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Wear Sneakers, Still Get That Promotion

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Leaning In, in Sneakers

Every morning, I stand in front of my shoes and have to choose: heels or weakness?

No one’s ever told me outright that choosing flats — or high-top sneakers, or moto boots, or Toms, or the other lowly footwear alternatives piled high in my closet — is weak. But I’ve internalized the message nonetheless. I partly blame the fashion industry (never a hard thing to do). More so, I blame TV shows and movies, which never fail to depict powerful women marching down hallways or city streets (!) in pumps. And though I hate to admit it, I also blame the real, non-fictional women all around me on my morning commute, making me look (or feel?) bad as they head off to work in their high heels, each confident step indicating a certain degree of professional success.

That heels mark a woman as powerful is an insidious twist, with one sartorial tyranny swapped for another. Heels used to signal femininity of the mature, worldly, sophisticated variety. Even when worn by working women (think Joan on Mad Men), heels were a sign of womanhood first and foremost.

Yet somewhere along the line (perhaps, and no complaints here, as women started to rise in the professional world), high heels became a requirement for women conveying professionalism and authority. If I’m a woman who wants be taken seriously, I better be wearing heels. Choosing anything less — less uncomfortable, less stylish, less grown-upfeels like surrendering to a lower, lazier standard.

Sure, “adult” clothing isn’t technically a requirement for professional influence these days. The rise of Silicon Valley made it clear that suits and ties are no longer the uniform of success, and even banks and law firms have followed suit, so to speak.

A woman in a nice dress.

But does the same apply to women? As a millennial working in digital media, I have the privileged choice of wearing flats (or even — gasp — sneakers) to work each day; and on most mornings, as I stumble bleary-eyed to my closet before trekking to the subway, I’m grateful for that choice. But it only takes one run-in with a woman in high heels to make me question everything: not only my suddenly-sloppy outfit, but my status as a professional, my authority as a boss, my command as a leader.

Maybe it’s because I’m short, or because look even younger than I am. Maybe it’s because, like in so many areas of life, the progress men have made in loosening the grips of office dress codes hasn’t yet reached women. Maybe it’s because women will simply always feel more judged by their clothing, bearing the burden of so much meaning read into our clothing choices. Maybe it’s because, for women, professional power and sex appeal are still tied up in one another.

Regardless of the reason, if Zuckerberg can rise to the top in a hoodie, a woman should be able to in sneakers. Now if only I could remind myself of that the next time I step into an elevator with a well-heeled woman. —Ellie Krupnick, managing editor

Feature
Keeping Henna Alive at the Somali Mall
A woman getting henna.

The “Somali Mall” in Minneapolis is located on Pillsbury Avenue, and it’s called the Karmel Mall. It consists of two buildings with a garage parking lot in between. The main entrance sign is emerald green with the words “Suuqa Karmel, a Somali Mall” in white lettering. There’s another “Somali Mall,” but this is the most popular one.

The traffic by the mall is brazen, with cars stopping in the middle of the street to drop off and pick up people. Inside, the shop colors are garish and vibrant, and the hallways are narrow. Clothes — abayas, diracs, skirts, hijabs, baatis, jewel-encrusted dresses — line the walls. I’ve been told by elders that walking through Karmel Mall is like walking through a market in pre-war Casa Popolare, Mogadishu. Here, the colors and overpowering scents coalesce, sticking to skin and to clothing. Often, my little brother will tell my dad he smells like “the neighbors”— the Somali tenants that live directly across the street — or “the Somali mall,” which is to say that these places bear a familiar scent of sundry spices, perfume, cooked food, henna dye, and frankincense. These scents tell a story of cultural and economic resilience despite 25 years of displacement and hardship; they tell the story of Mogadishu some 8,000 miles from here; they tell a story of diaspora.

At Karmel Mall, the shops close during prayer times for ten to 15 minutes, a brief reminder that money is less important than God. The call to prayer — the azan — blares through the speakers at noon (Zhuhur), 2 p.m. (Asr), 4 p.m. (Maghrib), and 7 p.m. (Isha). Somehow, time doesn’t stop at the henna parlor, though, for neither the artists nor the patrons — almost like the rules don’t apply to us. I’ve been brought up accustomed to this kind of rule-breaking — something I’ve begun referring to as a sort of magic — that takes place in feminine spaces like gardens, kitchens, hammam spas, and henna parlors. Here, women from all walks of life come to get their henna done, discuss issues of the day, and practice their art.

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I don’t quite remember why or when I banned skirts from my wardrobe. It feels recent-ish and not a consciously deliberate choice. Truth be told, I’ve always felt my best and truest self in some sort of pant/trouser situation.

My work uniform is usually some sort of denim-on-denim combo, or a dark T-shirt and dark jeans combo. If I’m working from home, it’s almost always a muumuu, and in the winter when I have to run out for errands, I’ll throw on leggings. If I’m having a bad day or experiencing gnarly period cramps, I’ll put on my coziest sweats. I don’t know why, but in my lizard brain, pants just means “get sh!t done,” and dresses are almost always for parties and weddings.

I ordered this Eloquii skirt ($120) because I was bored of all my party dresses and needed something chic a few weeks ago for a very fancy party. My god, did it deliver. It’s very feminine but not overwhelmingly so, and definitely more versatile than the floor-length gown I was considering wearing instead.

True story: Everyone’s waist looks great in this silhouette. And it’s so, so, so comfortable and silky smooth — well, satiny smooth. It also comes in taffetta, which I think just means “heavier and shinier” in fabric.

Pair it with a black turtleneck or a sexy bodysuit. Dress it up or down — your choice — but you really can’t go wrong and will look elegant no matter what. Don’t be intimidated by the price, either! Eloquii runs a sale literally every day, so look for the code at the top of the site and go to town.

The best thing about this skirt was dancing in it all night. I’m a hardened, cynical big-city lady with no time for cutesy stuff, but even I can’t deny the power of a good skirt twirl. —Aminatou Sow, editor-at-large

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