Volume 23, Number 4

Office Etiquette

Listen to the cry of a liberated woman. “Fashion is my slave.” In the morning, Lorraine spends time perfecting her appearance. After a shower, then blow-drying her hair, she gets dressed for work. She glances in the mirror, smiling at her reflection. Her face lightly powdered, golden brown hair cascading softly past shoulders.

She dresses in suits, alternating between skirts and pants in muted navys, browns, grays, and blacks. She knows that color is important. Anything that deviates too far from the norm is to be avoided. Most days, she wears a necklace of cream pearls and an off-white button-down. Some mornings, a colorful bracelet to draw attention to her manicured hands.

Shopping for shoes is an art. Experimenting with regal purples, seaworthy aquamarines, and sequoia greens, she likes to try different color schemes. Often purchasing purses to match, she expresses her creativity in the workplace through her bold accessories. “Fashionable, but professional: that’s my motto.”

Listen to the cry of a liberated woman. “I tell people what to wear and they obey.” A law firm requests Ashley’s attendance at a luncheon. The women lawyers want to hear her presentation on the “Dos and Don’ts of Corporate Fashion.” She shows up enthusiastic to give them her advice.

“Avoid political hairstyles such as an afro or dreadlocks. Braids are also to be avoided, if possible. You don’t want to turn off clients by your politics or distract your co-workers. No offense, but those political hairstyles really have to go.

Listen to the cry of a liberated woman. “I am the boss.” Judith hires secretaries, interns, and government officials.

In an interview, she glances at her prospective employee’s red tie, crisp white shirt, and black suit, placed beautifully on his brown skin. “Are you aware that red is a power color?” Judith asks. She must assert her dominance early if she desires to run her workplace effectively. She only hires those whom she deems acceptable. She generally avoids ghetto dudes.

Yesterday, she had to remind Javier that calls to his home were unacceptable during the workday. His Spanish bothered her, for she liked to know what her employees were saying. Better to fire a disgruntled worker early than jeopardize her authority over the workplace.

The American Dream

Listen to the cry of a liberated woman. “I fit in.” In her tan trousers and white button-down, Lydia walks firmly through her office. Her cubicle is simple and chic. Pictures of her dog, parents, husband bring a touch of the personal to the office space.

After work, Lydia relaxes with subscriptions to Glamour and The Wall Street Journal, desiring to keep up on the trends. She wears her hair as it should be: pressed, processed, or sewn-in. Her hair, the color and shine of obsidian, falls at least to her shoulders. Other women envy her hair’s volume. They do not envy her brown skin.


“Office Etiquette” is a response to poet Mónica de la Torre’s “How to Be Well Dressed: An Intervention” (which is a response to Joan O’Sullivan’s guide How to Be Well Dressed). “Listen to the cry of a liberated woman” is a repeated line in de la Torre’s poem.

Chen, Vivia. “Cleary Gottlieb Has a Bad Hair Day.” The American Lawyer 07 Aug. 2007.

De la Torre, Mónica. “How to be Well Dressed: An Intervention.” Talk Shows. Chicago: Switchback Books, 2006.

Diebel, Linda. “‘Ghetto dude’ email sent by mistake: province says.” Toronto Star 21 Jul. 2007.

Diebel, Linda. “McGuinty apologizes for ‘ghetto dude’ email.” Toronto Star 23 Jul. 2007.

Diebel, Linda. “‘Ghetto dude’ slur still haunts job applicant.” Toronto Star 29 Dec. 2007.

Dorning, Annie Marie. “Black Hair Dos and Don’ts.” ABC News. 07 Oct. 2007:1-2.

“Glamour Editor to Lady Lawyers: Being Black Is Kinda A Corporate Don’t.” Jezebel 14 Aug. 2007.

—Elizabeth J. Mitchell