I’ve become very attached to a great big chunky pair of biker boots. I love them so much that I’ve bought a second pair for when the originals inevitably surrender. It turns out that life is much happier when your feet don’t hurt. Who knew? I’ll tell you who: the men. They knew.
The idea that anyone would spend their days in a state of constant discomfort in order to feel more like a long-forgotten version of themselves is a concept that is alien to most men. But the 6pm “Aahh” that reverberates through the nation as too-tight heels are finally kicked off is all-too familiar for many working women.
An old friend poured scorn on my newfound fondness for flat shoes, reminding me of the years when I wouldn’t consider stepping out without a good 5in heel to elevate my power base. The boots do not represent a farewell to pizzazz. Being short and wide, I risk being mistaken for a low wall when I wear a long coat, but I haven’t given up on glamour; my spirit animal is Dolly Parton.
One of my favourite things about being a woman is waking up every morning and knowing that I have the option of making a series of decisions about how I want to appear to the world. Women have a variety of resources at our disposal with which to decorate, disguise and reinvent our aesthetic. There is also the option not to. Our outside doesn’t define who we are, it’s just wrapping paper to keep all the important bits safe.
The workplace, however, does present limitations in expressing oneself visually. Most vocational areas have some sort of uniform. This is also inadvertently true for many members of leadership across colleges. While men in senior positions traditionally have narrow sartorial options, the female wardrobe is not as constrained. But many women at the top end of the pay scale still opt for the same garb: the power suit. Don’t get me wrong, most of these women look fabulous, but I can’t help wondering if they are wearing Melanie Griffith in Working Girl-inspired threads simply because they think they should.
In the past, I adapted my wardrobe to reflect seniority: if I was working with a principal, I would don the full corporate drag; if I was wrangling a roomful of 17-year-old plumbers, I would plump for something more casual. Looking back, I cringe at my insecurity. Why on earth did I believe that I should look like a different person? My skills, knowledge and understanding didn’t drastically alter from one day to the next.
Of course we all should respect the professional environment. Making a personal choice is one thing, but to feel like we are obliged to dress like the love child of Michael Jackson and Alexis Colby in order to project power and rank is outdated nonsense from the times when women were unwelcome in a man’s world.
Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands @MrsSarahSimons