I loved fashion as a teenager and spent many a fine afternoon at vintage and consignment shops, trying to find clothes that would make me look more New Wave! When did that change – my desire to present a Look to the world?
Almost all teenagers think of the world as a stage: you go out to be seen. Your fashion sense is a way of projecting who you are and what you identify with. You want to be noticed; you want people to talk to you about what you “represent.” Especially strangers – it feels great to attract attention and meet people because of your clothing! And you are certainly aware of when you are admired. On an everyday basis, such as on school days, you can wear clothing to either blend in or stand out. On days off, you can wear something that helps you get in a mood: to relax or to party!
If you are keen on fashion, this mindset continues into adulthood and becomes part of you. For the rest of us, it takes a back seat.
In my case, it continued on through 5 years of university. As a teenager, I blew all the money I earned on clothes and music. In university, I had actual expenses! However, my top 2 non-education priorities were probably still clothes and entertainment. I remember spending a week’s summer wages on a leather jacket!
The first changes came when I got my first professional job. I could have showed up on my first day of work as a fashion eccentric, but I was afraid to take that risk. I was a children’s librarian, and as a group, we children’s librarians had a pact to wear black head-to-toe for all of our performance programs. This helped us “disappear” while doing puppet shows, etc. Because my budget was so strained from setting up house for the first time, these black outfits were all I could afford, so I wore black from head-to-toe for most of the next three years!
When I became a manager, I tried to keep pace with my peer group and look professional. I dread thinking about what I wore then, which included jackets with shoulder pads, and pants with pouchy pleated fronts. Ack! Even off-work, though, I was more status-conscious, and wanted to project that I was a professional person.
This came to an abrupt end when I got pregnant and eventually had to wear maternity clothes to work, which I found quite embarrassing. I did not want to look cute and have my tummy patted! During maternity leave, I had free reign to be fashion-oblivious, as nothing fit me any more, and my mommy clothes had to be spit-up proof. So my whole wardrobe was reduced to sweat suits for a few months. Well, OK, 18 months 🙂
Resuming work, I went back to Professional Woman mode. After relocating for my next job, I worked next door to a fashion outlet mall! There was hardly a day I didn’t have lunch at the mall and look for deals. My wardrobe definitely benefited! However, my work place and the place where I lived were both conservative, so my clothes were “all of a type.”
I later moved back to my home town and landed quite a different job, working with socially excluded people to encourage library use. I was out knocking on doors, meeting people at drop-in centres, and trying to show that libraries are not only for the privileged and highly-educated. It was essential that I looked approachable. This has influenced me ever since. I now work in a neighbourhood library that is social service oriented. The staff provide hands-on service to customers with various life challenges. As I mentioned in a previous post, I want to look like a person of action, not a manager in a penthouse suite.
Besides work and parenthood, one other major factor in how I dress is my changing attitude toward gender expression. I spent many years of my adult life single, and there was always an awareness of dressing to attract and keep a mate, in my case, of the “opposite” sex. (Should sexes oppose each other? Don’t get me started!) I wish everyone could dress to express their true selves. I must confess, though, sometimes it’s easier to open doors with a bait-and-switch tactic. For instance, my spouse would probably never have noticed me in my everyday work wear. So meeting him at various casual venues wearing clothing that expressed “the real me” was a better way to get to know him. In effect, I trained him to see me as that real person, no matter what I wear now. I feel like we can be authentic with each other.
I consider myself fortunate to work in a female-dominated profession. Using feminine wiles has never been an option to help my career advance. Therefore I have never dressed in a provocative way to gain advantage at work. In fact, most female staff dress less provocatively than they would “out-and-about,” to discourage unwanted attention from male customers.
There are three ways I try to look approachable to my library customers. One is by not over-dressing, so I don’t represent only the privileged. One is by dressing comfortably, so people don’t feel bad asking me to crawl under a desk to check a computer connection. And the other is by avoiding fabrics and features (such as ruffles and lace) that are mostly female-identified. As the parent of a queer kid, and an advocate, I want to “represent” for the LGBTQ community, and I can see from my interactions with people that it does make a difference. Of course, most people who are none of L, G, B, T or Q are oblivious to that!
As I have noted in other posts, my work is moderately active and messy. Except for the occasional formal meeting or presentation, I need my clothes to be wash-and-wear. I find it easiest to have a stack of single-colour shirts (not blouses, LOL!) and T-shirts to match with neutral pants and jackets or cardigans.
So now I am admitting I want my wardrobe to be easy. I really do; I don’t have the patience or the interest to sort through my closet every day and decide what goes together. But it does bring me happiness to look into my closet and know that everything fits and is body-conscious and flattering and makes me feel good about myself.
There are those who believe that everyone should dress to assert their personality, their self-confidence and their ability to attract a partner (or attract their partner). For me, like a minority of fashionistas, it’s all about fit, cut, and suitability to purpose. I am very confident knowing that how I dress is appropriate, approachable and is “truly me.”
Of course, I still like to wear my Pac-Man T-shirt when I go shopping so random strangers will talk to me about it!