Pretty and Professional Are Not Mutually Exclusive

by Elizabeth on June 5, 2013 · 13 comments

in could be controversial, i am not a beauty blogger, librarianship

This is one of those posts that’s been a long time in the making.  I’m sure that many of you will find what I have to say distasteful, perhaps even offensive, but that’s okay.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

I have attended several seminars and read many blog posts and articles about professionalism, mostly as it relates to librarianship.  Every single one has had some mention of appearance and the effect of a job applicant/employee’s appearance on the supervisor’s opinion.  Every.  Single.  One.  Which leads me to my controversial statement:

Your appearance DOES matter.  Even if it doesn’t matter to you, it matters to those around you.  

I’ve talked about this subject before on previous blogs and on Twitter, but I’ve always addressed how looking “unprofessional” lowers others’ opinions of said unprofessional-dressing person.  (I could write at length about what is and what is not “professional” attire, but this is not the time.)  Now, I’m addressing the opposite view.

I am a so-called “pretty” person.  I wear makeup, I fix my hair in a variety of ways, I put together coordinated outfits and create a weekly wardrobe plan so that I am always well dressed for work.  I do not leave the house without at least a little concealer and mascara on and having done something with my hair, even if I’m just running down the street to CVS.  I have a regimented skin care routine and am concerned about wrinkles and acne.  I get my nails done and my eyebrows threaded regularly.  I like to shop.  I like to talk about shopping.  I generally put a moderate to substantial (depending on the day and event) into my appearance.  I care a great deal about my appearance.  I care that others think that I care and put effort into my appearance.

Pretty and professional

From L-R: half my shoe collection, trying to figure out which necklace looks better, my makeup drawer, last week’s clothing plan

So I am “pretty”.  I am also professional.

Everything about my work persona is geared towards appearing as professional as possible (while still being me…I’m not changing my personality for work), from how I answer the phone to how I talk to my superiors to my appearance.  By dressing appropriately for my job (at a non-academic hospital) I think am saying, “I care about my job and I take it very seriously.  And I want others to take me seriously and trust me to do my job well”.

Now you may not agree.  You may think that putting lots of effort into and taking pride in my appearance makes me unprofessional.  That I am not as serious as someone who doesn’t put that much stock into their looks.  That caring about how I look to others makes me petty and self-centered. That I’m looking for attention from men or trying to appear better than others.

If you think those things then you would be wrong.  I am very serious about my work and acutely aware that I am a representation of my job and my field outside the library.  I do not dress to attract attention from men (or from anyone really); in fact I work very hard to make sure that everything I wear is setting-appropriate.  I do not think that just because I look or dress a certain way that I am somehow better or superior.

I am pretty.  I am professional.  There is no having to choose between looking your best and being taken seriously.  You can have it both ways.  In fact, I do it every day.

Pretty and Professional

A fairly standard work outfit. I do love me a cardigan.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amber June 5, 2013 at 12:29 pm

(A) I completely agree with you.

(B) I have realized that pregnancy does not make it easy to look either pretty or professional, much less both at the same time. It is getting to the point where I just wear whatever fits. Maternity stuff is either expensive or ugly, so I’ve been trying to wear as many of my pre-pregnancy clothes as possible (thank God for stretchy dresses). I’ll be honest, looking cute has become a little more of a priority to me than looking professional. For example, I hosted a “luau” at work on Monday for our Orientation Leaders and all I had that looked even remotely good was this cute little brown and cream DvF dress that would have been super cute and appropriate if I didn’t have a *giant* belly. Instead, I looked cute in a dress that was wayyyy too short for work. And, I work in an office with a super conservative older lady, an obese (not being ugly, being honest) conservative woman, and a gay man. I get the side-eye a lot.

(B & 1/2) You really probably would have died if you’d seen how short that dress was, but in my defense, I’d had a very cute outfit planned that is similar to the one in your picture: Banana Republic khaki pencil skirt, white maternity camisole, salmon-colored cardigan (in a very breezy material, because Mama gets hot!). I put it on Sunday evening and the skirt wouldn’t zip. I swear it fit like 2 weeks ago. Rob found me crying in front of the mirror with this pitiful almost-zipped-but-not-quite skirt stuck to me. It was sad.

(C) I don’t know why I just went off on a tangent, but umm you look super cute in your picture and I can’t wait to wear clothes like that again!


2 Elizabeth June 5, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I kind of think everything goes out the window when you’re pregnant. And don’t worry about things not fitting…your body is changing all the time and that’s okay! You are creating a life right now; as long as you’re comfortable, who cares how you look!


3 LibGirl09 June 5, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Thanks for this post. I agree with you. Unfortunately, I’m more of a “dress for comfort” over “dress for pretty” type of person. I work in a public library, and my work clothes mostly consist of jeans, t-shirts, and some cute tops. I also usually wear zero makeup. But this fall, I’m starting a fellowship in a federal library. No more jeans & t-shirts! I would also like to start wearing a little makeup more often (just eyeshadow & lipgloss). So I need to give myself a makeover of sorts this summer so that I will look pretty and professional. I think it is important, it’s just going to take an adjustment on my part. I like your idea of planning out your wardrobe for the whole week. I’m going to have to start doing that. Thanks for sharing!


4 Elizabeth June 5, 2013 at 2:25 pm

You are welcome! I definitely think that dressing for your job is super important. You recognizing that you’ll need to step it up when you start working in a more professional atmosphere is awesome. I didn’t dress for my internship and I wish I had; I think it would have made me feel (and make my supervisors treat me) more like a librarian instead of a student.


5 Amy June 5, 2013 at 2:20 pm

I also agree with you. The whole “it doesn’t matter what you look like” thing is b.s. generally speaking anyhow. Of course it matters, it’s everyone’s first impression of you. And especially in a professional setting, it matters that the first impression is a good one.


6 Elizabeth June 5, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I could write pages about first impressions and what clothes say about the wearer. When I meet people at work I want their first impression of me to be a serious and professional one, and I don’t want people thinking “what the hell is that girl wearing?” or questioning my ability to do my job if I can’t manage to dress myself appropriately for work.

PS: Your avatar is adorable!


7 winelibrarian June 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Love. It. ♥


8 Christine June 5, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Love this post! In my old job I (as you know) tried to “ugly” down a little bit because I thought that would make people take me more seriously. But now especially since I work in a bank, I dress very professionally. If I look pretty in the process and someone has a problem with it than whatever. Looking like a slob does NOT equal serious professional.


9 Natalie June 6, 2013 at 8:08 am

Excellent post. I wish I was as clothing-saavy as you are. I did wear more formal attire when I started my current job, but as I work mainly with undergrads, I found out that wearing more casual outfits at the reference desk was probably less intimidating. Your post reminded me of a recent article, “First Impressions and the Reference Encounter: The Influence of Affect and Clothing on Librarian Approachability”. Apparently, wearing blue is more appealing to patrons, and red should be avoided 🙂 But then, physicians probably think differently!


10 Elizabeth June 6, 2013 at 1:34 pm

That’s a really interesting article! I have heard that red is an “angry” color and should be avoided. Which is sad because I love red!

I can totally see how dressing more casually would appear less intimidating to undergraduates. I definitely think it’s very important to dress appropriately for the environment you work in. It’s not so much about being clothing-savvy or trendy, but recognizing the importance of appearance and catering to your environment.


11 Megg June 6, 2013 at 12:44 pm

All I have to say is I wish I could dress professionally. Instead, I have a t-shirt to wear every day. Every. Day. It got old after a bit.
Working at the newspaper I could dress professionally, but everyone is casual around here so a simple skirt and blouse is about as dressed up as I get. Which is comfortable in the summer so that’s good. I guess every work environment really is different.
Plus, if you wear a tie here in Seattle and you’re not Mormon, people will ask where you’re interviewing. Or where the funeral is.


12 Elizabeth June 6, 2013 at 1:36 pm

I think the west coast is generally more casual than the rest of the country. I dress up more than most of my coworkers, but I enjoy it and I think it helps put me on equal footing with physicians and administrators. In your case, if you were interviewing someone important, more professional clothing would be wise, but for everyday, if your work atmosphere is casual and you’re matching the types of clothes of your superiors, casual clothing is warranted.


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