The great pantsuit debate

It's 2008, and the Wall Street Journal has a pressing dilemma for us to ponder: Skirts or pants?


Carol Lloyd
January 18, 2008 4:32AM (UTC)

Now, ladies, a dilemma was recently brought to my attention. It is a dilemma Broadsheet has been sorely neglecting, one that afflicts every professional woman: pantsuits or skirt suits?

Before you accuse me of secretly enrolling in correspondence courses from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on "biblical womanhood," I'll have you know I've only been reading the foremost business newspaper in the nation. The Wall Street Journal has a follow-up story to an earlier Style piece about proper business attire. The first article focused equally on men and women's dress and mostly avoided egregious advice for women -- except for a sidebar of pointers from a business-etiquette consultant that included this chestnut: "The higher the woman climbs on the corporate ladder, the more light-colored suits she can and should wear (to be less intimidating)."

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But the flood of comments from readers with their own rules of proper professional dress inspired a follow-up. Apparently, one guy confessed that he never hires women who wear pants to interviews because it's "a step down," and women who wear skirts and pantyhose make better employees. (The WSJ also helpfully explained that the man wanted to remain anonymous lest his comments be construed as sexist. Ya think?)

OK, so any freakazoid yearning for ye olden days -- when men presumed it was their God-given right to see women's ankles -- will cling to his antiquated notions. But what struck me as bizarre was the Wall Street Journal's willingness to follow up on the comments with a poll titled "The Great Pantsuit Debate." Of course, many of the comments in response to the poll are intelligent, suggesting that a) it's a stupid question, b) women should wear pants if they want to make sure men don't ogle their legs, and c) if an employer is such a pig, you may not want to work for him anyway.

But my gut response was that, in 2008, WSJ shouldn't even dignify the debate. After all, people read this paper looking for explicit and implicit rules of professional life. Aside from a few oddballs -- be they male or female -- who was seriously going to vote for skirts? Then, to my dismay, I clicked on the poll results. Pants were winning, but only by an anorexic margin. Clearly, the great pantsuit debate is alive and well.

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I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. I'm not into torn jeans, cleavage or butt cracks at the workplace (unlike some of the younguns I know), but other than that I've turned a blind eye to formal dress codes -- even when it applies to those I've hired. In fact, the first time I ever conducted a formal interview process I ended up hiring a young man who came to the interview with the hem of his pants not sewn but stapled. He was perfect for the job.


Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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