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Adventures in Wardrobe Malfunctions

Whether we like it or not, how we look matters.  How we dress and present ourselves is part of the overall package we’re judged by.

I was thinking about this, laughing with a friend over different wardrobe mishaps and bad judgment calls we've made.   I know we are all judged, but I believe women are judged a bit more harshly.  There is much more focus on how we look.  Look at the attention we see shown to what any given First Lady is wearing, newscasters, what’s up with Hillary Clinton's hair and how she is looking these days, etc, etc.  There are a lot of mixed signals about what we should and shouldn’t be wearing.    I’ve made some of the “rules” up myself as I went.  I have been given (or heard from others what they were given) well-meaning advice from magazines, articles, other women, and men that sometimes felt stifling, some absurd, some were meanness masked as well-meaning advice, and some advice that was actually good.  You certainly have to dress for the environment you are in.  And at the same time I didn’t want to be an automaton like woman, looking like I’m trying to be a female version of the corporate man.  Many of us have sported the severe bob or other “professional” hairstyle and the safe grey, navy blue, or black suit, which I did try by the way.   Early on I even resorted to chopping all my hair off and wearing severe dark geek glasses.  My thinking went something like this:  "Damn it you will take me seriously as a brain and not as just some cute blonde!!  Not worry my pretty little head with this men's work?  I'll show you!!" (Brilliant I know.)  One of my favorite comments from a manager during this time:  "I thought harass was two words."  Get it? Ha, Ha - her ass.  What I learned though is that while it did seem that the men were assumed competent until proven otherwise, and women were assumed incompetent until proven otherwise…you do prove your competence through the work you do.  But still, how you look and present yourself matters.  I'm not just talking about men here either women can be the toughest critics of other women.  It sometimes seems like a way of marginalizing women and detracting attention away from the important things, the amazing talents and capabilities we bring to the world.  If you love your power suit, awesome, rock that look and more power to you!  Some of you work in places that require it.  I guess it is about finding that balance between being comfortable with yourself and the way you present yourself to the world, while also being respectful of the environment you work in.   And we have to be cognizant of the message we're sending, is it the one we want to be sending?

My adventures were in Corporate America.  Hopefully you'll get a good laugh and share your story.  We tend to take ourselves so very seriously, it is good to laugh at ourselves a little once in awhile and light up.  We’re only human.

I have had many mishaps, and a few that truly make me cringe.  I’ll start this week with this one:

It is one of my first big appearances across the street with some of our very senior executive management on a top floor of a building that has 60 floors.  It is a 7am meeting and all of you that know me know that I have never been a morning person.  Ever.  So I am, of course, rushing to not be late for this meeting.  It is a haul from the parking garage to my office to drop my things in one building and then get over to the other building for this meeting.  I make it on time, I’m even a few minutes early.  After getting through the special security doors, I get to sit for a minute to catch my breath and try to calm my pounding heart that is a combination of the trek and nerves.  I think through what I want to say one more time.  I get invited in and am immediately struck by how out of place I am here.  Large, serious looking portraits of former executives (all men older than me) cover the walls around the room and seated at the enormous dark wood conference table are all men.   And me:  Small town WV girl, smile all the time, a bit free-spirited, long blonde hair and in a skirt.  But at this point in my career I am used to being one of the few or only woman in the room, and have always taken seriously the responsibility of doing well to hopefully help pave the way for other women.  I think(I hope) I did well during the meeting.  I know my stuff and am good at what I do, I leave feeling relieved that it all went well.  I’m dismissed so they can carry on and I’m already dreaming about the coffee I’m going to stop for on the way back to my office when I look down and realize that my skirt is COMPLETELY sideways.  Literally sideways, with the buttons going down my hip and the side zipper in front.  This would not be SO bad if it wasn’t a skirt with two rows of buttons down the front that makes it totally obvious that my skirt is sideways!!  Shit.  So much for paving the way for women everywhere!  Text to best girlfriend who knows I’m nervous about the meeting and wants to hear all about it when I’m done goes something like this:  “OMG!!!  I just went into and left that meeting with my skirt on sideways.”  Apparently all my “running” caused the skirt to turn on me (pun intended).  Sigh.  It still makes me shake my head in resignation.  No one said anything.  I can only hope that men really know so little about women’s clothes that they thought it was the fashion!  The reality is I'm probably the only one that remembers it even if they did notice.  Well me and maybe my girlfriends, we got a good laugh out of it.