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Fashioning Professionalism

As the next generation is entering the rat race, there is a lot of discourse around workwear attire. Many topics, revolving around what is professional or appropriate to wear in certain industries. Today’s society has defined professionalism beyond one’s conduct in a workplace instead also dictating physical appearance and material possessions. Wearing colorful clothing, or too tight of a shirt is deemed as risqué, loud, showy, childish, etc. there’s nothing wrong with tailored suits, polished shoes, and conservative hairstyles however, these standards become the measure of professionalism suddenly creating pressure to conform to a specific aesthetic, marginalizing individuals who do not fit the mold.


From a simple google research I have created a guide for being “Professional”:


Appearance:

  • Neat and tidy attire appropriate for the workplace environment

  • Clean and well-groomed appearance, including maintained hair, nails, and personal hygiene

  • Clothing that fits well and is free of wrinkles or stains

  • Minimal use of accessories or jewelry that could be distracting or inappropriate

  • Adherence to any specific dress code policies established by the organization

Behavior:

  • Respectful and courteous communication with colleagues, clients, and superiors

  • Punctuality and reliability in meeting deadlines and attending meetings

  • Professional demeanor, including maintaining composure under pressure and refraining from gossip or office politics

  • Active listening skills and the ability to collaborate effectively with others

  • Accountability for one's actions and willingness to take ownership of mistakes

  • Adaptability and flexibility in responding to changes or challenges in the work environment


Out of this list, the standards on appearance seem to be the only one that limits a person’s respect. What I mean is, they’re the only guidelines that seem to step on the coattails of creativity and individuality closing off a certain amount of freedom. While the guidelines on behavior opens the workplace to a free space to still allow creativity and acceptance of individuality. Now I’m not saying we should allow workplaces to have fashion with no bounds. I am asking why can’t I be allowed to have long nails, chunky jewelry, and colorful clothes to the point that it doesn't affect my work? Is there perhaps a misconception towards one who does take on this appearance? (a loaded question for you to ponder)


(Outfits appropriate for work place standards but perhaps not social standards?)


Furthermore, society's obsession with material possessions has created the assumption that luxury items or austerity equates to success or a certain personality. Making us do the exact thing we all have been taught not to do, judge a book by its cover. True professionalism should be above appearances and material possessions and instead, rooted in qualities such as integrity, competence, and respect for others. 


I’m tired of listening to recruiters talk about what one should wear in an interview, so as not to be judged in a certain manner. I’ve had medical school interview training where they have asked the interviewees not to wear anything different or loud otherwise it may hinder their application. A medical school recruiter told a story about an interviewee coming in wearing a necklace that resembled a spiderweb. And although the interviewee had an amazing résumé and background, the medical board of the school joked about how all they could remember was the spider web necklace she was wearing. The recruiter goes on to end the story by saying it’s best to fit in with the rest until the interviews are over and let you work stand alone. 


This may be brash of me to say but you are not fit to be an interviewer if you blatantly judge an applicant not by their character or accomplishments, but by their appearance and materialistic possessions. To tell someone to fit, the mold is stripping them of what makes them who they are. Their identity.


It’s easier to say all this, than to do something about it in this man’s world. Where if you wanna move up the ladder in the corporate world you have to please the system. Where if you do have a different outward appearance you are laughed at or ridiculed till rendered submissive. So perhaps this is a message to the future bosses and CEOs creating the next generation workplace. Create an environment that celebrates diversity in all forms where individuals feel comfortable, expressing their authentic. Whether it’s through their experiences, hobbies, or cultural background. (but I guess greed and money has its way eventually)


True professionalism lies not in conformity but in authenticity. Being “accountable for one's actions and willingness to take ownership” or “Respectful and courteous” or “respond to changes or challenges in the work environment” embraces individuality and recognizes the inherent value that each person brings to the table, so should the standards of a “professional appearance.”


Clothes are the second skin to humans. To a certain degree it deserves the same respect.


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