Barbie, dresses, a pioneering architect and a disability

How much do you think about what you wear to work? US architect Kelly Hayes-McAlonie has had reason to think about it a lot, and she made her thoughts the subject of a fascinating TEDx talk(TEDx is like the little local cousin of TED, and the best talks compete to get on the main TED site).

How much do you think about what you wear to work? US architect Kelly Hayes-McAlonie has had reason to think about it a lot, and she made her thoughts the subject of a fascinating TEDx talk(TEDx is like the little local cousin of TED, and the best talks compete to get on the main TED site).

Hayes-McAlonie, who lives in Buffalo, was involved in the development of architect Barbie, one of the latest career incarnation of the popular and anatomically impossible doll. Architect Barbie wears a brightly coloured dress and apparently, among the criticisms that were made, was that she can’t be an architect because she isn’t wearing black. Hayes-McAlonie brushed this aside, but was more taken with the criticisms of an older generation of women architects who said that they had fought for their careers and not to appear in this sexualised way.

This led her to look back at a pioneering Buffalo woman architect, Louise Bethune, who was told that she couldn’t work as an architect because she couldn’t go on site to supervise construction, because how could she get there in the dress that was considered the only decent wear. Of course she did, just as women climbed mountains and trekked across Africa in similar attire. 

Bethune did this despite the dress but in the last year or so dresses have proved a liberation for Hayes-McAlonie. She was almost completely paralysed by Guillain-Barré syndrome, and although she has recovered most movement her hands still don’t work properly. As a result she can’t cope with buttons and struggles with zips. Her solution – dresses, which she wears everywhere, even on site.

Power dressing may seem an outdated phrase, but for Hayes-McAlonie these are truly power dresses. Her talk is funny, touchingand informative, well worth the 10 minutes it takes to watch it.

Whoever said clothes were a trivial concern?

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