I never consider my age in my wardrobe. I sit squarely in the “if you love it, work it” camp. For heaven’s sake, I own and wear a peach crop top with a crocheted elephant. Heck, I never consider my age in anything. I have to pause when I’m in conversation and make a Seinfeld or Friends reference, and I get a blank stare, and then realize the person across from me isn’t old enough to have watched those shows religiously. My age just isn’t part of how I choose to dress, whether for weekends or for work. I’ve been fortunate to work in roles that, while certainly not in the “creative-wear-what-you-feel” realm, and are even in the conservative camp (my last company was an accounting firm), I can push the envelope. I have no issue being the one in the lava colored “powerpants.” Ever.
I thought carefully when I picked out the clothes I wore last Friday, and the ones I put on this Friday. I thought twice when I tried on a dress I ordered so I’d have an easy, professional go-to in my closet, and it was just a bit shorter than I like to wear in the office. I checked the mirror again when I put on a dress that should be a reliable knock-’em-dead standby, but it hugged my body with at least five pounds more force than it did a year ago.
I considered a lot when I went to buy a few new pieces for my closet because I have a new role in my career. Because I love clothing and fashion, choosing them should have been a small joy. Clicking through the spring sales should have been a celebration of my professional accomplishments. Normally, it all would be.
Over the last month my clothing choices felt weightier. Though I’ve been in similar positions for the better part of 10 years, this new one is unabashedly, formally executive. That label seems to have effected me sartorially, and I’m off kilter. As I get dressed each day, I’ve noticed I shy away from things I used to wear easily: a sheer top I’d wear with a camisole and balance with conservative trousers, a dress I bought (and love) that’s about half an inch shorter than I’d like, or stepping into higher heels with a skirt for fear the hoochy factor would go too high.
That last one, especially? It blew my mind.
I have absolutely no issue with using what I’ve got at my disposal. I’m a tall, well-proportioned, and fit woman with an unusual haircolor and strong, shapely legs. I know my appearance can be powerful. If I have a major meeting or presentation, I turn to my snakeskin and vibrantly colored sheath dresses. I put on my Stuart Weitzman pumps. I add rhinestones to my ears and wrists. I put nothing on to distract, mind you, but I know what works.
So why am I hesitant, all of a sudden, to use the tools and armor on which I’ve relied for years, and, quite frankly, push women around me (of course you can pull off the print mixing and the unusual heels or the blouse with the progressive cut, go for it!) – all because of a formal role shift? I’ve been mulling over the phenomenon probably way more than it warrants. It’s stuck in my craw, so I’m going to wonder out loud.
Putting this out into cyberspace is scary. I’ve known many of my colleagues for years, but some don’t know me at all. That fear aside, I suspect there are other women out there wondering and thinking the same things, so here we go.
So far, the most significant reason I can find for my hesitancy is that I don’t quite believe that I’m an executive, and part of a team making decisions for the strategic direction of a company.
There. I said it. I can’t imagine I’m not the only woman to share this insecurity out loud. Sure, maybe there are men out there with doubts; those doubts show up differently for them, I’d think. For me, it’s showing up most clearly in my clothing choices. I’m hesitant to wear the strong things I wore not 2 months ago because I don’t trust my own abilities.
Daily, I remind myself to not couch my opinions with conditional phrases. Daily, I bite my own tongue to cut off the modifiers to hedge my statements and proposals, both virtually and literally, so I do say I mean. Daily, I push forward in areas new to me, just beyond my comfortable expertise, and hope that no one sees through me. Daily, I stop and think twice before I ask a question, for fear someone will interpret that question to mean that I don’t know my job.
As an accomplished 41 year old, it seems incongruous to me that I feel this tentative. I feel silly worrying about my clothes. I’m ashamed that I don’t believe outright in my abilities and capabilities. If they even notice it, those around me don’t see my clothing other than as acceptable. Rather they see me as able, capable, and strong.
I wish I could say writing this, getting it off my chest, is helping me work through it. I hope it will. At the moment, though, I’m still feeling tentative and wary. So I’ll just bundle it up and use it. I’ll coach myself through those timid moments. I’ll put on my Big Girl Panties, hike them up high, and march forward. I’ll remind myself that I can use clothing as armor, as strength, and if I need it, it’s there. But more than any of it, and pardon the Stuart Smalley moment, but I’m strong, I’m able, and I kick ass. And gosh darn it, people know that.
I put clothes on daily, and I love the challenges I’m conquering in my role. Each moment holds some confidence and a dash of fear. I’ve decided that’s the way I want it right now. I don’t have the answer as to how to feel as strong and capable as others see me and as I know I am, nor do I know what any of this means for my closet, if anything. I’m going to keep thinking and writing about it over on my site under the tag “Executive Style.” If you’d like to join the conversation, I’d love to have you.
By day, Alison Santighian is a contractor for the federal government, using her super powers to serve our country, but by night (after bedtime for her “Beans” now 7 and almost 5), she pines after the “it” factor. Alison and “H” (better known as #besthusbandever) don’t believe badass has an expiration date, so they hit concerts, shows, restaurants, and openings across the globe. Alison also writes for Glass Magazine, adding a business woman's eye to fashion week reviews and style features. Follow her on Twitter.