I am often attacked for my belief that style is a necessity for all people. I am told that people don’t have time, don’t have money, and feel that trying so hard to look good makes one appear superficial, materialistic, shallow and not a true reflection of their intelligent/feminist/scientific/minimalist self. Here’s the down and dirty.
You are judged by what you look like. Accept it.
Whether people realize it or not, they make assumptions about you by your appearance. This affects how you are treated at work, in a store, by your peers, your neighbors, a waiter, a doctor, a minister.
You may say you don’t care, that if a person gets to know the real you, that appearance is no longer an issue.
I had a coworker, a brilliant and hardworking woman. She worked in a different office from me, but we were on many projects together and got to know one another via phone calls and emails. She was a higher position than I, and she soon became a bit of a mentor to me, and then a friend. She admitted to me after many months that she was looking for a new job because she felt as though she wasn’t respected within the department. I agreed that she seemed to lack the respect, and I couldn’t understand why. She was poised, professional yet warm. As a mentor, she gave constructive criticism, challenging tasks and plenty of feedback. In her role, she was quick, detailed and talented. Clients wrote letters about her great performance with a project, however upper management spoke of her as though she was an idiot and a bit lazy. I never understood why until nine months after we first started working together, I met her in person. She was slim and tall, though seemed uncomfortable in her skin. She hunched over and let her long straight brown hair hang over the majority of her face. When she laughed she covered her mouth as though out of embarrassment. Her hair never seemed to be brushed, she never wore makeup and her clothes looked as though she inherited them from her grandmother – they were all too large, too short for her long legs, and seemed to be from the 1980s (shoulder pads, peplum jackets, weird large floral boxy jackets with matching long broomstick skirts, etc…). Though she was in her mid-30s one would guess that she was closer to 50.
She soon left the company and got a job where she telecommutes. When she left I overheard management discussing it, thinking it was no great loss, “not like we could put her in front of a business meeting!” I thought it was a shame, some of the best work and brightest ideas just left the company. But they were right… how could you put a person who seemed so ill at ease in front of clients trying to sell our company, and make them believe that we are the best decision?
When I was in high school, I was the previous millennium’s equivalent to goth. I had black hair, shaved off part of it, lived in a motorcycle jacket, Doc Marten boots and torn stockings. When I walked in the mall, mothers would hug their purses closer to their sides. I was once asked to leave a store even though I had done nothing but walk in and flip through a rack of clothing. As the statistician for my school’s soccer team, I once had a busload of players from another school taunt me and one player spit on me calling me a “psycho.” Funny thing was I was an honor roll student, president of many clubs at my school, attended church and had a very healthy and close relationship with my parents. I was considered a “goody goody” by my friends, not partaking in drugs, drinking, smoking or mature relationships with my boyfriends. However I had black hair and lots of eyeliner so those who did not know me considered me to be a derelict of society.
In college I was a blonde for a couple of semesters and saw how differently I was treated. People were more willing to come up to me and ask directions or speak to me, I had a more relaxed rapport with teachers, and people thought I seemed “happier” during that period of time. Funny thing was that I was actually having the most miserable year of my college career, but no one took me seriously when I complained. I guess I didn’t “look” unhappy enough to school counselors or friends.
I have a dear friend. She is a gorgeous woman inside and out. She oozes confidence and femininity and is incredibly intelligent. One place she does have problems is in everyday society. We meet for drinks and she tells me how for the fourth time that month someone has literally slammed a door in her face because he didn’t see her behind him. She goes from job to job, having much success in the interview but after a few months somehow ends up taking up the responsibility of the intern, the receptionist and the admin while those with less education and time with the corporation move up in the ranks. She goes to the bar and ends up standing there far longer than anyone else, never getting the attention of the bartender. She has found that in the love department, she has had the most success in online dating where a relationship via IM and email is established prior to meeting one another. Once they meet, the man is usually positively smitten. I thought about all of this while I sat across from this beautiful woman with insanely green eyes and long lashes, who has the cutest laugh and the most graceful movements. Then I thought about how she dresses herself. On that night at the bar, she was wearing a moss-green short sleeved cotton shirt, black trousers and black shoes. The shirt was fuzzy from far too many washings and looked garment-dyed probably from use and not from design. It looked to be 100% cotton and it looked as though she tried to get out the wrinkles with a run through the dryer. Her attempt was not successful as that the shirt looked like she pulled it off the floor of her bedroom. Her trousers were leftover from her 20 pound larger frame three years ago and bagged everywhere they shouldn’t. They dragged on the ground from the extra inches and the hem was torn and muddy. Her shoes were big chunky black loafers; a pair I had myself in the mid-90s that looked like clown shoes on her petite frame. Her hair was a blunt cut to the jaw, parted in the middle and tucked behind the ears. No jewelry, no makeup, no adornment whatsoever. I knew her as a fiery brilliant woman, but those on the street (and in her office and behind the bar) probably find her to blend into the woodwork, seem mousy and unsure of herself.
We discussed fashion and she told me that no offense to me, but fashion depletes brain cells. One hardly ever sees a person with a PhD and a pair of Jimmy Choos. My response is that looking good does NOT have to equate with current fashion. It is possible for every person n the planet to look good, look appropriate and look the part of their culture/personality/lifestyle. That your insides have to be reflected on your outside to truly have personal style. I thought back to my years of black hair and torn clothes and wouldn’t have changed a thing – though I may not have fit into a crowd, I fit into my life and my personality. When I went to church I traded my monkey boots for loafers and my plaid miniskirts for a more conservative sweater with trousers. I thought about her, and wondered how that green wrinkled top expressed what kind of person she was. Her wearing that top was just as conflicting as her wearing my leather biker jacket from high school, or a cabbage-rose adorned dress from Laura Ashley.
- There is nothing wrong with having a uniform. The staples (see the sidebar) are tools to help it be effortless to look nice. I know many women who have just a handful of items in their closet all of the same color story yet they always look pulled together. I know moms who are always rumpled, and those who always look crisp. I notice how some of my mother’s friends look a decade older than the others, and some who look a decade younger based just on hair and clothing.
- Like my good friend, I am not a “crisp” person. If I wear white, I will spill coffee on it. If I wear cotton, it will get wrinkled. My hair falls flat, I sweat, I eat off my lipstick. To battle this, I hardly ever buy things that need to be ironed. I rarely wear white, and I buy a lot of knits. I always carry a Tide to Go pen with me, and I have learned to wear my hair in a way that works with my afternoon-limp hair, not fight against it. Why spend money on things that contradict who you are and make you uncomfortable?
- My friend’s favorite color is purple, yet I don’t think she owns a single purple thing in her wardrobe. She lives in neutrals, yet is a primary color personality. It is possible to be simple, classic and comfortable in a blue top as much as it is to be so in a tan one. Wear what you like, and it usually looks far better than what you think is easy, safe or comfortable.
- If you love to travel, then show it with jewelry you pick up on your travels. Are you an artist? How will anyone know in your drab, neutral frocks? Be an extension of your works with the colors and patterns that you wear. Want people to believe you are smart and serious? Then wear smart and serious with clean lines, simple pieces and strong yet minimal accessories. Love the outdoors? You can be stylish and still wear clothes that let you hike and climb at a moment’s notice. Hate consumerism? You can show your beliefs and look good with great items from Goodwill or your sewing machine.
- Be mindful of what you buy. Before you ever spend a dollar on a piece of furniture, an item in your grocery cart, or a piece of clothing take a minute to stop and think. Visualize this thing in your life – imagine it on your body, your plate or your home. Does it bring you joy? Does it make you better? Does it work with your life or against it? You have to buy pants, you have to buy shoes. Why not buy that which works for you as well as with you? Life can be tough, taking a few moments to think before you spend can make the road a bit easier and more pleasurable to travel. And you never know, that moment of mindfulness may get you a promotion, a date or a faster drink at the bar!