Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Why "Business Dress" Shouldn't Be a Thing in 2015


It's 7:45am and I'm in London. It's pissing it down, my umbrella is broken and my thin black blazer isn't really doing much to keep the rain off me. I've got 4 inch black stilettos on and my laptop is bundled into my coat because the laptop bag I've been given is made from a material similar to sponge, which collects water and retains it for hours upon end. It's like 'The Hunger Games; Laptop Edition' on every adventure into the city and I'd rather be soaked than required to purchase a new laptop, so the laptop gets to wear my coat for the day.

I hurl myself through the door of the customers' office and plan to head straight to the ladies to sort myself out. Oh, what's that? The lady I'm meeting is already in so I'm being escorted up to the office early for breakfast? On any normal day that would be a lovely offer. Today, however, I am close in resemblance to The Joker and I'm pretty sure I have mascara on my lips.

The woman appears in the lobby and gives me that sympathetic "Gosh, I know, the weather is absolutely awful today" speech that is usually reserved for long awkward lift journeys or coffee shop queues. I make it to a hot-desk and begin trying to transform from Business Banshee to Business Bitch using my laptop screen protector as a sort of makeshift mirror. 10 minutes later, I am in a state more similar to a normal human woman and begin to plan my day of meetings.

Looking around I begin to experience that "Shit, I'm overdressed"  feeling that a 17 year old gets when they turn up to their first houseparty in a bodycon dress. The Test & Dev team behind me are wearing hoodies, with jeans. Given the fact that the Test & Dev team have probably been sat there for 24 hours after ordering pizzas to the office last night I don't immediately feel so out of place. The CEO of the company turns up with a Starbucks in his hand, and he's in jeans too. More so than that, he's wearing Converse and he has his dog with him (a big old Boxer named Tiff). The look he gives me is one of utter dismay.

"Why the hell are you wearing a dress and heels? Have you not seen the weather outside?"

The majority of the meetings I have are internal meetings that take place in a room with colleagues that I know, and people that I have worked with for a few years. It's common that we are eating or checking the news during a lunch meeting and there isn't that awkward "air of professionalism" to maintain between us.

Every now and again I am required to head out to meet a customer or a business partner and it immediately fills me with dread. I hate London; I absolutely detest the tubes during rush hour, and adding stilettos and a pencil skirt into the mix is enough to give me a panic attack, especially when I know that it is 100% not necessary and that the team I'm meeting are going to wonder what I was thinking this morning. Here's what I was thinking: "I'm representing a corporate company who require me to dress this way for external meetings".

On first meetings, and with professional clients, it is imperative that you're in business dress to be taken seriously and I 100% recognise that and agree with it as a polite and courteous social norm. What I can't believe is that there are companies out there who insist on forcing their employees to wear full business dress Monday to Friday whether they are going to be sat at their desks for the week or not. Do you realise, Mr Bossman, how much more I resent "popping over to your office" when I've got to make a mad dash through the rain in heeled shoe boots? Surely it's more conducive to your productivity stats to have me in a full Amazonian Explorer Outfit with matching backpack and perhaps an electric scooter for expediency's sake?

My company is quite relaxed when it comes to dress code. I can wear jeans and pumps, I can get away with a knitted cardi when it's cold and a formal-ish maxi dress when it's hot. It is a huge advantage to me that I can match my appearance to the vibe of a particular customer or business partner. It means that I have stronger relationships with them and they see me as a colleague rather than a corporate figurehead. I like that I get invited to their Christmas parties and their Summer Balls. It is very old-school and very close-minded in my opinion to require your team to suit up all week, and in my experience it absolutely isn't what every client wants. My experience is that customers have changed; the corporate office that the 55 year old CFO is used to has no place in a world of Segways, pool tables, Xbox pods and Desk Beer Fridays.

I know what you're thinking; "Nobody can make you wear heels in the rain Sian". You're correct, and in an ideal world I would feel no pressure to do so, but if you want to get ahead you have to up your game and sometimes doing what is right for your career is more beneficial than doing what is right for your aching calves and sore back. I have to be realistic, and the reality is that I need to show that I can walk into a room and walk back out with a contract signed. I'm ambitious to the point of desperation, so you can bet your last Rolo that I'll be at the front of the queue for the cotton slacks at M&S if it's going to get me a gold star from the management team. I just don't understand why this is still a thing that happens to women in 2015. Why are women being turned away from the Cannes Film Festival for wearing flat shoes?

The Wolf of Wall Street is wearing Converse and has a Boxer called Tiff on his office rug. Speaking the same language as your customers is simply a business basic and failing to do so will get you a place alongside Comcast and Ryanair in the "Most Culturally Irrelevant Brands of 2015 Hall of Fame".

Now, off to dry out my laptop ready for another day...

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