Getting rid of male and female work uniforms in retail
If you’re wearing the work uniform, should it matter which one you choose?
“What are you?” he asked my cousin, as she headed toward the breakroom area.
She looked back at him and responded, “Excuse me?”
He asked again, “What are you?”
With a blank stare, she still didn’t really understand the question.
He stumbled over it and mumbled a brief explanation about how the retail store chose one outfit for women employees and another outfit for male employees. My cousin, who clearly would never be mistaken for a man from the boobs alone, had created a cross between both outfits. Her shirt was baggier. She’d ignored the skirt suggestion altogether. And her pants hung a little lower than the higher-hip version in the handbook. Still though, with her voluptuous frame, freckles and braids trailing down her shoulders, it seemed odd to ask this woman “what” she was.
The employee had been sent to talk to her regarding her attire. For whatever reason, the manager felt like it would be less offensive coming from another black person (yet another problematic situation) than from a non-POC person. That didn’t happen. She snipped at him, “I’m a woman all day!” and stormed away. My eyes narrowed, listening to her tell this story. She ended it by saying, “So I decided my cousin should write one of those long-ass complaint letters about him!” She grinned. I laughed out loud. It figures she had a larger goal.
I’ve developed a bit of a reputation in my family for being the person who is best friends with the Better Business Bureau, thoroughly enjoys picking apart the minds of lawyers, is always good for a Yelp review and has even gone as far as fighting for a refund so adamantly that I ended up with a CEO’s cell phone number. (He was dumbfounded by my call. I got my money back after a month of debating. The employees who refused to do so were given a mouthful when he showed up to headquarters. I regret nothing.)
Although I was amused by her joke, I did notice that the grin she gave me never made its way to her eyes. She was hurt but trying to hide it. It was a learning experience for me, too. It was the first time I’d ever bothered to pay attention to how uncomfortable that must be for someone who is LGBTQ+ when it comes to work attire. Unfortunately, I can almost guarantee you that (in previous years) I would’ve shrugged off the guy’s comment had it not been directed at my cousin. But because this was a girl I babysat growing up, I felt a way about him cornering her to ask her that. This wasn’t just a random story I read online. This was someone I knew. What difference does it make if she blends the gender-specific outfits together, as long as she can effectively complete her job?
Stories like hers (this was a few years ago) cross my mind when I watch specials like Laverne Cox’s “Disclosure” or roll my eyes at all the criticism of the sex scene in the Season 3 premiere of Lena Waithe’s Showtime show “The Chi.” For some, including myself, it may be harder to connect just what is “wrong” with certain questions being asked, if you only look through the lens of heterosexual, mainstream eyes. Between Lena Waithe’s shows (“Twenties” and “The Chi” are so underrated), Laverne Cox and my cousin, I’m learning a helluva lot and cringing through some of the things I never found to be tactless before. Although I don’t know the two celebs personally, being able to connect a person I do know with issues that would never happen to a straight woman helped me to learn why certain films, movies and even retail rules are not only unnecessary but offensive.
With retail stores opening back up to the public (in Chicago, we’re at Phase 4), I ponder about whether retailers will relax some of their more rigid rules. In this week’s 6–3 ruling from the Supreme Court regarding work discrimination, that’s already a step in the right direction. Only time will tell whether further discriminatory practices will continue to decrease as employees from all industries head back to work. In a world where more than 9.3 million people worldwide have been infected with COVID-19 (2.3 million of which are in the United States), here’s hoping retailers find bigger, better and far more important battles to pick. Lifestyles outside of work should not be one of them, and neither should mixing and matching outfits.
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