On Saturday I was flicking through The Weekend Australian, and fell headfirst into a baffling article entitled, ‘Armed & Dangerous‘.
It was a two page spread that explored the ‘top choice for alpha females’ to wear in the office: the TSD, or Tight Sleeveless Dress.
Two full pages of sexy professional women (two of whom were fictional television characters, may I note) donning figure-hugging, high-necked, pencil-line dresses with soaring stilettos and flawless make-up.
This, apparently, is what the modern ‘professional woman’ looks like.
Many years ago, before I actually entered the workforce, I might have agreed. If asked what I thought a boss lady would wear to work, I would have elected the stereotype: high heels, collared shirt, sensible haircut. Maybe an expensive handbag and a pair of glasses just to be sure.
But, after ducking and diving in and out of various industries and encountering dozens of professional female ‘types’, I can conclusively say that there is no universal uniform for the working woman.
Never was, never will be.
With that in mind, the 'Armed & Dangerous' article was like falling down a rabbit hole back to the 1960s.
"Power dressers are dressing to make men look, as women have always done," says author Anna Murphy, "but they also hope - and this is their 'big bet' - to make men listen." - The Weekend Australian.
The article, whilst attempting to tread a fair line of gender equality, instead wanders blankly into dangerous territory of taking pride in looking 'sexy' in the workplace.
The author compares the 'sartorial gamesmanship' of male-silhouetted suiting to the challenge of figure-hugging female dresses. She writes off baggy or androgynous clothing. She even suggests the muscular, toned arms of the women who dominate the city or Silicon Valley (her choice of locations, not mine) are carefully curated as a part of the 'heady mashup' the tight sleeveless powerdress offers: "womanly curves, plus manly muscles."
"Humans are animals hardwired to read codes both obvious and subtle in each other's physicalities," writes Murphy. "And we dress to express and finesse those codes, particularly when the stakes are high - which, when it comes to work, not to mention sex, they are."
As I blinked furiously and tried to process this information - is she for real? - an article I read earlier in the month sprung to mind.
It opened with the line, "What do women look like at work?" and immediately had me hooked. Lucy describes the scene as she looks around her office:
"One has her hair in a messy ponytail and a cycling jacket on the back of her chair. A second is in astonishingly high heels and clad in black. A third (me) has grey showing on the roots of my hair and a smear of icing sugar on my leg. Some look as if they often go to the gym, others look as if they have never been in their lives. Two are eating. No one is smiling. Everyone is staring at their screens, faces blank."
The point of Kellaway's article was to point out the blatant sexism of stock imagery that relates to 'professional women'. She was reading a McKinsey report title 'The Power Of Parity', on gender equality, which featured full-page images of working women...beaming white smiles, perched on high heels in mini skirts, with professional hair and make up.
It didn't seem right.
Looking around the Mamamia office today, the reality of working women couldn't be further from that stereotype.
Sorry, Anna Murphy - no skintight 'TSD's' here. No stilettos. No expensive suits. No collars or silk blouses or Italian leather handbags.
There are a lot of jeans. Some sneakers. Some heels. The girl to my left is wearing Birkenstocks, and the girl to my right has a cute little red polkadot dress on. I'm rocking out some dubious orange clogs, and there are more ponytails than you can poke a stick at.
Here's Annie's wardrobe makeover, 100% free from tight sleeveless dresses. (Post continues after video)
And whilst I'm the first to admit that the Mamamia office has a wonderfully relaxed office style, I also know first hand from the various places I've worked that there is no such thing as a 'type' for professional women.
Even when I worked for uber conservatives like NAB, the top-ranking women executives would turn up in everything from trouser suits to t-shirts.
And rarely, rarely in a 'tight sleeveless dress'.
Sure, there are the suits - but for every navy, two-piece, polyester wonder that walks through a building's revolving door, there are multitudes of women in jeans, women in floaty skirts, women in t-shirts, women in floral, women in neon. And you would be a fool to try and guess the role of any of them.
I decided to cast my sartorial net out to the professional women in my world, and ask them what they wore to work - and if it involved 'tight, sleeveless dresses'.
"I dress for comfort more than anything," said one lawyer pal. "I only wear heels to meetings and court!"
"I own zero tight sleeveless dresses." said another.
"I hate corporate dressing," said one more again, "....and I never adhere to it."
So I went a step further, and asked them for a shot of what they were wearing to work today.
The results were surprising...
PR + Content Strategist, BBE Advertising.
Marketing + Communications Manager, Robeco Investment firm.
Editor, Stylecaster NYC.
Editor, Time Out Magazine.
Business Development, DT Digital.
Director, PR Darling & Our Boys & Girls
Clearly, there are certain parameters we all work within for work environments.
Professional occupations require a certain level of formality in dressing, for example - but for most of us, that's more a case of feeling comfortable, rather than dressing to impress (men).
And for everyone else, it's just common sense: you know, no butts, no boobs. No visible underwear. Maybe no sequins? (Actually, scrap that. I always wear sequins to work.)
From lawyers to doctors, CEOs to creative directors, women these days wear pretty much whatever they like. Anna Murphy's two-page homage to the TSD 'power dress' can't be taken too seriously - maybe she just REALLY likes tight, sleeveless dresses - but it still stinks of a stale message: being a powerful woman equates to looking sexy.
So coming from someone who is today sporting serious bed hair and a full length floral duster coat, how should I answer the question, 'what do professional women look like'?
Well, in the words of Lucy Kellaway: "They just look like professional women at work."