Dress Profesh: Deconstructing Power through the Clothing
Citation: Manthey, Katie. “Dress Profesh: Deconstructing Power through the Clothing.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 21, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/021.m03
Abstract: Dress Profesh, stewarded by Katie Manthey, is a digital space where people can interrogate, challenge, and teach each other what it means to embody professionalism.
Keywords: website, gallery, gender, professionalization, embodiment, fashion.
Dress Profesh (www.dressprofesh.com) is an online gallery of user submitted images and text that showcase and challenge notions of what it means to look “professional.” Part “What I Wore Today” blog and part resource guide for theorizing and practicing “professional” dress, Dress Profesh invites participants to interrogate their own dress practices with an eye towards the problematic (racist, sexist, sizeist, classist, ageist) implications of both implicit and explicit dress codes.
In their 2015 piece, “Embodiment: Embodying Feminist Rhetorics,” Johnson et al. posit that “the physical body carries meaning through discourse about or by a body. But embodiment theories suggest that meaning can be articulated beyond language. All bodies do rhetoric through texture, shape, color, consistency, movement, and function” (39). Dress Profesh takes up this notion and extends the “texture, shape, color, consistency, movement, and function” of the body to include dress practices that people engage in in order to look “acceptable” in the workplace. Often, the underlying values of a workplace are colonial notions of “respectability.” As Carmen Rios explains that “dress codes make room to turn a lot of ‘isms’ into policies—especially since typical standards of professional dress are, at the core, racist, sexist, classist, and xenophobic.” Dress Profesh is a digital space for embodied multimodal rhetorical action, where people to come together to interrogate, challenge, and teach each other what it means to embody professionalism.
Johnson, Maureen, Daisy Levy, Katie Manthey, and Maria Novotny. “Embodiment: Embodying Feminist Rhetorics.” Peitho Journal, vol. 18, no. 1, 2015, pp. 39-44.
Rios, Carmen. “You Call it Professionalism; I Call it Oppression in a Three-Piece Suit.” Everyday Feminism, 15 Feb. 2015. everydayfeminism.com/2015/02/professionalism-and-oppression/.
Sample Blog post (Dress Profesh)
I remember the first time I really thought about my body in the classroom. I had been teaching for a few years and was wearing something that was unflattering when I reached my arms up. I had to pull down a projector and made sure I got to class early to do it. During the class, I got so excited by the discussion and what I was teaching that I became pretty animated and ended up reaching up to write something on the very top of the board.
My clothes didn’t fit the way I wanted them too, I was sweating, my make up wasn’t perfect anymore…and I was having a blast.
I remember thinking: “oh, I’m uncomfortable with how I must look right now” and then thinking “well, it’s worth it for this lesson.”
It’s worth it for this lesson.
In what ways do we sacrifice our bodies when we teach? In what ways do we sacrifice our tightly controlled perception of ourselves when we stand in front of other people and put the message before the mode?
I’ve had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) since I was a kid. It’s ebbed and flowed during my teenage years, and I started medication in my 20s for anxiety and depression that also helps with OCD. For each of the last five years, I’ve had a different tic–sometimes physical, sometimes verbal. They manifest during times of transition, especially when large groups of other people are involved. Last year it was tapping two fingers together. This year, it’s furrowing my eyebrows and scrunching my face, which means that I look upset pretty often.
This can be alarming for other people during interpersonal situations, so I stand in front of my classes and explain OCD to them. “I’m not really mad at any of you,” I tell them. “I just have a lot of anxiety, and this makes me feel better. If you do say something that upsets me, I’ll be sure to be overly obvious about it.” Sometimes people laugh with me. Some of them look at me like I’m from another planet.
I can’t stop scrunching. I guess we will all just get used to it.
I’ve been teaching for over ten years now, and I still have sharp moments where I both realize that I *hate* how my arms look, and that those arms that I loathe (and feel guilty about loathing them, because I should know better…) allow me to gesticulate wildly and keep the attention of 14 young people as they laugh their way through understanding ideology and consumer culture. I also try to remember that by showing my arms and the rest of my fat, queer, OCD-I-can’t-stop-scrunching-my-face-because-I’m-full-of-anxiety body, I am creating space that shows a (hopefully) positive representation of fat, queer, OCD people in society.
I’ve always been very, very concerned with what other people think of me. It’s part of the rush of teaching–how do I balance content and form? How do I present the information in a way that makes me seem both knowledgeable and approachable?
At what point does the lesson become more important than my comfort in my own body? Will there be a point where I become comfortable with this discomfort?