Buying fashion: Business (not so) casual | Columns

As a journalism major entering my junior year, I have rarely dressed business casual. Business majors have had to persevere through this dress code a lot longer than I have, but it is no secret that many students have little motivation to follow this dress code. I got too comfortable with my daily loungewear look, so I was eager about my business casual venture.

Public speaking is a class that is made mandatory for most UT students. I, like many others, am a very nervous public speaker. To help boost my confidence, I wanted to embody a girl boss in a fashionable yet modest business casual outfit.

Before investing in business clothes, I wanted to verify I knew what appropriate garments to buy. I sat and scrolled on Pinterest for hours with the intent of finding outfit inspiration. I got distracted as one does on Pinterest, but figured I needed a good pair of dress pants, some button-downs, maybe a blazer and comfortable loafers.

My jaw hit the floor when I started looking at the price tags for these clothes. Who knew dress pants were so expensive? Looking at local thrift stores in Knoxville, Tennessee, crossed my mind, but I was pressed for time. I had to go on an archaeological excavation in H&M but eventually found what I needed.

To prepare for my speech, I planned out my outfit and watched my vision come to life in front of me. I felt like a woman who stepped off the streets of New York and into a college classroom. With black slacks, loafers and a white blouse, I stepped onto the streets of Knoxville and strutted my way toward class.

The outfit, of course, did not cure all of my nerves, but I felt very confident in myself as a student and businesswoman. Based on the requirements for dress, I soon noticed the dress code felt more business professional than casual. My speech went off without a hook and I headed home feeling great. As the week went on, I was once again sitting in public speaking with a loungewear look on. Then, an announcement by my professor hit my ears and jolted my brain.

While my professor supported every student, they also discussed the dress code in further detail and aimed it at the women in the class. I felt as if I was back in high school when things like “no bare shoulders” and “no knees showing” were stated. As a woman who grew up in America, I have learned that my body should not serve as a distraction for others. However, none of my teachers discussed the wild idea that women are not responsible for the way that others react to our bodies.

Boiling with an all too familiar feeling of frustration, I felt powerless. Notes about my business-professional outfit being too revealing did not help calm that feeling. The need for a business dress code is understandable, but some professors need to further educate themselves on what that dress code looks like in 2022.

More so, the corporate world needs to reevaluate its dress code. Many do not have the time and money to present themselves as professionals. Eliminating this exclusive dress code would open job opportunities to a vast population. Not to mention, most working professionals spent the past two years working from home. I doubt everyone chose professional attire over comfortable loungewear.

We live in a world where high school dropouts become billionaires and workplace fashion revolves around personal style. My business casual outfit, truly business professional, affected the outcome of my speech shown through my grade. I was confronted with the double standard workplace attire created between different genders. Males in my class were awarded for showing up in khakis. But, when I showed up with my shoulders out, I was told my outfit was too inappropriate.

The 1950s might have required strict business attire, but women in the 50s were housewives, not CEOs. The year is 2022 — glass ceilings are shattering across the country and so should the double standards that follow workplace attire. Women everywhere, myself included, should not be seen as unprofessional for showing their skin. The world needs to pay attention to voices instead of bodies.


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