Dress Codes

[I'm contemplating including in my book stories about how the world for women has changed since I entered the workforce in the mid-1960's.  Here is one story.]

In the late 1960’s, proper office attire for women was still dresses and stockings (and preferably high-heeled shoes).  Remember, this was a time when jobs ads in newspapers were still listed as Jobs for Men and Jobs for Women.  Yes, 21st century women, the world was as depicted in TV’s Mad Men.  But things were changing. 

In 1970 Goldie Hawn – the “giggling dumb blonde (sic) of Laugh-In TV fame – made news by wearing a pantsuit, or more accurately by wearing half of one.  Miniskirts were common by 1970, but pantsuits were still forbidden in most white collar workplaces and up-scale entertainment venues.  Hawn, wearing just such an outfit, was turned away at a posh NYC nightspot – for appearing in pants.  So, she took off the pants, passed them to the coat checker, and went into the club wearing only the top – which passed muster as a dress!

At that time I was working as a lowly computer operator despite having done higher level work in New York at AT&T.  The operator position was one of the few jobs where the employment agency could even get me an interview.  (When I casually mentioned to the agent that my husband had similar experience to mine, her eyes popped open.  She said, “Send him here; we can find him a job!”)

My male colleagues in the small, staid engineering firm in Chicago talked with awe and some fear about local feminist rallies.  They were taken aback by the feminist button I wore on my jacket.  This attitude was reflected in the dress code, which forbade pantsuits for women.  So, since I was just biding my time before starting grad school and was amused and inspired by Hawn’s bravado, I decided to act.  I had such an outfit and would wear it to work the next day.  If challenged, I planned to take off the pants, as Hawn had done.

Unfortunately for my star turn on the corporate catwalk, the firm’s treasurer overheard me sharing my plan with my women friends in the lunch room.  Within an hour, the human relations officer issued a new dress policy – women could wear appropriately dignified slacksuits (the tortured prevailing euphemism for the new attire).  And we did.

One thought on “Dress Codes

  1. My professional library experiences with this issue began in 1975. Dress codes were all unwritten but quite strict and pant “suits” were allowed for women, but since this was never defined I translated that to slacks and a color-coordinated blouse of some sort and got by. Jackets always seemed way to warm! Slowly other people began to interpret the unwritten rules liberally also. I was told very clearly, by one of my supervisors, never to wear jeans to work and never have until just the last couple of years, although I always thought that what full professors were wearing to work was probably always just fine for librarians.

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