Today I read a tweet from Elizabeth Bentivegna of Oberlin, Ohio (where one of my daughters went to college), who was denied a computer programming job in Cleveland based on how she looked. The company said she looked more like she was dressed for clubbing than an interview, and that she did not look "put together and professional."
While part of me wanted to agree with the many who supported her, with remarks about it being outrageous that women were still judged on appearance rather than skills, part of me sided with the company.
Why? Because, by her own description, she wore a lot of makeup and was "mildly sexual" in a black tee shirt ("a little booby, but what shirt isn't on me?"), red skater skirt (a flared skirt which reaches the tops of the thighs, the style an ice dancer might wear), black tights, cardigan, and heels. She carried a purse. She was outraged at the double standard, since the men working there wear tee shirts and jeans.
I cannot share Ms. Bentivegna's indignation. This is not how a young woman presents herself at a job interview. This look says, I'm young and smokin' much louder than it says, I'm a competent professional.
"We try to present ourselves how we want, express ourselves how we like, try to show the world who we are," Ms. Bentivegna said, "and we are STILL put into these tiny boxes where we can't fucking breathe. The way we look can make us or break us in ways that just don't exist for men."
While presenting yourself how you want to is vital for your personal life, it doesn't fly at a job interview for either men or women. When a man presents himself for an interview in a tight shirt unbuttoned to the nipple line, wearing a few pounds of bling, with heavy facial tats and piercings, or in a jacket and trousers in two different plaids, he is most certainly judged harshly. The way he looks can indeed make him or break him, just as Ms. Bentivegna's did.
Ms. Bentivegna, I promise there's a way to be both yourself and professional in appearance. A tight tee shirt and skater skirt isn't it. After graduation, my daughter the Obie put together a really nice work wardrobe from area thrift stores which was true to her goth self. She had knee-length and longer skirts, tailored trousers, blouses and knit tops which did not hug but were shaped, and a few sweaters, wraps, and blazers, all of it in black and purple. I'd be surprised if she spent more than $150 for all of it.
If I lived near Oberlin, I'd be happy to shop with you to assemble a mix-and-match wardrobe that's both you and professional, too.