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#TeeToo? Dressing the Part

When do dress codes cause more harm than good?

Dress how you feel best
Our power is in us, not on us.

By Anjali Bindra -Patel, J.D.

This morning started off in a fairly typical manner: the kids were running late and rushing to the bus, half eaten muffins and bananas left abandoned by the sink.

Like every other morning, I cleaned up the remains of their breakfast, looking forward to the 10 minutes of peace I had before I too had to rush out the door. My hot coffee was steaming in my favorite mug, and I sat down to start perusing through the day’s headlines.

Then I read something that made me spit out my coffee.

A CNN article reported that the Japanese government minister declared it “socially accepted” that women be forced to wear high heels in the workplace, despite the fact that more than 80 percent of the females interviewed said they had suffered health problems as a result of wearing heels.

More than 19,000 people have signed an online petition to ban employers from requiring women to wear high heels in the workplace. Actress Yumi Ishikawa, who created the petition after her January tweets about being forced to wear the footwear went viral, submitted it to the labour ministry last week, according to The New York Times.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto responded by saying he would not support a drive to ban dress codes that force women to wear high heels at work, citing how the shoes were “generally accepted by society” as “necessary and reasonable.”

Necessary and reasonable? To whom?

This got me thinking about dress codes in the legal industry in which I work. I remember the dress code at my first law firm job in Chicago. I can’t quote the dress code verbatim of course, but here is the general vibe of what we were told:

Interviews and Court Appearances for Women

We were always told to err on the conservative side. For interviews, court appearances, client meetings, and related events, we were told to wear skirt suits in navy, black or gray. All skirts had to fall at the knee. Either deal with the skirt requirement or hear about it later.


Business Casual Days

Ah, the elusive business casual days- what a joy! On these lucky occasions, we could wear “tasteful blouses”. Can someone enlighten me on what that means? I remember shopping for these “tasteful” blouses: my litmus test was that if I hated it, it was probably appropriate.


Hair

We were always asked to maintain a neat well groomed hairstyle. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but my hair does not understand what “neat” means. Ten seconds in the Chicago wind were enough to derail any pathetic attempts I may have made earlier in the morning. It was a constant source of distraction to me to have to worry about my hair, when I could have been catching some extra sleep in the morning.


Shoes

For formal business events, we were told to wear closed-toe heels with pantyhose. Not exactly a practical choice in the middle of a Chicago winter.


Now I do understand that there are occasions where what you are wearing literally means the difference between a certain and uncertain future. Court appearances, moot court competitions, interviews… all of these warrant a little extra attention in the wardrobe arena. With that said, is there a point to wearing “tasteful blouses” on business casual days? Is wearing heels to work each day really necessary? In Japan, thousands are protesting as part of the #KuToo movement (the Japanese word for shoe is “kutsu.”)

Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly focused on my well-being, and in that spirit, have created my own movement: #TeeToo. #TeeToo means that I can be a kick ass lawyer, whether I’m wearing closed toe heels and a skirt, or my Run DMC tee and Spanx biker shorts. My worth is not determined by my wardrobe, and I no longer fret about whether someone thinks my skirt is the right length.

I hope others will adopt the #TeeToo mindset. Whether I’m in a tee shirt or a ball gown, what I’m really wearing underneath it all is self acceptance and gratitude, and In the end, that’s what really matters, not the color of my skirt.

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