Do we really need to be talking about necklines again… apparently yes we do!

So, this post is a bit after the fact but I didn’t want to interrupt our guest blog series to bring you this “breaking news” (HA!).  By now, some of you have read this story.  If you haven’t, it’s an interesting read and you’ll surely have something to say when you have read it.

I want to take this opportunity to share my opinion.

As a business consultant who advises people and organizations on developing a positive professional presence, I feel that each of us should dress in a way that:

  • Commands authority with staff and clients
  • Provides a sense of approachability
  • Inspires confidence in others

I also believe that as business professionals, we need to make sure that we give our stakeholders every reason to see us as the credible experts that we are.  So, with respect to Premier Clark, let me start by saying that I have no reason to believe that she lacks the essential leadership and decision-making skills to fulfill her role, and that I do believe that comments made about her attire were aimed at diminishing her credibility as a leader (not cool).  Having said that, I also feel that cleavage should not be present in a conservative environment (like the provincial legislature).

One of my main messages has always been that men and women need to understand and be aware of their body shape so that they can dress accordingly. This is true of both professional and casual settings.  Here are a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean:

A plus-sized man wears a pair of dress pants and dress shirt that are clearly too tight for him.

  • In any work environment (casual or conservative-formal), overly form-fitting pants may be viewed as a distraction to others.  When you can see a clear muffin top as well as ALL “features” below the belt-line, it looks unprofessional… not to mention uncomfortable and lacking in style.  This is also not sending the right message to clients, that the individual takes time and effort to manage himself.  In the eyes of many people, time and effort to manage yourself might equal time and effort to manage your client.  You get the point…

A tall, lean woman, who is well-endowed, is wearing a skirt that is about 5-6 inches above her knee and a fitted knit turtleneck sweater.

  • If this person works in a formal work environment, her attire – while not too revealing – would probably be considered inappropriate.  Again, this clothing choice would be distracting to others and would most definitely not send the right message.  “Why does one need to show THAT much leg in a conservative work environment?” might be what some people would think.

In both cases, these looks are equally unprofessional.  Now, this brings us to a different point.  Both examples above outline unprofessional attire but you’re probably thinking that the female in this example would get more flak or be viewed much more unfavourably than the man.  And, unfortunately, you would probably be right.  Not many of us are surprised by the double standard that remains in place to this day.

Do women have a rougher ride than men do when it comes to their professional attire? Yeah.  Is it fair? No, not at all.  However, even if we lived in a world where women and men were treated equally, would I think that women should be able to show cleavage in a conservative work environment? Nope.

My main point on this is simple.  I think that conservative professional attire means that you shouldn’t be distracted by a man’s pants being too tight or by a woman’s blouse or dress showing cleavage. The same guidelines should apply to both groups of people.

But back to Premier Clark; by simply wearing a dress or blouse with a scoop neckline or adding a tank/cami under her v-neck, Premier Clark would have avoided the silly comments that came her way and there would be no national media coverage on this issue.  Think about it… if she wore the same thing but had an inch more material covering that tiny (yet somehow news-worthy) line of cleavage, nobody would be talking; she would look just as attractive as she does in that  pic, and we’d be hearing about the political issue of the day.

The alternative to omitting cleavage from a conservative professional environment doesn’t mean that one needs to dress like a man.   Check out one of my past posts on necklines.  These certainly don’t look masculine… they are actually quite stylish.

Folks, use this as a learning opportunity.  While our substance should be at the forefront of any business situation, how we present ourselves is a critical component to success.  Don’t give them (anyone) any reason to doubt how smart, competent, dynamic and driven you are!

I’d like to finish off by saying that while I completely believe what I’ve shared above, there are some great points that I do agree with on this other opinion post.  Again, I realize that there are silly issues that female leaders face that their male counterparts don’t but, as you’ve read, that’s not what I’ve addressed here.

I encourage you to read these couple of articles and form your own intelligent opinion.  If you’d like to share it, please feel free to do so.