Occupational Hazards: Work-related Dressing Challenges

Earlier this year, I did a style consult in Chicago for Dana who works as an orchestra conductor. She was an absolute delight, and we had a whale of a time putting together casual outfits for rehearsal and a few fancier ones for performances. She e-mailed me a few weeks ago asking which sleeve styles might be the least distracting when she was conducting and we got into a discussion about career-specific clothing issues and challenges. CLEARLY this was something that merited a little interviewing! So without further ado, I give you three women who face a variety of personal style challenges: A conductor, an Ob/Gyn, and a professional photographer.

Dominique Gariti, M.D – Medical Doctor


Tell us a little bit about your career, including a few regular duties or activities.
I am an Ob/Gyn, and my practice is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On most days I see patients in the office, and on some days I have surgeries before my office hours. I also deliver babies and do in-office procedures.

What do you see as your work-specific dressing challenges?
There are a couple dressing challenges about my job. The first is comfort–I walk, bend, stretch, and reach quite a bit on a daily basis, so my outfits have to be able to hold pace with me. Things that are uncomfortable or too fussy will not work. My clothes, accessories, and shoes have to be able to move with me. Clothes that I constantly have to adjust will not work for me. The second, and oftentimes, more challenging aspect of dressing for my job has to do with my appearance. Like it or not, people make assumptions about you based on your appearance. I want to appear professional, because I think that instills a level of confidence in me in my patients. But, for me, I don’t like to be too formal, because I want my patients to feel comfortable with me. As a gynecologist, I often discuss very intimate subjects with my patients, and I want them to feel that they can open up to me. Having a more approachable appearance can help facilitate this. Lastly, I have to feel like “me.” This is where it can get tricky, but it is also the fun part. I LOVE fashion, and I like things that are at least a little unique. I like to add a little bit of funky to all of my outfits, but I always have my patients in mind when I dress for work, so I don’t push it too far.

What have you done to work around them?
I do lots of things to make sure my clothes work for me at work. Comfort is key for me so I can focus all of my attention on my patients, and it all starts on the ground. I cannot deal with uncomfortable shoes at work, so this means heels less than 3 inches. I have learned the hard way that anything higher means I will be hobbling home at the end of the day. As for clothing, I prefer fabrics with some amount of stretch in them. This allows me the movement I need without threatening to pop seams or limiting my reach. When it comes to accessories, I have learned that I have to be very careful with bracelets and rings. While bangles look really cool, they bother me when I am typing on my computer, and I inevitably remove them after about 5 minutes of being in the office. Gloves don’t go over big or sharp rings, so I keep my rings pretty small and simple. Also, I don’t typically wear scarves at work because I do a lot of work with my arms stretched out in front of me, and scarves get in my way.

As far as my appearance goes, I always try to look “put together.” For me, that means I like to look like I put a little thought into my outfit and my grooming. I never show cleavage at work, and I don’t wear skirts shorter than about an inch or so above my knee. I never wear suits to work, and if I am wearing something ultra-conservative, I will usually add a little something funky like a bold necklace or shoe to decrease the formality of the outfit and make it more “me.” I also go crazy with color. I like to mix bold color choices with more traditional silhouettes. That is another way that I get to add my own unique style to a more conservative, professional look.

What do you love about dressing for your job?
I LOVE dressing for work. I have a very creative side to my personality, but unfortunately I can’t draw, paint, or sing, so fashion is a great outlet for my creative energy. It makes me feel great when a patient or staff member comments on my outfit, especially if it is something that I spent some time creating. I also like it that I don’t dress like the stereotypical doctor–we are not all stuffy. And if my outfits help my patients to feel more confident and comfortable with me, then there is nothing more I can ask for.

Wing Ta – Professional Photographer

wing3Tell us a little bit about your career, including a few regular duties or activities.
I’m a lifestyle photographer from Minneapolis with a love for food, fashion and design. I own Canary Grey, a lifestyle & wedding photography company and also work as a contributing photographer for a couple of publications. I have a wide range of clientele and shoot a variety of subjects, from products to weddings. I also shoot several fashion features for my lifestyle and retail clients through out the seasons.

What do you see as your work-specific dressing challenges?
Since I balance my time between shoots, events, meetings and working in my studio, finding stylish yet comfortable outfits that work in a variety of environments can be a challenge. Finding the right footwear while I’m shooting is important, too. Some days I’m on my feet all day, so I definitely regret it if I don’t choose the right pair of shoes. However, I’ve been guilty of sacrificing pain for fashion.

What have you done to work around them?
During the week, my overall style is uncomplicated and casual-chic, so it can work for most situations – from meetings to shoots. I often bring along a blazer, statement jewelry or heels to add to my outfit if I need to dress it up a bit. When I’m shooting an event, I like to dress appropriate to the event attire. Specific to weddings, I like to dress as if I were a guest. I typically wear dark neutral colors and I prefer to shoot in a dress. It’s important that the dress is at or below knee length so that I don’t end up showing too much when I’m shooting! As for shoes, if I’m shooting for 6 hours or more I typically wear a pair of loafers or flats. The styles I own look great with a dress and have a Nike Air insole, so they are super comfortable too.

What do you love about dressing for your job?
Since I work in such a creative industry, I love that I can have fun with my wardrobe and wear what I want to wear. I spent part of my previous career in the “corporate” world so it was really restricting. My style is also a reflection of me as an artist, so it’s important for me to represent myself to the fullest!

Dana Sadava – Opera and Orchestra Conductor


Tell us a little bit about your career, including a few regular duties or activities.
Leading rehearsals and concerts is a big part of my job. A conductor is there to guide and inspire musicians to play their best, and this usually means that he or she uses a combination of physical gestures and well-informed decisions to shape a piece of music. That said, we also spend a lot of time helping an organization (an orchestra, opera company) thrive by going into the community to fundraise, support music education in schools, give speeches, etc. A lot of my work has been in opera houses, where I also play the piano for rehearsals and special events in addition to conducting.

What do you see as your work-specific dressing challenges?
My main challenge has been staying true to myself and my style while on the podium. The conducting field is growing by leaps and bounds, but is still a very male-dominated profession, and almost all of my role models and teachers have been men. Early on in my training I was encouraged to hide my shape and dress like a man so I would be more readily accepted into the profession. I can see why I was given that advice, but those clothes don’t work well with my body and make me feel frumpy. And honestly, I think most people are very accepting of a woman who is true to herself and does her job well, whether she fits the image of a typical conductor or not.

Another challenge is that everything I wear on the podium must pass a “360-3hr” test. Since I have an orchestra in front of me and an audience behind me (except in the opera pit), I need to be comfortable knowing that I will be viewed from every angle. You start to judge a pair of pants differently when you remember that 500 people will see them during an evening of Mozart! And will the outfit I’ve chosen hold up, or will it bunch weirdly or wrinkle after I’ve been flapping my arms for a few minutes?

What have you done to work around them?
I do wear a lot of styles borrowed from menswear, but I try to personalize them to fit my style and shape. For concerts, a sleek and sexy suit gives me a sense of strength without hiding my body. I have also discovered the beauty of the tailored button-down shirt for rehearsals; I love that it’s structured but can flatter the contours of my torso. Through reading books like Sally’s and a host of personal fashion blunders, I am gradually discovering what types of fabrics and styles pass the 360-3hr test. It’s definitely a work in progress!

What do you love about dressing for your job?
My mom used to say that I had three “looks” in my wardrobe: Farmer Dana, Trucker Dana, and Sporty Dana (tomboy here). I had no idea that clothes could be fun or that I could use them to help me feel great. What’s been awesome about dressing for my job is that, while learning how to dress, I became interested in fashion and general self-care. It has opened up a fascinating world to me. I think it’s wonderful that we have so many tools to play with and empower us. Now I approach my closet with excitement and curiosity instead of indifference or dread. It’s so refreshing!

Dana’s photo courtesy Jewell Juergensen.

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11 Responses to “Occupational Hazards: Work-related Dressing Challenges”

  1. Vildy

    I like the acknowledgments that it is part reflecting oneself and part consideration of the impact on others. Although I am a retirement age SAHM, I have the same exact needs as the ob-gyn – minus the patients, of course. My own clothes have to pass all the same tests and they must move as one with me and not fight me.

  2. Natalie

    Thank you for this. It is really comforting to see how many other women also deal with challenges in their daily choices of wardrobe.

  3. hmbalison

    Would love to see pictures of some of their go-to work outfits that they describe.

  4. katie

    Thank you for this! As a medical student, I find myself identifying with both Dominique & Dana — I need to be professional, comfortable, and fairly conservative in an old-boys’-club world, but don’t want to lose my sense of personal style and identity. The style blog stratosphere seems to be full of artistic types and self-employeds, which are awfully inspiring, but often lack the practical touches that are necessary to make a good idea into a reality in my world. Love hearing these other perspectives!

  5. Andrea

    Love this post! I am a preschool teacher and there are so many times I will pass up an outfit because I know that it’s not practical for my life– even if I LOVE the outfit! My style is often too dressy to wear when paint, scissors, snot and whatever else comes at me when there are 20 children circling around a classroom. I’ve learned to get around this some by buying from thrift stores so if something gets ruined it’s not a big investment and wearing blazers with jeans or comfy but longer skirts and dresses. I save a few extra fun pieces for the summer!

  6. Ana

    I really appreciate this post! I have myriad work-related clothing challenges (no open toe shoes, on my feet 8-10 hour days, work with lab chemicals, work with patients) and as I really grow into my career I’m realizing that I have way more non-work than work-appropriate clothing in my closet. Considering I’m in work clothes 5/7 days of the week (and the rest of the time in 1-2 comfy outfits), I need to revamp my wardrobe, but I also don’t want to give up all my “fun” clothes that I feel better reflect my style and personality.
    Would love to see more photos of outfits women put together for various work environments for inspiration!

  7. Yummy mummy

    Great post! I’m an anaesthetist so on my theatre days I can wear whatever I want, as I will soon be in ‘PJs’. I still like to dress up, usually a dress or skirt combined with a blazer or coat in winter. Like Dominique and Dana, looking professional, while being true to your style is important. How I chose to dress is a look into my creative side, which is otherwise not exercised at work. The other day two patients commented on my plaid drop waisted ’60s style dress, a new silhouette for me. It made my day, as I had made it myself!

  8. Kate

    I love this post. As commenter katie (high five!) said, women in hands-on and/or traditionally male-dominated professions are underrepresented in the fashion blogosphere. As an engineer who sometimes work with “old boys” and occasionally have to go on site visits at short notice, I need to dress for practicality but still want my clothes to be “me”. It’s great to see our needs addressed too.

  9. Annie

    Especially loved hearing some input from a doctor! I’m a medical student trying to figure out how to keep my style fashionable and fun in a pretty conservative field where I’m not just sitting at a desk, but moving around and actually interacting a lot with patients. Thanks!