It's Personal: Baseball dress code seems to target women

Ines Sainz, a reporter for the Mexican network TV Azteca, works on the sideline during the second quarter of an NFL football between the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sept. 13, 2010.
Ines Sainz, a reporter for the Mexican network TV Azteca, works on the sideline during the second quarter of an NFL football between the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sept. 13, 2010. (BILL KOSTROUN / Associated Press)
Posted: December 16, 2011

A decision earlier this month by Major League Baseball to impose a dress code on reporters who cover the sport provoked a number of reactions.

Moral outrage: How dare they create "dress guidelines" that obviously target mostly the women who work the boys' world of clubhouses? (Tank tops, sheer shirts, and skirts/shorts of a certain length are now banned.)

Passionate approval: It's about time someone sent a message to the harlots who show up in anything but Mom Jeans or blocky, boy-like polo shirts while mingling with mustard-splotched baseball fans and chaw-spewing athletes in jockstraps.

Confusion: If tank tops and shorts are out because they're too suggestive, are plucked eyebrows next? Lipstick? Gym workouts that keep you svelte? Should attractive women on the baseball beat chomp back Munchos and pack on a pair of clubhouse-friendly love handles - you know, just for insurance?

My reaction, however, didn't hit those predictable hot buttons. Instead, it whacked in the direction of women's wallets.

Have the fashion police within the baseball commissioner's office been out shopping lately for women's work attire? Because the business model for many respectable retailers and designers these days is built on expensive tank tops, lacy camisoles, and cellophane-like shirts, all of which broadcast the bra.

Being a woman trying to dress for a man's world has never seemed harder, or more expensive, particularly if you're also looking to dress in a way that makes you feel, well, not completely asexual.

Working women of modest means - those not making Albert Pujols money ($250 million) - typically pay more than men to suit up. The retail ecosystem has long favored boys over girls at the cash register, but today's fashions require multiple purchases to cover a single torso.

As a retail writer who occasionally chimes in on sports, I gathered evidence this week at Banana Republic and J. Crew at Suburban Square, a BMW-packed mall on the vaunted Main Line.

On shelf after shelf were tank tops and gauzy shirts. All of which revealed that the playing field in the retail fashion world is as tipped against women as baseball's new dress code appears to be.

Wool cardigan sweaters at 40 percent off $89 begged for a second purchase. Perhaps the scoop-neck, long-sleeve shirt of nearly translucent modal material, 40 percent off $39.50, could marry the cardigan? Total cost: $77.

A nearby table was full of tank tops and camisoles, including polyester and rayon tanks with gold detailing. Price: $35. Body-hugging camisoles with spaghetti straps: $25. A glittery cropped sweater, 40 percent off $59.50.

Around a corner ... MORE TANKS! Farther away ... MORE TANKS! Deeper into the store ... MORE TANKS! A polyester number with a ruffle was $69.50. It would pass baseball muster with a $79.50 silk polyester cotton sweater.

Still not your style? How about a sequined tank for $49.50 with $98 black slacks, and a $198 blazer?

No tanks in the men's department. Or see-through shirts. The big star was the button-down. Sale price: $25.

Phyllis Merhige, the MLB senior vice president who headed the dress-code committee of three male team PR directors and two female sportswriters, said the goal was to be gender-neutral.

Flip-flops, muscle shirts, and clothes with team logos also are out, as are torn jeans.

"Everybody seems to be thinking that this is targeted only towards women," Merhige told me. "Somebody's going to have to take my word that it is not."

Yet the changes were partly inspired by an incident a year ago in which a Mexican TV sports journalist was catcalled at a New York Jets practice. She has been snapped at work in a white, short-sleeved, button-down shirt and tight jeans.

A looser form of that combo is common among male reporters. As a male friend in the Philly sports press corps put it: "Polo shirt is acceptable. Ten bucks. Short-sleeve casual dress shirt. 15 bucks."

MLB's new guidelines call for clothing "appropriate for a business-casual work environment." Merhige asked my opinion of what that is.

In J. Crew, I told her, under a "What To Wear To Work" sign, hung an $88 sleeveless, ruffled silk blouse in blaring fire-engine red/orange. I asked a clerk the color. "We call that flame," she replied.

Merhige, a 64-year-old Eileen Fisher devotee who described herself as "too overweight to wear sleeveless," sounded surprised by this.

"I don't think that the economics played into our thinking when we came out with the guidelines," she said. "I do think it's an interesting perspective. None of us are professional shoppers, and it never even came up, to be perfectly honest with you. We just brainstormed some of the things we've seen around the ballpark."

Next time, they might just give me a ring. Save them a lot of aggravation.


Contact staff writer Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431 or mpanaritis@phillynews.com or @panaritism on Twitter.

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