One day, I was told I’d be more successful if I dressed like a leader.
“Look around, see how the other PMs are dressed.”
I looked around and saw a bunch of men wearing button down shirts and slacks.
“See her? She’s more conservative. This isn’t a club in here.”
Being a designer, I took this feedback very seriously.
I had a knee jerk reaction to tell him “screw the man!” and “I should be able to wear whatever I want as long as I’m smart and I do good work”. The other part of me, however, thought-“yeah, I see what you mean. I’m a young woman trying to be taken seriously in a older male dominated industry. It’s time to play the game. I keep my hair long because it gives me more power as woman. I wear lipstick and heels to networking events and interviews. This is just another thing I should leverage to even out the playing field.”
I went shopping for business clothes and nearly barfed over all of the options. Everything was uncomfortable and black, navy, or beige. Nothing had pattern or color or personality. I reluctantly bought a bunch of button down shirts and slacks.
For about a month, I grabbed whatever slacks were next in line, threw on a button down shirt and a belt, and went to work. Already not so happy in my job and feeling out of place in the new, more serious team, my new attire made me feel even worse.
My coworker came back from paternity leave and noted-“you look… Different.” I explained to him that I was trying to be more professional. He said I had great style and that I was fine the way I was.
My other colleague was outraged. She thought it was sexist and unfair. Guys get to walk around with sandals, t-shirts, and jeans. It seemed like a double standard.
Then one day, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across Rhianna in a see through diamond dress and a headpiece that resembled a bedazzled swim cap. Sparkly and nearly naked at the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards, she gave a thoughtful speech that made me realize this exercise in “professionalism” wasn’t about compromising my style, it was about compromising myself.
“Fashion has just been an outlet for me to express myself, to speak up, to say who I am… There are rules and rules are meant to be broken.” – Rhianna
I watched the video and teared up, realizing that I was miserable because I had stifled my creativity and my voice by trying to adhere to someone else’s standards. It wasn’t helping me, it was hurting me.
While I may never have the guts to wear a see through diamond dress to work, I’ve decided to ditch slacks and button ups.