Dress Codes as Privilege

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

April 10, 2017


Categories: The Balancing Act

A few days ago…

I’m putting on my gifted black skirt. I’m eyeing my favorite black shoes. I put on a shirt I bought, new, a few years ago, buttoned and collared. I grab my trusty black and purple argyle vest out of my closet. I am privileged to have this opportunity. I am dressing for an important meeting. I am dressing to impress.

I bought these clothes, the ones purchased, at mid-level stores, affordable to my budget. None of these clothes came direct from a thrift store. The gifted skirt was from my sister, and sports the name Calvin Klein. I am wearing the embodiment of privilege.

I sillily consider this my school marm outfit. There is something 1880s about the shoes, that I adore. Even though this outfit doesn’t say “power suit”, it is a power outfit for me. Even though the skirt is now too large, and my shirt needs a good iron to it. None of it would be considered, probably, in fashion for the current trends.

But, I sit in the embodiment of privilege. I have many clothes to choose from in my closet. I have a range of colors and styles. I have dresses and more button up shirts. I have skirts, some from thrift stores, but they always get compliments. I have a range of shoes, and even one pair of knee-high boots. All this choice screams privilege.

I am white. My husband and I are college educated. We live a middle class life, even if it’s not as squarely middle class as we’d prefer. We own our home. We own multiple cars. Privilege. Privilege. Privilege.

I am so aware of my privilege, I am actually shocked when others aren’t aware of theirs. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up economically privileged. Maybe it’s because I didn’t feel as if life was handed to me on a silver platter. Maybe it’s because I’m fairly intuitive, and I can feel the pain others have gone through and I know suffering occurs in our world, sometimes, often, needlessly. So, I am actually even angry when others exert their privilege and they disguise it for the greater good.

Where expressing privilege is a problem

I was sharing this topic with a friend, today. She shared another way we have to be aware of how we dress. She recently began volunteering for a group that provides food and toiletries to homeless women. She was told, very explicitly to be aware of her privilege and hide it when volunteering. She had to dress down, jeans and a t-shirt. She had to remove jewelry, even her wedding ring. She had to appear plain and nonthreatening so as not to incite unnecessary jealousy from those she was sent to serve.

Part of my calling is to raise awareness of how others live in this world. By raising our awareness, we can take better stock of where we are individually to justify where we want to be collectively. And, when we are a part of groups that sit in a corner of privilege within a place that suffers, and then we ask attendees to showcase their privilege, we create a space that is NOT inclusive of all those we hope to attract and serve.

Are you aware of your privilege and when you might ask others to showcase theirs, whether they want to or not?

More perspectives

The Unspoken Messages of Dress Codes: Uncovering Bias and Power

You Call It Professionalism; I Call It Oppression in a Three-Piece Suit “In office environments especially, standards of professionalism are the law of the land – and they reinforce social hierarchies that value white maleness above all.”

And, “Dress codes make room to turn a lot of “isms” into policies – especially since typical standards of professional dress are, at the core, racist, sexist, classist, and xenophobic.”

Dress Codes: Myth versus Fact


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