|Over 100 years later, and I have an Albert Nobbs dilemma.|
While there are no easy answers for gender politics in the food industry, there is one category in which I think some education would make a great deal of difference: the clothing. To this day, serious restaurants have a standard for clothing based on formal men's dress: slacks, collared dress shirts, ties, and suit jackets. All of these are a challenge to fit properly to the female form if bought from the men's section(risking looking like a little boy in his older brother's clothes), and it can be difficult to find female versions that meet all requirements.
For dress shirts, it took me several days of hunting to find three suitable shirts. Even then, two are far from perfect. My first is a women's dress shirt: I was able to find one with no ruffles or detailing, however it lacks a top button or crisp collar (making it look sloppy with a tie). It has 3/4 sleeves, so when I wear it under a jacket, there is no hint of cuff like there should be. It's winning feature, though, are the double chest pockets. My second try was a men's dress shirt. Getting one to fit properly, though is a challenge. Too big, bunchy under my jacket even if the neck fits, and the collar is too large for someone with a more petite build. I was surprised to find that the shoulders, though, fit more comfortably then a woman's blouse, which are usually designed for a build with a narrower upper body frame then my own. Too much bulk through the rest of the shirt didn't seem to make up for this positive, though, and boy's shirts were too tight across my bust. Would I ever find a shirt that looked crisp and professional?
Frustrated, I turned to the internet and stumbled across dapperQ, an awesome site geared towards the female bodied who prefer a more masculine or androgynous aesthetic. At last! Multiple articles navigating my problem, including a breakdown of the measurements needed to get a good fit. Information and measurements in hand, I went to my local Macy's and found myself a lovely Ralph Lauren slim fit (15 neck, 32-33 arm), on the sale rack no less. If you go this route, though, be prepared for the possibility that staff may not be helpful. With my short hair, and already wearing my masculine work clothing outside of the "acceptable" restaurant setting(I stopped by after training one day), I caused some confusion and discomfort for staff. That is not a good feeling...and my heart goes out to those who feel more comfortable on the masculine end of the spectrum if that is what you have to deal with day in and day out.
As a surprised bonus, it seems other male tops, T-shirt and buttoned in particular, fit my frame better then women's clothing, a discovery I'm planning on making good use of. I carry myself more confidently with a well-fitted and more androgynous look in the restaurant, and find that people assume I am more capable. It will be interesting to see how that translates once the restaurant opens and I'm interacting with guests. Could this be my key to side-step the traditional gender issues in the industry and compete with my male colleagues?
Only time will tell...in the meantime, though, next on the agenda is a properly tailored suit jacket.