I was listening to a podcast the other day (surprising no one) and the lovely hosts were talking about professionalism and how it is signaled through dress. Specifically, how the character of Gilderoy Lockhart in the novel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is signaled to be a villain, or at least someone who doesn't fit in, through his dress. They talked about how this sort of thing applied in the real world, and the barriers that can prevent people from being seen as professional, based on their access to the clothes that are seen as professional.
The episode in question was Witch, Please Book 2, Episode 7 Chamber of Secrets Wrap-Up. This podcast discusses the world of the Harry Potter novels using different literary theories and critical lenses. It is hosted by Marcelle Kosman and Hannah McGregor, and the whole thing is frankly excellent.
Disability was never brought into this particular recorded conversation, but the beauty of this fortnightly podcast hosted by two lady scholars is that it is meant to be an ongoing discussion where learning is happening on all sides, even on the part of the hosts.
So? Where does that leave us? What on earth do I have to say about it?
Well, professional dress is a thing I'm not sure about yet as it applies to me. In the segment of the episode where this topic was discussed, it was brought up that besides not knowing and/or not knowing how to read) the different social cues or expectations of professional dress (like not wearing brown shoes with black dress pants) or not being able to physically access certain types of clothing for an assortment of reasons, the more othered a person's body is, the more they are expected to follow these expectations to a higher standard to be seen as professional.
The two othered body types discussed were those of fat women and women of color. While I am neither, I am visibly disabled, which comes with its own wardrobe complicatednesss and appearance pressure.
As someone who personally finds buttons difficult and has no clue how one can manage to tuck in a shirt while sitting down, I honestly don't know how I will manage the stereotypical corporate dress code. High heels are also a no-go for me, since my feet don't flex in that particular direction and the footplates on my wheelchair can't go any lower. For reference, I typically exist in a pair of jeans, a T shirt or long sleeve, and one or the other of my pairs of slip-on Converse. That's what we’ve got. My hair doesn't change much. It's either down, or in the world's messiest ponytail. In short, I wear clothes that I can easily put on in a reasonable amount of time. Something that dress clothes, generally, are not.
One answer would be to find a job how is a less formal dress code, but you can't exactly pick your place of work based on how you're allowed to dress. At least, I don't think you can. My understanding is that a job is a job, and you're expected to fit yourself into the workplace culture, not the workplace culture around you. Or if I end up in academia, we're back at square one.
This is another one of those situations where I know that this is a thing people have done before— people with experiences similar to mine— but I just haven't found the right information yet. It's an interesting thing to think about, though. The fact that expectations of dress that allow someone to be seen as polished, or professional, or smart and academic, are formed in such a way that different groups of (generally marginalized) people don't necessarily have access to them seems so small, but still manages to keep a certain type of people in positions of power. Though perhaps it's too late at night for in depth discussion about the structured unfairness of society. On the other hand, maybe not. Someone let me know what the acceptable timeframe for big, nuanced philosophical discussions is.
To borrow from the show, by way of sign off…