Appearance Counts: Women at Work
I recently saw a live jazz performance, and was distracted by the fact that one of the band’s two women had what I considered to be a “bad haircut.”
When I mentioned this to my husband and daughter, they dismissed it as internalized oppression (meaning that I had absorbed and was applying the outside world’s twisted judgments and exceptions for women).
Of course, they were completely right — but it’s also true that appearance counts at work. Research has shown that people who are considered attractive are:
- Regarded more highly,
- Hired more quickly, and
- Paid more than their less-spectacular-looking peers.
This is more true, and more to grapple with, for women than for men.
The Female Dress Code Conundrum
In every work setting, there’s a standard uniform for men.
In jazz, that uniform is a button-downed shirt, slacks, and shoes. If he’s wearing that and is well-groomed, a jazzman’s clothes become almost invisible.
Not so for jazzwomen, because there is no “neutral setting” for a woman’s appearance. On the bandstand — as in the office — there’s a very narrow range of what’s acceptable, so women have to carefully weigh details like:
- Pants or a skirt (and if so, what length)?
- Flats or heels (and if so, how high?)
- Make-up or not (and if so, how much)?
- Jewelry or not (and if so, how flashy)?
And money complicates this already-complex calculus, because women in jazz, like most men in jazz and most people nowadays, are not well paid. My hair stylist — Wendy Smith, owner of Brooklyn’s Salon Bohemia — would have been laughably out of my reach when I was a jazz singer and could only shop at Filene’s Basement.
I used to joke, back then, about the impossibility of trying to look glamorous when you had the cheapest clothes in the room. But when you think about how much appearance counts in communicating your value to an audience, it really isn’t funny.
Moral? Darned if I Know!
As a Myers-Briggs Judger, I love to wrap up my blog posts with a neat little moral, or three-point plan for action. But in this case, I’m stymied about what, exactly, these thoughts suggest.
Keep thinking and observing? Definitely. Fight that inner sexism? For sure.
Ladies, get a good haircut?