This excerpt is from The Book of Etiquette by Lady Troubridge (1948, First published 1926) The World’sWork (1913) Ltd, Kingswood, Surrey.
Has enough changed?
The Business Woman The Modern Woman
There was a time not very long ago when women’s interests were confined chiefly to the home. For a woman to be actively engaged in some business or profession meant one of two things, either she was an old maid or she was a queer, but to-day woman is a citizen and she may choose to use here talents and capabilities in any way she chooses. There are women of the law, women police, women editors, women directors, women in every conceivable branch of art, industry, and commerce.
But in spite of this there is still a difference in the business status of men and women. Years of blind adherence to what most of us now consider was false tradition have robbed women of their proper development in business and professional life, and in many cases woman is regarded as mentally inferior to man for the simple reason that she is woman. It may take many years before she is regarded as the equal of man in business and professional life and in politics, and until that time comes it behoves every woman who is interested in the progress of the race to do her share in building up the right attitude towards sexual equality.
One of the seemingly small but really important things which woman can do is to be so well-mannered and so suitably dressed that no man, however exacting, can find any excuse to condemn her as unbalanced, tiresome, or a mere slave to fashion.
Woman must be self-confident: self-confidence, if not allowed to develop into conceit, brings with it a certain force of manner and dignity of bearing.
Clothes Which Give the Right Impression
To be well, that is suitably dressed plays a considerable part in the development of self-confidence. The woman who would succeed in business must remember that she cannot do justice to herself or to her work if she is worried about her clothes; neither if she is unsuitably dressed will she make the right impression upon those with whom she comes in contact. Women who wear absurd clothes cannot be surprised if they are judged by those clothes, and it is absurd to go to a city office clad in a dress which is suitable only for an afternoon tea party. The woman who is seriously engaged in any profession , business , or art will certainly not have very much time to make or mend, and it is not advisable she should spend what spare time she has in sitting at home and sewing; therefore she is wise if she adopts a style of dress which, though sufficiently fashionable and becoming, is simple and of an order which does not continually need refurbishing. She should, when dressing, make sure that she is looking her best, that her clothes are good of their kind and well put on, then she can dismiss them from her mind: but although she dismisses them from her mind, they will have a great effect on the minds of others.
Many a girl has missed obtaining a good appointment because she showed lack of care and thought in her clothing and insufficient attention to her personal appearance. It is most undesirable that a woman who goes into business should endeavour to make appeal through her femininity; but, on the other hand, no man can be expected to wish to employ a girl whose hair is untidy and ill-brushed, whose hands are not nicely kept, and whose clothes are shabby and ill put on.
It is not necessary to spend largely to dress so as to look neat. A plain, well-tailored suit lasts for a long time: it does not go out of fashion quickly and is suitable for almost any season if worn with thick or thin jumpers or blouses.
Following the Fashion
There is a great art in knowing how to follow fashions in order to look sufficiently up to date without appearing over-fashionable. Every season there are fashions, for those who take the trouble to look for them, which will not date, and it is to these that the business woman must give her attention.
A Gaudy Style of Dress
One need only step into an office for a moment and glance at the women clerks to realize how inappropriate the clothes of many of these girls are to a business atmosphere. The typist may continue to wear her unsuitable clothes, but any woman who has brain power to rise above the ruck will soon realise that she must, so to speak, dress her part, for there is nothing more conducive to respect ad honour in business that a quiet taste in clothes as in everything else. The woman who is well and suitably attired obtains instinctive respect, whereas the flippant person with gaudy clothes kills by her appearance any desire to have further business dealings with her.
Appointments, When Applying for a Post and Written Applications are covered, suggesting a level of independence that is not available to an applicant today. Lady Troubridge assumes that women can apply to a business, requesting an appointment to discuss â€˜an idea which I think may be valuable to you in the conduct of your business. She suggests that once the idea has been discussed, the applicant leave as soon as her â€˜capability, though a pleasant, quiet manner and straightforward, connected assemblage of her facts has impressed the prospective employer. Having won an interview after applying for an advertised Â post the applicant should â€˜by her quiet and sufficiently deferential manner show that she realizes that she is interviewing a prospective employer. She will be wise to show by her conversation that she is really anxious to work and to consider the requirements and interests of her employer, and not merely to earn so much a week and do as little work as possible. The written application should be typed if the position is for a typist. Otherwise, she will be judged largely by her handwriting, the wording of the letter, and the paper on which it is written. Plain stationery of good appearance should be used; the letter must be most carefully worded and very neatly written. Great care should be taken that every word is spelt correctly. In each of the applications, Lady Troubridge refers to the salary that a woman might expect and that this should be part of the application.
The Manners of the Business Girl
A girl who has obtained a position in a business house and who has ambition should be very careful, by her manner and by the way in which she performs her work, to earn the respect of her employers. Giggling and chattering, loud laughing, and talking on staircases and in passages in business hours are very bad form.
Any show of ill-temper or impatience is to be deprecated; if there is anything to which a girl can reasonably object, she should state her objections quietly and in a pleasant manner. If punctual, methodical, competent, and pleasant, she will win her way; but if she wishes to make a career she must also show herself able to take responsibility ad to be capable of initiative.
Business Life and Private Life
A girl who goes into the world to make a career needs, like any other girl, amusement and indulgence in feminine pastimes, but she must learn to keep her business life and her private life separate. She will do well especially to keep her love affairs to herself, and not to indulge in affairs of the heart with men with whom she is connected in her business concerns.
Practically all that has been said of the young woman in business is applicable to the young man on his entering business or professional life.