The Clothes Make The Woman

Alright ladies (and guys, too), please react to the following statement: "If she didn't want me to look, she wouldn't be wearing x." where x = (some article of clothing).

I've been trying to decide how I feel about this statement for a really long time. As a young female engineer, I'm much more closely scrutinized than my male counterparts. While "business casual" for them means any collared shirt at all, plus pants that aren't jeans, I have to think a lot more carefully about what is sufficiently business while at once being sufficiently casual. Skirt? No. Nice-looking t-shirt? Maybe, as long as the pants make up for it and there's another layer on top. This is exhausting, especially when it comes to shopping for work clothes. Also, the men that I deal with (I realized a couple of weeks ago that the only time I talk to women on the phone is when I have to go through a receptionist to reach the dude I happen to be calling) make a lot of assumptions about me, and how they can deal with me. They get "familiar" with me a lot more quickly, or so I assume, not in an inappropriate way, but in a slightly-less-than-professional way. The point is that I try to be very careful about how I portray myself, because what I ultimately want to convey is competence. Right now I feel like that's the most important thing.

So, back to the original statement. "If she didn't want me to look, she wouldn't be wearing x."

On its face, this seems like it might be comparable to the deservedly infamous "She was asking for it, just look what she was wearing." But I don't think that's quite the case. Obviously no one is asking to be raped, but I think that people, women especially, are frequently asking to be checked out. Just look at what 99% of girls wear when they go out to the bar.

The major problem here is, I think, with women. For some reason they seem to expect that they can go out in a short skirt and a top with a plunging neckline, and only the men that they think are attractive will be looking at them. Anyone else gets classified as a creep. But this is completely ridiculous. As long as someone is respecting my boundaries and not, like, photographing me without my knowledge and stuff, I don't think I really have a right to take issue with them finding me attractive. This is one of those cases where you simply can't have your cake and eat it, too. If you don't want anyone to look at you, you can walk around in a burka.

But here's what I really trip over: a) how do you reconcile the statement in a professional context, and b) how do you help these kinds of things if you are particularly well-endowed?

Let's start with a). As I mentioned before, "business casual" is a much trickier definition for me to navigate than it is for my male colleagues. Our office dress code specifies "no cleavage" and also "no bellybuttons" and even, for a while "no bare legs or feet" (thereby barring capris), all of which are pointed at the women who work here. And even if we're all dressing perfectly professionally, women's clothes are generally more form-fitting. So is it still okay for the men I work with to check me out?

Well, I tend to think that they at least shouldn't be making it obvious. The fact remains, however, that we're all, constantly, checking each other out, and that's, again, okay as long as it respects personal boundaries and doesn't get criminal. Also, even though there are more and more women in the industry all the time, every single female that steps onto a construction site will inevitably be a curiosity, and that's something that us "pioneers" just need to deal with.

And now b), which is the most problematic of all. Some ladies are just more voluptuous than others. Whereas I'm about as alluring in a bathing suit as I am in a snowsuit (i.e. sort of flat-chested either way), I've joked on at least one occassion that my sister would have cleavage even if she was wearing a turtleneck. My dad has actually expressed concern to me about the way she dresses, and all I've been able to tell him is that she can't help it. And yes, I realize that there are men out there who prefer my more rectangularish shape to the curvy feminine ideal, but that's not really the point. The point is that no matter how careful she is about how she dresses, a voluptuous lady will inadvertantly send a message about wanting to be looked at.

And I think that's the only issue I can find with the above statement, and I don't know how to fix it. I also don't know how many people bother to think about it at the lengths I apparently have, and I'm not sure that I can fault someone who says this sort of thing without thinking, if no one has ever bothered to argue the point with them.

So what do all of you think about this? What have I missed? Should we all be wearing burkas, including the men, so that we can stop our roving eyes?

P.S. I realize that this has nothing to do with books, literature, etc. Bear with me. There probably won't be very many of these.


  1. Dad thinks I dress skankily? Is this in reference to my bar/work clothes, or to what I wear normally. I feel I'm a fairly conservative person when it comes to my everyday attire.

    Also there are very few shirts out there that fit me nicely and show zero cleavage.. but they exist and a bunch of them are in my closet.

    So how do we 'fix' it? We don't, it's not a problem, it's a matter of opinion. If people never checked one another out or were never physically attracted to one another we would have some weird ass system of reproduction like ducks do. Time and future generations will eventually phase it out, hopefully. Or at least make it a little more even when all men start wearing makeup and layering too.

  2. I think this Dad thing was more so a few years ago. I took some artistic liberties.

    So what do you think you'd say to someone if they said this to you?

  3. It would depend on what I was wearing I guess. Like the stuff I wear to work is so that people will look, and if someone said that they would be right.

  4. I think it's pretty complicated--the problem comes in when people think it's ok to comment on your appearance or act differently towards you because they assume you wanted attention. Looking is one thing, but lewd comments, weird behaviour, and unwanted touching/what-have-you is a whole other bag of...problems.

    For me, I know that i have a really hard time dressing--I tend to end up looking frumpier than initially intended because I'm loath to look too 'sexy' in the office environment. There's like a million possible ways to dress officey, and yet somehow the line between appropriate and inappropriate always eludes me.

  5. This is why in my opinion we should all just have work uniforms. I loved my school uniform, and it really made things so much easier. Also then your clothes don't wear out so fast.

    Also I'm not saying that everyone should wear kilts, although that would be hilarious.