Ed. note: Professor Anna Akbari, a fashion and image consultant, recently provided Above the Law with style tips for Biglaw summer associates. Her advice provoked strong reactions around the web. In this post, she offers additional evidence and analysis to support her views on how professional women can achieve feminine feminism in the workplace.
Successful office dress is not about sex appeal. Overt sexiness — sky-high heels, short, tight skirts, low-cut blouses — is frowned upon, and is not rewarded in more conservative work environments like law firms (Peter Glick has studied this extensively). However, looking too masculine is also not rewarded or favored. It’s about finding a balance between the two, and understanding your audience (and remember, a sexy woman could wear a potato sack and still exude sex appeal, if that’s her intention).
Law firms — and judges, in particular — demand a different style of dress than more creative industries. In professional environments, one is always attempting to strike a balance between dressing to fit into the group, and dressing to express one’s self. It’s not one or the other, and the most successful individuals execute that split with impressive nuance. I like to refer to this balancing act as “rebellious compliance”: demonstrate that you belong, but find a way to distinguish yourself. To dismiss your professional appearance as frivolous or inconsequential is simply naive. Substance and style count.
And it counts even more for women, who are held to higher standards and judged more harshly based on appearance. That is an unfortunate reality….