As working women in India advance at their careers, office wear for women takes on a new importance.
By Nisha Salim
What do modern working women in India think about grooming for work? Does your sense of style have any impact on your career growth? How do Indian women adapt their personal style and wardrobe as they move up the career ladder?
Office wear for women: What are the popular choices?
Roshni Pereira, 30, is an Executive Assistant to the MD of a media and digital company. She wears ‘business formals’ to work, a term that in some sections of industry seems to refer mainly to Western wear. “I prefer to dress formally. Budget is usually not a constraint, but I do tend to make my decisions based on the work culture or the current office trend,” says Roshni.
Radhika Nair*, 31, Manager of a BPO company, also says that her work wardrobe consists mainly of western formals such as shirts, trousers and skirts. “I am quite conscious about the way I dress for work. My choice is to be strictly formal; flashy ethnic wear is a certain no-no. I wear saris only for cultural days,” reveals Radhika. Roshni too does not wear saris often; she reserves them for special occasions such as Diwali, or other cultural events.
Peeking into Indian women’s work wardrobes
Working women in India, more than men, usually tend to have more issues to deal with when it comes to dressing professionally.
“I think men have it easier, because after all their choices are limited to shirts, trousers and suits. Of course the way these clothes fit and overall grooming definitely make a difference even for men. However, I’d say that women always have more to worry about what they should wear – Indian or Western, accessories, the length of the skirt, whether the clothes are too tight or too loose, etc.” says Radhika.
While it may be fun to have numerous options to choose from, it can also create confusion. Western formals are being increasingly used at the workplace, but many working women in India still wear salwar kameez and saris to work.
…a large number of people feel that what working women in India choose to wear to work has a direct correlation to the sexual harassment that one might be subjected to.
“The dress code at the office is strictly churidar kurtas, collared shirts and trousers or saris. I usually wear collared kurtas along with minimum accessories. The hairdo also plays a role in helping you look professional,” says Anne Paul*, 33, Manager of an outsourcing company in Cochin.
“I wouldn’t say that it is only your dress that makes others take you seriously at work. But I do think that it is important to follow the dress code and to choose the right outfit, especially while meeting clients or holding team briefs and presentations. I am usually mindful of the group that I am working with while choosing my wardrobe,” adds Anne.
Appallingly, according to a survey by Team Lease, a staffing company, quite a large number of people feel that what working women in India choose to wear to work has a direct correlation to the sexual harassment that one might be subjected to. Sadly, many don’t realize that this is one of the common myths of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Office wear for women in senior management
Do the clothes you wear make an impression, especially for senior women managers?
“Clothes tell you a lot about a person, and the way you dress is important especially at senior manager levels. If you cannot dress smartly, how can you work smartly?” wonders Radhika. “Especially at managerial levels, I don’t think one can afford to be a clumsy dresser because it would reflect poorly on your personality. I would prefer not to work with shabbily dressed seniors or peers,” states Radhika candidly.
“The way you dress has an impact on promotions to a certain extent; however it is your professional achievements and competence that are crucial. Your attire and the way you carry yourself helps get positive vibes from colleagues and clients. Saris covey a sense of strong and elegant personality, which is perhaps why people in power and leadership are often seen wearing it. If I were to be placed in a high level job, I would definitely wear formal saris and business formals occasionally,” says Roshni.
As working women in India, have you ever felt out of place at work or felt that you were being judged for your clothes?
Anne feels that saris are not compulsory for women in senior positions. “There are many women entrepreneurs and COO’s who do extremely well, take for instance Kavery Kalanithi, Executive Director of Sun TV Network and Preetha Reddy of Apollo hospitals. You see them in churidhars, and shirts and trousers in all their official pictures. If I get promoted to higher levels, I might perhaps get more brand conscious, but I am not likely to significantly change the way I dress,” says Anne.
“I like the way I dress now, but I might tone down a little as I get older,” says Radhika.
“I focus on dressing smart, without dolling myself up to a level that can distract others or draw negative attention to myself. As I have climbed the career ladder, I have always strived to dress crisper, sharper and more formal,” she adds.
As working women in India, have you ever felt out of place at work or felt that you were being judged for your clothes? How do you select your work clothes? Do share your experiences with us in the comments.
*Photo credit: M Car (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)