Oh, the terrible trials of women in the workplace!

A friend (see his comments below) sent along this amusing article from the Wall Street Journal’s Fashion Journal (not available without a subscription, so I am quoting at great length):

“In her corporate bio photo, Karen Firestone’s dark blue Akris suit is trim but not snug. Her dark sweater displays her collar bones but no decolletage. She is the image of a successful woman in finance, whose clothes venture neither too far nor too near.

“Ms. Firestone is one of the chief rainmakers for Aureus Asset Management, an independent Boston money manager that is responsible for investing $250 million of other people’s cash. So when she steps out in public she knows that what she wears becomes the embodiment of her company. “I feel that I have a responsibility to project the right image,” Ms. Firestone says.

“In an age where the rules of professional dressing are constantly shifting, and women have much more freedom than in decades past, there is still one area where there are more unspoken rules than ever: finance. While their male counterparts may sport “business casual” khakis, many women on Wall Street feel they must toe a careful and conservative line. They often feel obliged to dress up in order to command authority. These women still struggle not to be defined by traditionally feminine pastimes, like dressing well.

“The result: They don’t talk about fashion openly, for fear of appearing frivolous.

“Ms. Firestone, for instance, was nervous about discussing her wardrobe because it might distract attention from her firm’s accomplishments. Several women in financial services flatly declined to discuss what they wear to work. (It’s worth noting, though, that all of the men I approached spoke eagerly about their wardrobes.)

“These women have leapt many hurdles, the least of which is getting dressed in the morning. But the old, scripted uniform of dark suits and high collars isn’t quite sufficient for handling today’s wide range of clients, in far-flung locales, on any given day of the week. It’s tricky to adopt a varied wardrobe while still commanding the respect of hedge-fund managers and major investors. Just try shopping for a power evening gown.

“Casual events often call for chinos and an Izod for men. But women who arrive in golf clothes are likely to strike the wrong note. This came home for Lisa Tames, a banker at Citigroup in New York who favors practical looks from Ellen Tracy and Ann Taylor, when she recently attended a conference. The dress code was casual, but a female colleague raised a few eyebrows by wearing slim green capri pants. “It wasn’t projecting her ability in her field,” recalls Ms. Tames, who says she rarely dresses down.

“It isn’t clear to me that a guy in khakis looks any more accomplished than a woman in capri pants. But I understand, as Ms. Tames did, the unspoken rule that a woman in finance should be more dressed up than the men she works with — especially when those men report to her.

“Remember the Bows?

“Such caution is understandable. After all, the fashion industry failed these women for decades. Remember the “ladies’ ties” of the 1980s: silk neck bows that were a feminine interpretation of the men’s cravat? In the ’90s, women in a range of fields were able to move beyond that, ditching the awkward briefcases, donning pants. Designers like Elie Tahari began offering suits that actually looked feminine yet professional. And it went on. First came the red suit, then the pink one, thanks to executive trendsetters like Jill Barrad, former Mattel chief executive whose career flourished, then floundered, on the Barbie doll.

“By the turn of the millennium, some people began hopefully to speak of ‘girl power’ — but probably none of them worked on Wall Street.

“On Wall Street, it’s still baby steps, as women like Leslie Rahl can attest. Ms. Rahl, president of Capital Market Risk Advisors in New York, ran the derivatives business for Citibank for 10 years in the 1980s; it was she and her colleagues who called in the SEC when Orange County, Calif., was going under. And she recalls the old standard, mannish suit-with-a-bow. “Many of my colleagues wore those stupid little women’s ties,” says Ms. Rahl, who says she never owned one.”

My friend wrote:

“Once, there was bra-burning — now, there’s khaki-hating.  Is this what the revolution has come to?  To my mind, it’s not only that the argument is so myopic — but also that it illustrates the boundless deluge of worries and imagined hardships that feminism imposes on women. Is there a single aspect of women’s lives, no matter how picayune, in which leftist feminism doesn’t perceive some sexist burden against women?  Yes, men do some things differently. But don’t we all, men and women alike, experience daily hurdles and challenges that are simply part of being a human being?  Sometimes I have trouble picking out the right tie for an important business meeting (bowtie in DC, necktie in NYC).  A client once ribbed me because my wingtips weren’t shined.  Women have no such worries.  Does that warrant page-one space in the Wall Street Journal to bemoan some insidious national injustice?  Here’s a better question: are business colleagues supposed to take seriously someone who feels ‘khaki bigotry’ or is, literally, unable to dress themselves properly?”