Friday, April 15, 2011

Finding Fashion: Why I'm Still Looking

I recently read this article on Shine titled “The Surprising Reason Wearing Designer Clothes Can Help You Succeed At Work” and it brought me back to an unpleasant work time when I was in my early 20s.

While I am away from this world and this industry, I’ll keep the identifiable details to a minimum. Suffice it to say, it was a small company and the president was a woman. A trainwreck of a woman. Let’s just say she was 40 and repeatedly cried in her office and used the phrase “doing the deed.”

She was well-known for flirting with the men in the office, showing up late to meetings because she was talking with her long-distance boyfriend, and getting all up in everyone’s personal lives. She’s also famous for telling a woman who had come in from maternity leave with her baby: “that THING is disrupting this environment. We WORK here, you know.”

While she was well-known for being a total cuckoo bird, she expected fanatical togetherness of her mostly female staff. My co-workers were predominantly blond, thin and clad in trendy designer clothes. I had put on some weight before I started the job, and also gotten a new apartment with significantly higher rent. I did not have time with the new job to work out, and I did not have money with the new apartment to really get new clothes.

I had a 30-day probation period and I thought things were going well. I was learning my new role quickly, my direct boss liked me very much. I thought my co-workers were nice and helpful. And then my boss dropped a bomb on me.

It was, hands down, one of the most awkward situations I have ever been in. Possibly for her, too. She hemmed and hawed a little. She did allude to the good things I was doing and then she started mumbling. You guys, my boss was the picture of cool and class ALWAYS. For her to be this uncomfortable was unsettling. What she said was even more unsettling.

“This industry is…different, probably, than what you’re used to in journalism. You know, because we’re in front…well, you know, we have to go in front of rooms and people and such. And so, you know, the president…well, you know she’s just a little… …but she wanted me to, you know, suggest to you…well, just point out, I guess, that appearance is very important in this job.”

I made it through the discussion and managed to stumble to the bathroom two floors down and I cried like I’d never cried before.

Allow me to tell you something about me: I.DO.NOT.CRY.AT.WORK!

I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve cried in the VICINITY of work.

My dad is in HR and I am well aware of how this appears. I’m also very accustomed to working with men, so I know even more acutely how this appears when it’s a woman doing it. Especially a young woman.

I did the best I could with this information. I went shopping and started my first credit card bill ever that I didn’t pay off right away. I by no means got designer clothes. This was long before I discovered tailors and sales and followed Kat's very important rules of shopping. 

The truth is, this has stuck with me for a long time, long after I gave that job the boot (a decision I made not long after that discussion). I have always compared myself to my co-workers. Always strived to look like other people.

The result? I realized in San Francisco, I have no personal style. I can go into a mall and tell you my best friend will love this shirt because she rocks orange and brown like nobody else. I can tell you my roommate will always be drawn to jewel tones. I can not shop for myself. I’ve seen three personal shoppers in my life, all three have lent their styles to me. I have the most schizo wardrobe you will ever see.

Now some of that is just me. I’m the girl who hangs a Patriots jersey next to my purple jersey dress.

But it’s just hard to face that in my 30s, I don’t know who I am in terms of fashion. I talk a good game. I shop a good game, sometimes. But I think that moment at work really shaped me in the sense that I never again truly trusted how I presented myself to the world.

Thank goodness I work at home now!

Have you ever had someone comment on your appearance negatively? Do you cry at work? Do you have a personal style, and if so was it one you consciously developed or are you just drawn to a certain style?


Mommy Lisa said...

My grandmother asked someone in the kitchen at my bridal shower why I was so fat. And I actually thought I looked pretty cute that day. :P

Amanda @ It's Blogworthy said...

I can't remember a time when I've had a comment about my appearance, but I can definitely relate to the crying at work. I try not to cry really around anyone but my family/friends, just because it looks bad in a work environment. Since I had the baby, it's unavoidable (and during my pregnancy, too).

As far as clothing, I'm drawn to just certain pieces but not a real style. I like cardigans and pencil skirts for work. I like black pants/skirt or other solid colors and then solid colored shirts. What I love is pairing with funky jewelry (fake stuff, of course). Now I don't have any money to shop, so what I have is that I have to work with!

Anonymous said...

Oh my Lord. Women at work are more ridiculous than men, honestly. Sexual harassment? Totally manageable (hello, tangible solution). Women trying to tear other women down (you're too pretty, you're not pretty enough, you're too thin, you're too fat, you're too talkative, you're too quiet, your hair looks incredible, your hair looks like shit)? NOT MANAGEABLE.

I'm still figuring out this whole personal style thing myself. I don't want to say that Lauren Conrad is right, but she's right on this one. Go through your closet and find the 10 things you wear the most (excluding yoga pants). Those are your staple pieces. Find other things like them, in other colors. Go through a magazine and tear out pictures that you like. Now go out and find those things. The hardest part is translating what you like on paper into what actually goes onto your body. Just trust the system.

Sparkling said...

THat sounds exactly like Glenn Close's character (or was it Meryl Streeep, I always confuse them) in the Devil WEars Prada.

I am a teacher, so I can pretty much wear whatever as long as I am not revealing anything. Although, some people do reveal things and in my building, this is not addressed. So, when the weather is nice, I dress nicely, maybe trendily sometimes and get compliments. Compliments that are worse than people telling me I usually look like crap. Because their compliments really end up saying that "Oh, you look so NICE." "I'm not used to seeing you in a DRESS." "Oh, dont' you look GREAT today." But, my boss would never be allowed to tell me I have to change my appearance. Thank GOD. Stacy and Clinton would really have a field day in my closet because I too am quite schizo.

The Woven Moments said...

The fact that anyone has an opinion about my appearance makes me uncomfortable.

I'm so sorry to hear this story. I think you are beautiful, stylish or not.