Gravitas lost through wearing sleeveless dresses: Discuss.

Sleeveless dresses are too informal for serious issues

A former Canadian Prime Minister has declared that women wearing sleeveless dresses on TV is demeaning and they lose gravitas. Should they follow a more formal dress code?

Another day, another media outrage with an ex politician saying that gravitas is lost through wearing sleeveless dresses.

The Ex- Canadian Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, tweeted:

“I am struck by how many women on television news wear sleeveless dresses- often when sitting with suited men. I have always felt it was demeaning to the women and this suggests that I am right. Bare arms undermine credibility and gravitas!”

Sleeveless dresses

 As a successful woman, Kim Campbell speaks from experience

This is a really interesting point, and before I write any more, I should mention that Kim Campbell is 70 years old. She has had a significant career as a diplomat, lawyer and in politics. Here is her Wikipedia entry.

Ms Campbell was very successful in a world when there were far fewer women in senior, influential, visible roles, and she worked internationally as a diplomat. She had to dress in a formal way: this was expected and she had to use clothing to show seniority and gravitas. And certainly at music college we were all told that sleeveless dresses for any woman over 20 was unacceptable dress for anyone performing in concerts.

Do you worry about how you come across in the workplace? Take 3Plus’ FREE Executive Presence Self-Assessment.

Are times changing?

But is this the case now? Do we have to dress in a particular way to show our seniority or to demonstrate gravitas? We live in a very different world than in the 1990s (when Ms Campbell was Prime Minister). What we wear is less formal than those days. We have the CEO of Facebook who wears hoodies and jeans – fantastic. Certainly when I go to work with some clients in the city, I’m the smartest dressed individual in the office! In fact the PA of one of my clients always teases me for being TOO smart in the office, as I’m shaming everyone else!

My personal feeling is that you need to dress appropriately for the work environment you are in. If you are in a very formal environment, such as law courts, wearing sleeveless dresses – showing lots of skin, would not be appropriate. There is a dress code guide. It is recommended to wear more formal clothing – so a jacket to cover your arms. There are many work environments where it is less formal. In the creative industries, for instance, a suit wouldn’t be as comfortable, or practical. I can’t imagine your average diva rehearsing a new opera production in full diva attire nowadays!

Serious business needs a serious dress code

But here is the rub; they are not sharing formal news. The photograph above is of a reporter with a sleeveless top. I suspect she’s reporting on a less formal topic: for example the Oscars, or the birth of a ‘celebrity’ baby. Perhaps even a sports or arts story. Would she look appropriate if she was reporting a tragedy or disaster? News items on TV are visible globally. Revealing too much skin for more formal situations – such as delivering the news, is seen as disrespectful.

Campbell has a point for news readers; if the male anchor is wearing a suit and tie, the female anchor should match this with equally formal wear. This means a jacket to cover her arms or a dress with sleeves. This is the ideal time to discuss dress code and what is appropriate for more formal work environments rather than being outraged.

Make sure you are making the right impression from the moment you walk in the room with our Introductory Professional Image Consultation

3Plus, 3Plus online e-Gazine for professional women, Gender Balance, Professional Image and Fashion, Sexism, Unconscious bias
Web | Email | Twitter | LinkedIn
Susan Heaton Wright is a public speaker and voice and presentation trainer uses her experience, knowledge and expertise as a former opera singer and performer, to empower individuals and teams to make an impact with their voices and physical presence.

Leave a Reply

Found that interesting? Learn more about our services
Individual services
Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.
more info
Corporate services
The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)
more info
Upcoming events
Currently we don't have upcoming events
Download and listen free podcasts
Why all women need a strong LinkedIn profile
Free Download

Data on women on LinkedIn has always been hard to get and analyse, but some new information sheds light on how women use the platform differently to their male colleagues and what those differences mean. You will find out why you need a strong LinkedIn profile.

It has always been difficult to identify women on LinkedIn because it’s not possible to do a search based on gender. Any efforts to track women on LinkedIn specifically, involve complex Boolean strings involving pronouns or searching via women’s clubs, universities and networks. So any analysis has always been more anecdotal around perceptions and personal experience, rather than data based. However research from 2017  using LinkedIn member profile data for members in the United States over the past 12 months. Published on the LinkedIn blog it supports pretty much what we already know about women on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn  is the main professional data base used globally by hiring managers and recruiters, yet women continue to engage less than their male colleagues, putting themselves at a distinct professional disadvantage. Now we have some facts and figures as well as tips and tricks to persuade  you to up your game. All women have to have a strong LinkedIn profile. No ifs and buts.


How to Get Noticed by Head Hunters & Recruiters
Free Download

In this power coaching podcast, we’re going to tackle one of the questions asked multiple times a week by active job seekers and passive candidates.

How can I get noticed by head hunters and recruiters and connect with them?

In this short power coaching podcast Dorothy Dalton shares some tips and tricks to make sure that you are always on the radar of the recruitment and search specialists who can be most helpful to you. With extensive experience in executive search and corporate HR Dorothy has placed, coached and trained thousands of men and women to career success. As a career coach she has a deep understanding of the job search market and what job seekers need to do to position themselves to they are easily found.

As CEO of 3Plus she also has deep experience of the challenges women face in the workplace. Sadly because women tend not to create career strategies they can be vulnerable when it comes to dealing with change. Regular transitions become career crises. In this short session you will learn some simple tips and tricks to make sure you are on the radar of key recruitment specialists in your sector, geography or function.  It’s not rocket science.





One of the most puzzling things about working in executive search is that people and I say this reluctantly particularly women fail to plan ahead. You’ve heard me say before that only 5% of women have a career strategy. This means that they are not prepared for any emergencies until they become a crisis.


Goal setting tips to boost your career
Free Download

The happiest people are those that really love their jobs. Those that don’t, dread Sunday nights and the upcoming work week. So how do you get to a place where you look forward to a new week of doing what satisfies you? You’ll have to either learn to love your current role, or make a commitment to pursue your dream job. Use these goal setting tips to help you get to where you want to be.

Some women choose the latter, and to do so you’ll have to set career goals to get where you want to be. So make sure you have a detailed plan on how to land a job that you will tick all the boxes.

The majority of women choose to stay in their own organizations and even then you still need to have goals, not just KPis set by your manager. But even if you do see your career developing within your current business it’s still important to set goals.

Many women struggle with career planning and creating a career strategy which can lead to problems. This makes them vulnerable to and sort of challenge which can moprh into a full blown career crisis. Some simple steps to plan and prepare can help avoid this.

Take a look at these goal setting tips to help boost your career and set you on the right path.

Lewis Carroll  said

If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there.”

Research shows that only about 5% of women create career goals and a career strategy. This can have a negative impact on your career progression. It means you are reactive not proactive and career glitches can morph into full blown crises. It puts women at a clear disadvantage to men.

Learn these simple goal setting tips to boost your career and protect and prepare you for all eventualities. If these goal setting tips make you think that you could use some further help,  contact us immediately.


When Does Female Rivalry Turn into Sabotage
Free Download

There’s a lot of stuff written on social media about  female rivalry and competition between women. Some of it makes sense and some of it is confusing. Organizations are pyramids with fewer roles at the top than at the bottom. It is inevitable that at some level, as more and more women are in the talent pipeline, at some point they will be in competition with other women.

Many would say that women aren’t competitive. I would suggest re-framing that. I think it’s more accurate to say they are not as competitive in the workplace as men. We have also been made to feel guilty about being competitive. We need to get over that.  Here are the reasons:

  1. The male nature of corporate culture makes it a disincentive to compete
  2. Women don’t want to compete because  prescribed male goals are not attractive enough for them. “Work 14 hour days, not see my partner or family … get sick.. thanks.. I’ll pass”
  3. Women don’t know how to compete in the workplace. They are new arrivals on the corporate competition scene and lack practise.
  4. Women experience gender blow back when they do compete, from both men and women
  5. Women have been raised to think that competing with other women is not empowering them. As more women enter the talent pipeline that is just nonsense.

Learn some insights from Annabel Kaye, Employment Law Expert about how it’s OK to be competitive and the danger zone when it can turn into sabotage. Understand the benefits of mutual support and how all women can profit from having strong strategic allies, role models and mentors.