By Courtney Plunk
If you’re a young woman, you know looking professional yet fashionable can be a challenge.
Dressing well is hard because clothes are all about identity and power — “whether a person has power or is seeking to gain access to that power,” writes Rachel Chapman in an academic study.
Women, who used to lack power in the workplace, must balance creative self-expression with a claim to authority. But the safe zone between “too cute” and “too manly” is fuzzy.
Meredith Meador, a graduate teaching assistant in the College of Media & Communications, recalls being criticized for her clothing choice at a law school competition.
“The only criticism I received in the evaluation was that I was too charming and too distracting with my red jacket,” Meador said.
After this experience, Meador said she became more cautious about what she wears.
“I feel like clothes are a way we can express our personality,” she said. “I like bright cheerful colors, [but] I do think a little harder about where I am going and the type of crowd I will be around.”
Emma Wood, a chemical engineering major at Texas Tech, had points docked during her mock interview for not wearing a suit jacket. She disagreed with her professor.
“I told her I don’t think I have to look like a man and take away from my femininity,” Wood said.
Her professor agreed in principle, Wood said, but in the engineering field, wearing a suit during interviews is just the “name of the game.”
Andressa Bertaioli, a sales associate at a women’s fashion store in Lubbock, said dressing professionally is not too difficult for women after they have secured a job.
“When it comes to interviews there are … more rules you need to follow,” Bertaioli said. “But when it comes to a job, independent of place or field, I think you definitely have quite a bit of freedom to dress professionally.”
The most important thing is to always look polished, Bertaioli said.
Tate Hill, a civil engineer at Pacheco Koch, said her appearance is a factor because “we’re selling our company and want people to continue hiring us.”
“I think that a lot of women limit themselves in what they can wear,” Hill said. “Some work in a male-dominated field, and they want to be taken seriously, or they think ‘business’ clothes can’t be fun.”
Still, she believes women can find ways to be uniquely fashionable at work.
“Personalized style can be a form of empowerment, especially for women, and in the professional world it’s a tool that we should all use more readily,” Hill said.