Looking Presentable

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Fashion tip: On Looking Presentable by Wardrobe OxygenI was IMing with a friend on yesterday. We were discussing makeup. I was telling her about this new product I bought at Sephora last week that I have fallen in love with because it makes my skin have a healthy dewy glow without looking shiny. She said that she only uses makeup to look dressed up, and she believes she can “look presentable” without makeup when she doesn’t have breakouts.

Looking presentable, what does this mean exactly? I know many women who keep items in their wardrobe because they find them to be “good enough,” that they may not be the most flattering, but if they wear that piece they will at least “look presentable.”

My friend met me for drinks last week after work. She is a high-powered attorney who spends the majority of her days in the courtroom. She met me at the bar in a collared shirt that looked to be washed a few too many times, a pantsuit that was a size large due to her recent weight loss, a low ponytail with sideswept bangs and no makeup. She did look presentable……

Looking presentable is right up there with a little bit pregnant, technically married and all those other fibs we tell ourselves. No one is providing an award for the largest wardrobe; why keep things in there that do not look great? If you look at yourself in the mirror and think, “well I guess I look presentable;” you are not doing anyone a favor. Presentable is just a step above horrible. Presentable means no one will stare at you in the grocery store, but no one will really notice you either. You won’t look like a mess, but you won’t look like yourself – a respectable, intelligent and attractive person who cares about herself. What image was she portraying to her client, to the members of the court?

We discussed this over glasses of wine. She admitted she hasn’t been sleeping well, she didn’t feel prepared enough for this case, and felt a bit depressed about the whole day. The bright point of the day was the end when she could meet her girlfriends for happy hour. She admitted that the suit was looking a bit frumpy since her weight loss, but hadn’t gotten around to taking her better suits to the cleaners. And as for the top, she regularly considers donating it but figured it’s “nice enough” and it would be waste to get rid of. She chose to wear it that day because she hadn’t gotten around to laundry and was out of shirts.

I know many of you women are nodding to this. We all have tops in the back of our closet that we hang on to for days like this and bags of dry cleaning that sits in the trunks of our cars. We hold on to clothes that are too small or too big “just in case,” and have drawers of stained and snagged sweaters for those days when we have nothing else to wear. We hit snooze a few times too many and have no time to do our hair, let alone apply mascara. Life is too hectic to get all this done.

Would you help your child with his homework, and rush through it, feeling confident that he will receive at least a C on the assignment? If you invited guests over, would you just wipe down the bathroom with a wet paper towel and not use cleanser because it would at least look clean? If you went to a restaurant and received your dinner to find out it was not what you ordered, it was cold and it was a dish you dislike, would you shut up and eat it because at least it was food and it was achieving the goal of filling your tummy?

I hope you would say no to all of these questions. There is no need to compromise when it comes to the important things. You want your house to be clean, you want your child to be successful, you want your money well spent. You are willing to drive an extra few miles for the better grocery store, wake up an hour earlier than usual to take your kid to swim practice, lose an hour of sleep at night to clean the house for guests the next day. Why then are we so lackadaisical with our appearance? Why do we feel that just a passing grade is okay for us but not for every other aspect in our life?

Toss that sweater that became misshapen the last time it was washed. Those pants that are a hair too short should be donated to a person shorter than you. If you don’t have the time in the morning to do your hair, then wake up 15 minutes earlier. Which will make you have a better day, 15 minutes of sleep or being pleased with your reflection in glass doors, windows and the bathroom mirror? It’s better to wear the same well-fitting pair of pants three times in one week than switch them out with a disaster of a pair. No one will comment on a sweater being worn repeatedly unless it is unattractive. But one day in a bad outfit and people will notice. So don’t just be presentable, be great. Get rid of that which holds you back from greatness. A great wardrobe would let you dress in the dark and still come out looking lovely. A good haircut will require minimal time in the morning, and a good skincare and makeup routine will leave you with attractive and fresh skin; all which is far better than just being presentable.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I think you pose a great question here: what does it mean to look “presentable?” I think this would make for a great re-post, maybe even with an update to your point of view on the concept of presentability.

  2. That is a great post. I am reading it like six months later but is always a good point. When I feel under the weather or what have you I always wear red. It makes me feel better and more confident for what I need to deal with. My out of work wardrobe could use some help. I tend to put more time into my working wardrobe than the casual wear. I love this blog btw. Keep up the good work and Thanks!

  3. Good grief people !

    The blog is free info on style tips

    …if you want to look like crap..

    fine.. do your “natural ” thing

    but don’t fight over it. Apparantly

    you must feel inferior, or you

    wouldn’t waste so much arguing–

    with someone who is giving you

    FREE fashion advice– to do with

    it- what you will. READ all she says

    …she’s very thorough… take

    a valium and get in a dang bubble

    bath already.

  4. I think it also depends a lot on what career you have, let’s face it. It doesn’t matter how good a worker you are, if you work in sales for example and look tired because you are not wearing makeup (and we are a sleep-deprived society, so most people do look tired without it) and dress in old jeans and sweats, it is going to affect your work. You may be a fantastic salesperson, but you will be judged on the basis of your appearance because clients might not even give you a chance to prove you are a great salesperson.

    If your job requires going to trade expos or chamber of commerce events, you are going to be judged on your clothes too. You are the face of your company, and a sloppy image makes people distrustful. If you manage or supervise people, your clothes will set the tone to those people as to how they should dress and behave at work, and if they dress better than you, you might find yourself in the position where outsiders assume they are *your bosses* and you are the assistant. It sounds insane, but when you have your employees showing up in Birkenstocks, you have a harder time convincing them to keep an organized workspace, to not take a lot of personal calls, and other things like that. I’ve had to learn that the hard way. At first I used the policy for people here that if you are not going to visit a client, you can show up dressed anyway you want – birkenstocks, shorts, faded t-shirts, and that dressing up was only necessary for meetings. And I discovered that on the days the people came “dressed up”, I didn’t have to tell them to organize their tables, to stop taking so many calls, to push back their chairs when they got up, and on the days they dressed down, I had to tell the very same people all these things. So it does influence you. When you dress in your “work clothes”, your “uniform”, whatever it may be, you also seem to be automatically transformed into your “work self”.

    Being low-maintenaince is not the same as looking sloppy. I have a friend who doesn’t wear makeup either (not even to her own wedding, but then again, she does have a beautiful face and perfect skin) and who, in her downtime, goes around in sweatpants, sneakers, and oversized t-shirts. But when she goes to work, she makes sure to put on a bit of lipgloss, and to change from the sweatpants to trousers and from the t-shirt to a shirt that fits. It is not about changing your entire personality, it is about looking like you care about your job.

  5. Your friend sounds like she has a great marriage and career, but chooses to surround herself with “friends” who undermine and attack her. My guess is that she has those relationships AND chooses to be “presentable” because she thinks she must settle and I don’t believe in settling.

    I don’t think she is settling at all. She probably doesn’t know her friends make comments behind her back sometimes (she is pretty open about what is on her mind, so if she did it would be discussed) and it is not ALL her friends. One of her close friends tends to talk about it and has on occassion made suggestions to her, she has another close friend who is pretty much like her from what I can see. Having imperfect friends is not settling, it is accepting that if you want your friends to be perfect all the time, you wont have any. My friends have faults, I have faults…but saying that someone is setting because she is still friends with people who have different priorites than and let it be known…well, I think you have a pretty unrealistic expecation of what life needs to be like. She loves her friends and they love her…they tease her about her sweats, she teases them about spending hundreds of dollars on a hand-bag. That is not settling, that is life and friendship.

    I dont know why it is so hard to accept that someone cannot be into their looks, can feel like it is not a priority and as long as they are clean and neat and professional they are happy with thier looks…and still not have a problem or be “settling”.

  6. Jill.

    Your friend sounds like she has a great marriage and career, but chooses to surround herself with “friends” who undermine and attack her. My guess is that she has those relationships AND chooses to be “presentable” because she thinks she must settle and I don’t believe in settling.

    Settling, being presentable, good enough, are code words for “I lack value”. We settle when we give up on being the best versions of ourselves possible. The ONLY thing important in this life is being your unique best and it doesn’t come from wearing makeup or not, sweats or Chanel suits. Your value is an internal truth that is reflected outward.

    I wouldn’t eat in an immaculately clean restaurant who served terrible food and I wouldn’t eat in a restaurant that was filthy with fantastic food. I like a total package.

    PS. I have a good friend who wears no make up at all and is RADIANT. She takes great care in choosing clothes that flatter her figure and reflect her aesthetic, she uses natural products to enhance her skin, hair, and nails, and she eats a raw diet. She’s never “presentable”, she’s always gorgeous.

  7. Tracy, I totally agree self is inmportant, and when we take care of ourselves we are better able to take care of those around us. What I don’t agree with, though, is that taking care of one’s appearance is the only way to take care of oneself, or that someone who looks “presentable” does not care about, respect, appreciate or love herself.

    I have a friend who looks only presentable. She does not ever wear make-up, even to her own wedding (and she is not a natural beauty by any stretch) and is always wearing her (not even slightly stylish) jeans, snakers and sweats. She has worn a “baby backpack” (remember those?) as long as I know. She is a mother of 2 and a teacher.

    She loves her job and is excellent at it, and has moved up to head fo her department…certainaly no-body thinks the fact that she doesn’t go beyond presentable in her appearance portrays her as not doing well at her job-though I am sure the yummy mummys in the affluent neighborhood she lives and taches in have all noticed her lack of style.

    As well, she has a very happy marriage and home life. She is into Yoga and Martial arts, and takes classes in both. She is also into scrapbooking, which she spends some time on . Her kids stay with her parents one night a week so she and her husband have a night to themselves.

    This friend repscts, appreciates and and loves herself and makes it clear with her demeanor, hwer work ethics, and the time she takes for herself to do the things that are important to her. She never, ever (not even at weddings) looks more than presentable. Would I be happy like that? No, I would not…but I would certinaly not say she is any less a person or lacking in anything because she has decided that looking presentable is good enough, and her priorities like elsewhere. It was thinking about her and some other similar women I know that prompted my comments. Can you, as a life coach, really see anything she could or should be doing differently to have a more fulfilling life. Would looking better than she does really change anything about her life? The only way I cna see is her friends (not me) would no longer talk behind her back about how she dressed for a party, or bug her to wear some make-up and buy new jeans…but she is confident enough to not really care about that and know her life is how she wants it and she is meeting her priorities, and that is a far greater accomplishment than always looking her best IMO.

  8. I am really excited to read this dialog.

    As a life coach, I help women make choices based on what matters most to them. What I have found is that we all make choices based on what we believe will have the most return. There is no inherant value of one choice over another. Some mothers decide that self sacrifice is the lesson they want to teach their children, other mothers choose to teach their children that self comes first.

    I ascribe to the theory that the self comes first, as those we surround ourselves with(including our children, partners and pets) learn how to treat us and themselves based on how they perceive we think of ourselves. I think it’s a great lesson for the people in my life to see my commitment to my self.

    Most days, I spend 30 minutes showering, doing my hair, and applying makeup. I use my shower time to meditate and pray and my makeup application time to plan the day ahead. I find that the time I spend loving myself, appreciating me, being present to who I am allows me to be a more loving and appreciative partner, parent, and friend.

  9. I would guess that the people who said the stuff about passing judgement and “look at what’s on the inside” feel incredibly wrong about how they are presenting themselves to the world. Rather than attempting to pass the Wrong Baton back to Dilly, how about making a list of the things you’d like to do differently, whether it be a makeover, new wardrobe, or exercise plan, and get to making it happen?

    I don’t have to have issue with myself to comment on a blog and give my honest (and somewhat negative)opinion of a posting.

    Have you looked at my blog, which is 80% about beauty and fashion, and the almost 40lbs I lost last year? I have no issues with taking care of myself, nor do I have issues with other women that are “into” their looks as I happen to be. I do, however, think it is unfair to say it is wrong to look “presentable”, and comparable to not doing your best at parenting-which is far, far more important than looking good. Not everyone is into their appearance, and there are far worse things in this world to be than merely “presentable”. If you think there is something wrong with me believing that or saying it, maybe it is your own priorites that need a tweaking.

  10. Um, I was not taking offense and I was not dissing Dilly (who knows I adore her), I was giving my POV as a working mom who does go to some lengths to look more than “presentable”, however has friends and co-workers who are happy with looking “presentable” and still manage to portray themselves as capable professionals and find other ways to show that they respect themselves besides having good clothes and nice hair. There is nothing wrong with that, was all I was saying.

    Also, although child-free people people hate hearing it (and I did before I had my daughter!), life truly does change after kids and for some people priorites make a huge shift, and that is okay. Dilly comparison of making sure your child’s homework is done well enough to get higher than a C to making sure your clothing is well put together and more than just “presentable” was…well…rather ignorant.

  11. I’m actually proud of how I look, but I know I only rent my good appearance. It’s telling that you would find my only motivation for making an appeal for finding an alternate source for self esteem than beauty to be symptomatic of my insecurity over my appearance. It seems you are completely convinced that physical appearance is the root of all motivation. Real beauty, sustainable beauty, will only come from priding yourself on enduring traits, not physical beauty. A woman who dresses frumpy but smiles because of inner acceptance and appreciation of life in general is gorgeous and irresistible. Looking good can give you confidence but it’s a brittle confidence. I don’t intend to offend anyone, and I am sorry if I did.

  12. To the 2 commenters that seemed to take offense:
    This post is not about judging anyone, but if you want to read it that way, by all means, go right ahead.

    Commenter Tracy is a very good friend of mine and she can tell you that I used to be the Queen of Schlump, and yet I expected people to treat me as if I was this fabulous person. God bless her for yelling at me and making me wear clothes for my current body shape and going with me for makeovers. She got me to make an investment in myself, and I have seen a major difference in the way I am treated as a result.

    I would guess that the people who said the stuff about passing judgement and “look at what’s on the inside” feel incredibly wrong about how they are presenting themselves to the world. Rather than attempting to pass the Wrong Baton back to Dilly, how about making a list of the things you’d like to do differently, whether it be a makeover, new wardrobe, or exercise plan, and get to making it happen?

  13. I can’t believe people are dissing you Dilly! Every society, EVERY SOCIETY judges people by appearance, be it weight or jewelry or fabric they wear or their hair… it has been that way forever. How can you know what a person is like, whether you trust them, fear them, respect them, befriend them? How do animals judge one another?

    I think all you’re pretty much saying is we should respect ourselves as much as we do other aspects of our life? And what the hell is wrong with that? All you wannabe transcendental selfless hippies are more superficial and self conscious than you wish to admit. Making a post on this blog shows you care waaaayyy too much about other people’s ideas and technology for that point.

    So namaste everyone.

  14. Maybe you should try valuing yourself by other attributes instead of what you wear and how your clothes make you look, like your intellect, your spirtuality, your personality ect. This culture that imposes shame on people because their shirt had been washed too many times is pathetically superficial.

  15. Your blog is awesome! This post hit home for me. I think everyone should care for what they look like, and I think you give realistic ways to look great while still having time for other more important things. My friend, a fellow SAHM sent me your blog and I have learned much from it. Keep it up!

  16. No offence, but really who are you to judge? I personally have always been into taking care of myself and looking good, and it is a priority for me. Having a busy lifestyle with a child and a full time job hasn’t changed that for me…but I do know other women whom it has changed for (especially after having kids) and I get it. There is only so much you can do in a day, only so many priorities one can have…looking good doesn’t have to be everyone’s priority. I know women who wear mom jeans every day, and have split-ends and wear no make-up…they are respected at work because they do their jobs well, and they are as happy or happier in their personal lives as I am with my highlights, stylish clothes and Sephora cosmetics.

    If a woman feels bad about letting herself go, she has a goal. Great, send her to my blog! But if she is cool with it and presentable is where she is at, who is anyone else to say it is not okay? If she thinks her child’s homework being perfect is a priority and looking her best instead of “presentable” isn’t, who cares? Maybe she just does not have the time to get a good haircut, go shopping and make sure her kid has what he needs. Balancing it all is hard for women,and once you add a kid or kids to the equation, it is sometimes unsurmountable. If I did not have a job that has a lot of “road” time where I can fit in quick trips to the shops or salons, I cannot say what I’d look like right now. I know I could not manage my wardrobe and personal care the way I do if I was stuck in an office 9-5 everyday, with barely time to make it to daycare pick-upm after work!

  17. Good and important post, Dilly! Often, we women fall prey to the “good enough” syndrome because we take care of everybody but us. I always encourage the women around me to realize and acknowledge that they are worthy of pampering; they are worthy of looking and feeling beautiful at all times.

  18. Thank you for this post. I am a woman who wears makeup everyday (whether or not I go outside), combs my hair into a neat bun if I don’t have the energy for a full on hairdo, and will at the VERY least wear a velour hoodie suit if I don’t feel up to an “outifit”. I have never understood why anyone would go outside looking anything less than their best.

  19. Once again spot on. That is my 47 year old self. Yeah the baggy straight leg jeans okay for just a quick trip to the mall- then I feel awful when I look around and see all these polished people. I still can not do it every day- self esteem thing I think. The worse part is as you get older you do become more invisible – so you actually need to work harder. I will read your post every day to keep me on track. Valerie.

  20. Hello Dilly,

    How clever of you to post about me when we haven’t met! This describes my current hiatus about my 49 years old appearance. thanks for the inspiration, I needed the kick in the pants to change.I spend more money and care on my adult daughter and my two dogs.
    Ann Marie

  21. Great post. I spent years thinking “this is good enough for work”, maybe cause I was a teacher. So any t-shirt without visible holes = good enough for work. Exercise pants that didn’t look too “exercise-y” = good enough for work, and so on. I had a hard time adjusting to an office environment, haha.

  22. Hey Dilly, I found your blog about a month ago, and I find myself nodding my head vigorously whenever I read one of your entries! I’m also in the DC metro area, and I think many busy Washingtonian women fall prey to the “good enough” syndrome outlined in today’s post.

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