It’s oppressively hot this week. A scorcher. Another record-breaker in a year unfavorably full of cruel weather. Some of you will be able to go about your work day in “summer business casual,” but for others, you’ll soldier on in full battle gear. And for many women in our unfairly unfashionably maligned city, that means pantyhose.
Though sales of pantyhose have been on the decline since the mid-nineties, there are still offices that require them for women’s dress year-round. The excuse normally given for such a dress code is that they give the wearer a “polished, professional look.” As they are more precisely termed actual underwear, I find it a bit vulgar to be told by anyone other than my mother that I should be wearing pantyhose. Wear hose when the garment requires it – something form-fitting and unlined, for example – but with a knee-length lined skirt? If one is well-groomed there should be no need.
And in disgusting 100-degree weather, there is no need to wear pantyhose other than to cover what is bare – which implies that it’s wrong to bare your legs in an office. Why? I’m by no means a radical feminist, but I can’t stand rules with no discernible logic, and especially not rules that are based on perceptions rather than facts. After all, it’s not so long ago that business women in this city were told never to wear pantsuits, only suits with skirts. What was the logic there?
Let’s step back for some history, a fun fashion tangent on clothing codes, before we shred more hose. For example, high heels. Did you know high heels started out as a male fashion necessity?
Back when everyone rode horses as the main means of transportation, heeled shoes were essential for men. Women just followed their trend. Eventually men gave up wearing high heeled shoes everyday when the Enlightenment kicked in with radical ideas about equality – male equality, that is. Women kept on wearing them, and we began to fetishize them. Fascinating.
Hose? Everyone used to wear some form of high stockings or tights. Eventually, men discarded them when long trousers became the norm. Women kept wearing them, and when skirts began to rise, they were deemed necessary to hide bare legs – because heaven forbid a man sees your bare ankles, let alone knees! As the decades passed and skirts got higher and higher, it was harder to hide the garters that kept stockings up. So, the invention of the pantyhose – stockings and underwear together at last!
Problems? Well, there are several health hazards with wearing pantyhose, exacerbated in the summer. Not to completely disgust you, but because of nylon’s tight non-absorbency the medical issues noted can range from just inconvenient (like red chafing thighs) to downright unpleasant (like urinary tract and fungal infections… how delightfully polished and professional!). Easily ripped, snagged, ruined just by putting them on – they also are certainly not economical, and definitely not green.
But, they do hide imperfections and give the torso and leg a clean line under garments. I will agree to that. In the winter they can be a help with warming you up – but then winter tights can be made in more forgiving, breathable fabrics like cotton or wool. There are also actual medical pantyhose for dealing with varicose veins and circulation problems.
Ugh. Can’t wait for that day.
I did a bit of informal polling of the WLDC authors and came up with some reactions to summer office dress requirements of hose in DC. Several women refuse to work in offices with such dress codes, especially a year-round hose requirement. Erin even noted once being required to wear knee-highs with pants (Knee-highs?! There can be no logical reason for that. None. God forbid some senator sees your bare ankle. Shocking!).
But Tiffany won the hose horror story round-up:
“Several jobs ago, I worked at an office where the Executive Director was so crazy and concerned about appearances that if you were pregnant, you had to produce an actual note from your doctor to excuse you from the pantyhose requirement.”
On the flip side, Rachel’s mother raised her to wear hose whenever the occasion called for “classing things up.” Rebecca J noted, and quite rightly too, that “Americans have become sloppy dressers and will go out of the house in pretty much anything (jorts, airbrushed wolf t-shirts, booty shorts, scrunchies, etc.) A little ‘guidance”‘on appropriate and logical attire could be a good thing for us all.” I’m completely on board with that, as long as it has a logical basis. I just can’t see the logic behind pantyhose in summer.
Such guidelines are also no indication that the wearer will still manage to interpret them with a “polished, professional look” – I see plenty of women wearing hose in line with a dress code only to look completely outdated (white hose is still a scourge on Capitol Hill). I also see plenty of sophisticated women in DC wearing suits and dresses with no hose – baring their legs and yet still managing to look professional. It also obviously varies by field as well – those of us in the design fields can get away with or are even required to be a little more daring in our dress, while some in IT need to dress for comfort and crawling around with cables.
The WLDC men wondered if the pantyhose requirement was equivalent to the full suit requirement for men. I’m very curious to get your reactions on that. Ever since men’s dress was codified to the classic coat and trousers – over a hundred years ago! – there’s been very little change in the basic male office uniform. But just as a hosiery rule is no guarantee a women will be made sophisticated by wearing them, a suit rule is no guarantee a man will look professional. There are a lot of ill-fitting suits in this town.
So, any summer office dress code horror stories inspired by the pantyhose brigade? Think you can beat Tiff’s? Sound off.