The survey results (so far)

At this point, we have had over 400 responses to our survey on women’s wardrobes and their leadership identities.

When we began this project, we sat in Pat’s kitchen and counted our likely participants on our hands. Amanda even made a joke about having to convince people to fill in the survey. The response to this project has been, frankly, unexpected and wonderful.

We wanted to share some of the survey results with you. At this early stage, we are still working through the analysis and theorisation of these data, so we have presented some interesting snapshots below.

Who are our participants?

Our participants are women from all over the world. We’ve heard from leaders from Australia to England, from Canada to Bangladesh, from Finland to Malta, and from Poland to the United States.

The majority of participants in this study were between 36-45 years old, but participants’ ages ranged between ~20 – ~75.

Participants have had between 6 months and 25 years of leadership experience in schools.

The majority of participants were in public / government schools. We also heard from participants in rural, alternative provision, private, and religious schools.

Some Key Messages about Wardrobes  

We have started to write about some of these points in our blog and have linked relevant posts below. 

The majority of our participants had a ‘work’ wardrobe and another wardrobe. ‘Professional’ dress was the standard for school, which often meant dark suits and dresses, heels, stockings, and carefully coiffed hair and makeup.

At home, participants preferred jeans and sneakers, or flowing and comfortable clothing.

Feelings were mixed about creating an image through wardrobes. Some participants enjoyed it, while others resented it. There were comments about the labour involved in presenting a certain type of image as a school leader. People spoke about feeling restricted and uncomfortable. Women in our study spoke about the significant costs involved in buying and maintaining a work wardrobe. They spoke about the confidence that their wardrobes afforded them.

Participants spoke about who they dressed for – mostly staff and parents, and then students. We were a little surprised by the order of this, expecting that participants would speak more about pedagogical elements in wardrobe decisions.

Women in our study spoke about their power dressing move, and these responses were rich and deeply fascinating. Jill Blackmore’s study and subsequent book ‘Troubling Women’ showed participants talking about red lipstick as a power dressing move. We used this as a prompt for questions, and participants’ responses ranged from agreement to ‘when work starts paying for makeup, I’ll start wearing it’. Cosmetics and hairstyles were a common response here, as were towering heels and statement pieces (shoes, jewellery, accessories).

The greatest part of reading the data is seeing participants’ personalities coming to life – women spoke about ‘walk[ing] around, daring people to disapprove’ of their choices.

The hardest part was seeing so starkly the difficulties women are facing in this area. We saw comments about being damned if you do, and damned if you don’t choose to comply with expectations and norms for how women leaders should dress. We saw women express their frustration at how hard it can be to make these choices every day. We saw women poignantly talk about reclaiming their mornings, eschewing their usual makeup routines to opt instead for a leisurely breakfast.

We are grateful to participants for so openly and generously sharing their stories with us. We are excited to take the next steps with the project, which will involve following up with those people who volunteered to be interviewed. We’ll also be starting to experiment with some new methods and research approaches. Stay tuned!




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