How to Dress Professional As A Gentlewoman

Years ago everyone dressed gender-appropriately and wore business suits to job interviews. Those were the days of Mad Men power suits, where women wore pencil skirts flaunting their hourglass figure, uncomfortable girdles cinching at the waist with short, cropped jackets accentuating a small torso (or the illusion of one) and gloves to round out the look. On the other hand, the men wore uniformed grey flannel suits with a pleated trousers and a hat to complete the look. This is what was needed and expected when interviewing for a job.

Conformity (and policing gender roles) was the way of those days. There was no leeway for individuality when it came to business attire. You had to conform to those gender-appropriate rules. But it’s 2015, and nothing about you says conformity. And while over the years the dress code for interviews is less conservative, as a masculine-identified woman your anxiety is at an all-time high.

You’re not just a lesbian, You’re androgynous. Stud. Boi. Maybe FTM. Basically, you’re a gentlewoman. You’ve been mistaken for a man with some regularity. A person calls you, ‘Sir’, and you may or not correct him/her (depending on your mood). You’ve been given weird stares or you hear the whispers when you walk in the women’s bathroom. A bit of awkward ensues, and you never can get used to it.

But this is who you are. You’ve never denied that, but you don’t know how the person interviewing you will take you dressing masculine. All you want to do is live the American dream. You’ve got your degree(s). Now it’s time to get the job that will help you make that dream a reality. While you know that America has made great strides in LGBTQ equality, you also know that there’s no federal law that protects LGBTQ individuals from employment discrimination.

Your resume, education and connections have gotten you the interview. It is your time to shine, but you do not know what to wear. As a gentlewoman, you want to put your best foot forward. You have too many questions in your head. Does putting my best foot forward is girly up with a woman’s suit or dress? Would you feel comfortable in that outfit? When the last time you tried on a dress or skirt? Is it easier to just be yourself?

All of these questions are swirling around your mind. You know that interviews are about first impressions. Your appearance is being judged as soon as you walk in the room, but your confidence is as well. You have to understand that your education, accolades and experience aren’t only things that are judged. The interviewer is also judging how well you will work with the existing culture dynamic.

Therefore, you should be yourself. You have to be completely comfortable with yourself. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Why fit in when you were born to STAND OUT!” Let your confidence exude through your personal style. Your appearance should not only show that you’re taking this interview opportunity seriously, but you will fit in nicely within the company’s culture (or not). The ‘not’ is important. You do not want to work for a company where you have to live in duality (basically a lie). You want to work for a company that respect you as an employee and as a human.

You’ve decided to be yourself when you walk in that interview. So what should you wear? In a recent interview with Mary Going of Saint Harridan, she acknowledges the difficulty of finding the right ‘power suit’ for interviews. She states: “Most of us have spent much of our lives wearing casual clothes in professional settings because that was the only option we had access to. It would have been a huge cultural leap for us to wear a matched suit with dress shirt and tie to work so we got away with an Oxford and khakis or maybe a spiffy sweater As a result, our perspective is skewed toward the dressed-down end of the spectrum. Well now it’s time to kick it up a notch!”   

bow tie

As gentlewomen we should have more options in professional dress. Maybe we do, but we haven’t delve in them as much as business casual dress. It’s about learning through trial and error. Because of our women’s bodies (with breasts, hips, and butts) we have to find a LGBTQ-friendly tailor that can tailor to your body. It’s about creating a look that fit YOU individually. Depending on the industry you’re in and the companies you’re interviewing for, buy a few outfits that are appropriate, professional and comfortable because you maybe asked to return for a second or third interview. But if you cannot afford a different suit, change your accessories such as a  tie, belt, shirt and shoes.

We often wonder what’s the official do’s and don’ts of business code. According to Mary Going of Saint Harridan there’s a difference between business dress and business casual:

Saint Harridan Blue SuitThe OFFICIAL official requirements of masculine business dress are a dark colored matched-suit (trousers and jacket matching navy, black or a very dark charcoal fabric), a white dress shirt (broadcloth or pinpoint fabric), and a tie. If you want to get technical down to the toes, your socks should be the same color as your suit, but a share lighter. Of course, this varies by workplace and region. New York and other East Coast cities are likely to stick more closely to these guidelines, but there are more options as you move west and south across the states. Our  best advice is to look around you and see how the rules are being extended in your workplace. Are there more suit color and textile options? Charcoals? Sands? Even some light blues? How about pinstripes and windowpanes? In many business environments you’ll find there is some leeway beyond the dark suit mandate. Where there is some variety in shirt colors, you can start with the basic business five: white, off-white, light blue, French blue and pink. Of course, the safest route is always to err on the more formal side when you are entering an unknown situation, but when you know there is some flexibility in color and pattern, we say, mix it up! You deserve variety.

Meet Ace (Allison Graham) as a sought-after stylist who has a keen eye for detail & creates versatile ensembles.
Meet Ace (Allison Graham) as a sought-after stylist who has a keen eye for detail & creates versatile ensembles.Check her out here.

Business causal gives more options to step into. Unmatched suits are allowed, as are a greater variety of suit fabric patterns and colors. Your favorite jacket with a starched collared shirt and a pair of khakis will pass the test in many business casual work places. So will stripes, hounds tooth, windowpanes and checks. So play with them! Wear a jacket, dress shirt, and open collar if you life. Or throw a little charm with your favorite bow tie. Dress shirts without a jacket work as well, with or without a tie, but know the difference between a dress shirt and a sports shirt. (Saints, be advised: just because a shirt has buttons, doesn’t mean it’s a dress shirt.) Sport shirts are more billowy and less formal. When you tuck them in – which you must do, even in a business casual settings – they balloon out and look sloppy. Dress shirts are made to fit your torso more closely, which is precisely why they have not traditionally fit people with breasts and hips. (Don’t worry, we made that problem history with our quasi-custom dress shirt design.) Business casual still requires a dress shirt, but you can add other fabrics, like pinpoint Oxford, end on end, and twill, to your shirt rack. (For more on how to choose your dress shirts, check out these posts on our blog. Again, look around you to see where the lines of casual and formal have been drawn in your workplace. The best part of knowing the rules is getting to choose when to follow them, when to break them and when to make them your own! Nothing is sacred but you.

You can follow all of these steps, but you have to comfortable in your own skin. You’re a gentlewoman, a woman of discriminating tastes in fashion, culture, politics and women. Your employer should know who they are hiring. You do not want to get hired under false pretenses and have to try to keep up the facade. That duality can become overwhelming and can affect your job performance. But when you’re comfortable with yourself, you will make the great first impression with your individuality, style, charisma and knowledge, and you will get the job.

The gentlewomen of Saint Harridan wants to encourage you with this: Thanks to the nation of gender warriors, risk takers and people who just can’t abide being anyone but their truest self. Everything is changing. There is more room than ever to explore gender not just in social settings but in professional (settings) as well. And every time you wear a suit and tie to work, you make it even easier for the rest of us. So, thank you.

Yes, thank you for being YOU. There’s more important than you so love yours.

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