A while ago at Undercover Punk’s, I made a remark about standard business dress, and the differences between female business dress (even modelled on the male) and for males. Here is the relevant part of the comment:
Sheila, you totally get the business “uniform” for women, and that is what it is, a uniform, just like (but not exactly) what the males wear. But, there are certain do’s and don’ts. Do wear a woman’s trouser suit (not a man’s). Don’t wear a tie (because that is seen as an aggressive challenge to males). Do wear a shirt/blouse, buttoned up modestly. Do wear ‘flat’ (not completely flat) shoes similar to men’s business shoes, very plain. What I have found is that you are able to include just ONE item of femaleness, but no more. Wearing this one token item is handy in very conservative offices (where normally they expect the females to dress “feminine”). The one item that I use is a (medium thickness, not thin) round necklace, because it is the “replacement tie”, without being seen as a ballbreaker
It was one of my more insightful moments, even though I knew this stuff in the back of my mind, it was the first time I actually put it into words.
Whilst women can essentially copy most of the business dress style worn by men, the no-go area is the tie. Even if you can find those pant suits that are tailored, and not nipped in at the waist to exaggerate your womanliness, you do not don a tie, for it is the symbol that “[she] is trying to be like a man“. Decoded that actually means: “how dare she, trying to pretend that she is a man, trying to ursurp male power like that”.
So, it is not the entire (pant) suit that is an affront to maledom, but one tiny element of that suit set-up, the tie. The rest of the suit indicates “team player” in manspeak;
Rain: Men dress as Uniformed to express solidarity and collective identity, for women its more to invisibilise and anonymise.
The first part about the males is correct, but the second part is incomplete. Within mainstream work (whether corporate or other), adopting a modified version of the male uniform shows you to be “a team player” (they see it as playing on their team). But! It is actually a trojan horse. Because once you worm your way in, the women who adopt the business uniform, get a lot more voice within the system (never fully, but a hell of a lot more than thrusting your cleavage in their faces).
Basically you can adopt part of male business dress to indicate you are a team player, for Team Manz, as pant suits are acceptable in most offices, even though some offices still try to encourage you to wear dress suits. It is true that the suit is part of the “collective identity”. The part that allows individual men to express some sort of personality and individuality, is the tie. Whether the tie just tastefully matches the shirt, or if the tie has some Star Wars crap on it, the tie says something about the personality of the wearer.
Perhaps that is the second reason that ties are a no-go for women, the expression of personality. Personality is really only “allowable” for those with fully human status, and as we know, patriarchy has not yet acknowledged women as being fully human, so why the hell should they have access to the outlet of personality expression?
Next, we have the shape. Typically symbols of masculinity are angular, straight, hard, and the symbols of femininity are rounded, soft etc. The tie fits perfectly into that masculinity coded symbolism, it is straight, and to reinforce the angular concept, the vast majority of ties have the pointed end. There have been a few short-lived fashions with ties that had a straight across end, but it was short-lived, taken as fashion, and has not endured. Even in the graphic above, the pointy end is a distinctive feature.
Obviously, due to the long shape of the tie, it can also be taken as a symbol of the phallus, which is probably why the long tie has always been more popular than the bowtie. The bowtie, outside of formal occasions, is usually reserved for those quirky, usually academic types – again, that is an expression of personality.
Getting back to that pointy end, and yes, I am obsessed with that pointy end – what would it be pointing to? That’s right, the area in which males believe their power resides, the Almighty Penis. So it is not only a symbolic representation of it, but signage as well! Perhaps menz need the signage just in case they forget where it is? I digress.
All of that symbolism is reinforcing each other. So if a woman (dares) wear a tie, she is wearing a penis symbol, and it is pointing to “look, NO penis!!!”. Therefore the symbolism is in conflict, and it is the one area of suited business dress that remains off limits.
This is all cultural symbolism, western culture. It really has no power of itself, for it is merely symbolism.
Whilst the latter part of the 20th century opened up more dressing options for women (in that it was the first time it was generally acceptable for women to wear trousers), and cross-dressing/trans became fairly acceptable for men, there is a difference. Females wanting to imitate male dress have limits. Usually it is because it remains a clear imitation of the male dress (women’s suits that accentuate the figure for example) and it has clear limits (ties are a no-go). For males, wanting to appropriate female dress, there are no holds barred. Anything and everything goes, right down to imitating a vagina.
If you doubt that ties are off limits for women, in a serious sense, then google “suit and tie” images. There are roughly two pictures of women in ties; one is oh-so-sexxay wearing a tie, the other is gagged and wearing a tie.