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Fashion Statement

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

If you don't want to be treated like an object, don't dress like one.

I'm sitting at Coffee Bean in Los Angeles – it's a hot day -- and as I look around I notice that most of the women in the coffee shop and the surrounding streets seem to have forgotten to get dressed. Either that or they're shopping in the wrong department.

What's going on?

The Wall Street Journal recently printed a piece highlighting the difficulties that successful businesswomen encounter trying to mentor their younger colleagues or subordinates. These new workers seem completely unreceptive to advice on how to dress. They seem completely unconscious that to represent themselves in a businesslike fashion requires attention to how they're attired.

One of the primary and most basic tenets of the feminist movement was that women wanted to be treated as people, not objects. This is a noble goal and certainly a Jewish goal. But the Torah adds the important corollary to this desire. In order to be treated as a person you must dress like one. In other words, if you don't want to be treated like an object, don't dress like one.

Study after study shows that women who wear provocative clothing in the workplace will not be treated as equal business partners. They will not be taken seriously.

The easy way out is to blame men. The mature attitude is to take responsibility for oneself. Isn't that true empowerment? Women who want to be treated as peers must show that they take themselves seriously.

If a male partner in a prominent law firm arrived at the office in a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts, his employment future would be called into question. His clients would be less confident in his ability to represent them appropriately.

Likewise, if a female CEO leads a meeting in a low-cut blouse and miniskirt, her words will not be treated with the gravity they deserve. It's not sexism. It's reality.

This is not just true in the workplace but in all situations and relationships. We communicate who we are in many non-verbal ways. We communicate some of our goals through body language and other subtle clues.

Perhaps today's young woman doesn't realize what the message she is broadcasting. Perhaps she's just following the prevailing fashion. Or perhaps she's just not focused on being taken seriously as a thoughtful human being, which would be a real shame.

Deeper lifelong relationships of all sorts -- marriages, friendships, job-related partnerships -- are based on internal character traits like kindness, loyalty or honesty.

But the outside can be so loud it blocks the interior from being seen.

If women dress like bodies instead of souls, if what seems like underwear is now consider everyday street clothing, have we really progressed? No matter their real brains, insight or depth, women who dress like objects are viewed as...well, objects.

Objects are powerless. Human beings are powerful. Lingerie is revealing, but solely of the body. The irony is that only through covering up do our real selves shine through.


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