Sophie Morris: Stop bossing women about what to wear

Related Topics

It is our little secret, of course, but every working woman faces the same dilemma when stood in front of her wardrobe each morning: should we dress like a hooker for the office today, or keep it simple with a sombre suit? Would leopard print or pinstripe work best? Fishnets or opaques?

The odds are that women working in a corporate position will go for the latter every time, because they know which side their bread is buttered. So why did no one at the Bank of England predict a furore over the "Dress for Success" workshop it held to instruct female employees how to dress appropriately for work? There are a number of passable excuses for failing to foresee the credit crunch, but who imagined that women bright and steely enough to work in this male-dominated environment would take kindly to any sort of style tips, never mind these retrograde nuggets designed to clarify the difference between dressing like a deal-breaker and a street-walker?

The advice doled out gives the impression that women working in the Bank of England's headquarters have a fairly sloppy, slutty approach to office attire, something I find hard to believe. The no-nos highlighted by the image consultancy company brought in to run the course included white stilettos, overstuffed handbags and ankle chains. The last time I spied an ankle chain was on the beach in Goa. Overstuffed handbags? What do you expect when women need one pair of shoes to sidestep puddles and another (no more than two inches, please) to negotiate business deals?

Recommended instead were matching skirts and shoes, "proper" jewellery (gold, silver and diamonds rather than quirky pendants and chandelier earrings) and make-up.

Naomi Wolf must be having a field day. Yet it is highly irritating, and somewhat depressing, that The Beauty Myth remains such a useful reference book 18 years after it was first published. You can scratch at our glass ceiling, the Bank of England is saying, but only if you play by our rules and present yourself appropriately.

Please. As if their employees don't know this already. What renders such proscriptive dress codes absurd is the idea that women who work in such places do not understand that certain items of clothing and accessories are inappropriate. The specific rules vary from firm to firm and country to country (in the US, peep-toe shoes are considered one titillating step too far), but working in the corporate sector requires a type of professional conformity in which dress plays a part, rightly or wrongly.

The battle for wholesale female emancipation will not be over when women win the right to wear trashy shoes and multiple ear studs in important meetings. Still, whoever planned the Bank's workshop was dumb not to send out a memo to the men at the same time, requesting that they ditch the polyester shirts, get their shoes shined and wear only status watches.

So are the few renegades who show a bit of leg and not enough lipstick in the office rebelling against the status quo, or just slovenly? We could ask the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Teresa May, left, who was spotted in Parliament earlier this week in a snug leather jacket. But her outré dress sense has served her rather well and it would be unsisterly to criticise her. There you have it – we have women's magazines, friends, colleagues, mothers and partners to tell us when we look cheap. We don't need our bosses to weigh into the argument.

Could it be that they just get rather turned on by the idea of a perfectly-coiffed female colleague poured into a pencil skirt, à la Mad Men? Fair cop guv, but Mad Men is set in the 1960s.

The face of suffering? I don't think so...

Sensitive types are always complaining about the nasty pictures that aid and news organisations use to illustrate crises. You know the sort: footage of children with missing limbs and swollen stomachs, which make us feel so guilty about our own relative comfort that we are forced to dial up and make a donation, or switch over to A Place In The Sun and pretend it's not real.

Using a celebrity to publicise certain issues is one way to take the sting out of them, but quite how we're supposed to guess that the Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen is raising awareness of Aids sufferers in Africa with her photoshoot for the March issue of Elle, out today, is beyond me. In one image she is painting in a pair of shorts and a Panama hat, in another leaning over a saucepan of pasta in a perky Nigella-esque pose. If this seems incongruous to the cause, Bündchen points out that "the face of suffering isn't an abstract thing for me" because she grew up in Brazil.

That's the same Brazil which is one of the most unequal places on the planet, where the rich hide from the poor behind dark windows and fortified security gates.

* Usually what is lost in translation is truly lost, and we miss out on whatever has fallen between the shifting tectonic plates of different languages. But the translation of the title of the German book Feuchtgebiete into English as Wetlands has been to everybody's gain.

Charlotte Roche's book explores an 18-year-old woman's close, inquiring and unabashed relationship with her genitalia. Another way to translate Feuchtgebiete would have been Moist Patches. If that makes you squirm, don't read any further.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game