any better.
Just the high cost of professional attire shows how inaccessible it can be for some people. Essentially, having money is a prerequisite to even engaging with professional environments in the first
But professional standards of appearance are exclusive in other ways too. Take tattoos as an example.
A while ago, my sister and I were discussing getting tattoos to which my mom replied, “Go ahead if you never want a job.”
It was harsh, but not that far from reality.
Over 45 million people have tattoos in the US. While the stigma around tattoos is definitely being alleviated socially, professional culture still frowns on them.
Research shows that around 42% of people believe that visible tattoos are unprofessional in the workplace. That view becomes increasingly lenient among younger responders, which is definitely a sign of progress.
But tattoos really shouldn’t be an indicator of professionalism at all. To many people, their tattoos carry deep personal significance, and as such, they shouldn’t be forced to cover them up. They especially shouldn’t miss out on career opportunities because they have exposed tattoos.
Even piercings, which are easily removable and more common, put wearers at a disadvantage.
I’m not saying that we should be rid of professional clothes forever, or that we should never wear suits and heels again. What I am saying is that standards of professional attire, as they currently are, discriminate against less privileged individuals. Tattoos and piercings don’t affect a person’s ability to work at all, so why are they an obstacle in professional culture?
Many more companies have started to embrace casual dress codes, but it’s undeniable that the culture of professionalism still runs deep.
As we strive towards a more equal world, avoiding the denial of opportunity based on a person’s physical appearance will be crucial. A tattoo or a piercing should never stop someone from professional advancement. Let’s stop the judgment and instead celebrate people taking control of their bodies and their appearances.