By: Maddie De Pree
I recently realized that I have no workwear. Professional clothes aren’t cheap, and I’ve never needed a full suit, so I hadn’t bothered to buy one. I needed some business clothes before fall break, though, so my friend Reid decided to bring me to Kohl’s. He promised to suit me up properly, and we embarked on our shopping trip with the optimism of two fashion-forward children.
When we arrived at Kohl’s, we scoured the whole store for professional-looking women’s clothing. We eventually found some after asking a disgruntled employee for help. Reid surveyed the tragic selection, then said exactly what I was thinking: “Is this it?”
I nodded my head, bummed. The women’s workwear section was the most pathetic corner I had ever seen. It took up a pitifully small portion of the sales floor, and the only offerings were overpriced, cheaply-made, and out of date. Where were the cute slacks? Where were the nice blazers? Where was my power suit? I wanted answers, and fast.
Out of curiosity, Reid and I ventured over to the men’s workwear section. I knew what we were about to see, but I feigned ignorance. Perhaps the men’s section would be poorly stocked, too. Maybe this was a Kohl’s problem, not a sexist one!
Nope. As I suspected, the men’s section was CHOCK full of suit sets and dress pants in every size, color, and style imaginable. And the prices? They spanned everything from budget-shopping to high-end luxury. Not to mention that the men’s workwear floorspace was about quadruple that of the women’s. The contrast would’ve been funny if it weren’t so sad.
At this point, I strongly considered purchasing a men’s suit (partially to make a point, partially because I like butchy suits.) Reid gagged at the idea, though, and hauled me out of the Kohl’s before I could buy a pair of men’s pants. He said I could find a better suit somewhere else. I wish he had been right. Everywhere else I looked, the selection was poor. Even the suits I found online were terrible. Cheap fabrics, sky-high prices, slim selection: it seemed like I was searching high and low for a product that should have been accessible. Decent women’s workwear seemed like a pipe dream.
While my search might seem like a mere inconvenience, it made me think about the day-to-day obstacles that women face, both personally and at work. Sure, some women can go to Banana Republic or Brooks Brothers, but plenty of others—myself included—can’t shell out four hundred bucks for a suit. In the professional sphere, women deserve to be as well-equipped as their male counterparts. On a basic level, this means that we need affordable, comfortable, professional clothes to wear to our jobs. Women work. Women need decent work clothes. It’s that simple
I ranted about this to Reid on the drive back, and he agreed wholeheartedly. The women’s workwear was understocked for a reason; women face similar subliminal barriers every day. These messages are insidious, and they are a sobering reflection of our times. All we can do is resist, be proud, and carry on living.
In the end, I went to Goodwill and found a suit there—a nice wool one that I never could have afforded at retail. Then I took that suit to New York City over fall break and networked like my life depended on it. And you know what? I’m pretty sure I rocked it.