Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why Do We Dress to Impress?

Yesterday morning, I was up by 7am.  I ate breakfast, I showered, I fixed my hair, applied make-up, slipped into a dress and heels and headed into the office.  I was at my desk my 9am.

For most women, this is a typical workday.

For me, it's not.

I grew up dressing to impress.  Pants in church were verboten.  High school was all about having the *right* jeans and shoes.  Guess and Polo reigned supreme.

College was even worse.  I went to the ultimate country club, conversative, prepster university.  Mid-90s slacker/grunge skipped right over Greenville, South Carolina.  Sorority jerseys, hair bows, pearls and dresses were the standard uniform.  I worn jeans *maybe* once a week.  I never once wore pajamas or sweat pants.  I even wore make-up when I worked out and put on a dress or skirt for Sunday morning brunch in the dining hall, even if I'd slept in and not gone to church. 

This dress to impress compulsion persisted throughout grad school and my early working years.  

We're told to dress to impress.  For the job that we aspire to.  For the person we want to be.  For the people we could possibly meet.  For the off chance Stacy and Clinton are hiding out in the Publix with a video camera the day I decide to go--gasp--unshowered and in my 15 year old running shorts to get some groceries.

But here's the deal.  I love heels and dresses and make-up as much as the next girl.  But these rituals are expensive.  And time consuming.  And quite frankly, often unnecessary.

I HAVE the job I aspire to.  I am COMFORTABLE with who I am.  I don't care anymore if Stacy and Clinton catch me off guard wearing workout clothes to run errands, because hey--at least I'll get a $5,000 shopping spree out of it.

And most days, I dress--or dress down--for the sole benefit for my cat and dog.

As women and as a society, we've created all sorts of rules about what's proper and acceptable.  Conversation on recent blogs about the topic have turned into heated debates about whether jeans are acceptable conference attire and the "proper" height of heels and skirts.

But exactly WHO are we trying to impress? 

Are we impressing or just conforming, and to what end?

My friend Allison wrote a brilliant post early this week about this very subject.

There's being professional and neat, and then there's being so obsessed with what everyone else thinks that you're afraid to leave your house without being just *so* for fear of mocking or scorn by anonymous people who could care less about your messy hair, big zit or ratty flip flops.

I totally understand dressing for office culture, for your audience, for the occasion.  I would never wear flip flops to present at a conference, nor would I ever wear anything revealing to anything but a cocktail party.

But I find nothing wrong with meeting a client in my workout clothes before I head to the gym or walking down to my neighborhood restaurant without make-up on.  I'm done trying to be or look perfect all the time.  I can be just as if not MORE productive sitting at home in my underwear as I would be sitting at a desk in an uncomfortable suit. 

And that outfit I wore yesterday to the office?  By 2pm, the seam of my dress was insanely itchy.  My feet were throbbing.  Most of the make-up had sweated off.  I longed to be at home in my PJs, where I could stop worrying so much about how I looked and--gasp--get some work done.


  1. hear hear!!!! I grew up the exact same way. Went to an SEC university where we had on (sometimes) SUITS for football games! Ka-RAZY! I'm in a fairly relaxed office now, but truth be told, even as relaxed as this office is, I'd be WAY more productive sitting at home in a t-shirt and sweatpants. Cheers to you for living the dream, my friend.

    Michelle @Everyday Celebrating

  2. I can't stand being dressed up when I work at home! Somehow my grandmothers southern belle-ness did not fully extend to me!

  3. Well said! I agree with all points and get so much more work done when I'm comfortable in what I'm wearing.

    And, I will admit that I happened to be watching Stacy and Clinton while I read this :)

  4. Michelle, OMG---yes! The suits to FOOTBALL games. We Southerners are a crazy bunch!
    Twin Laura: I miss you. Bring on the loconomy awesomeness!
    Kristen: I figured since you teach yoga, you'd understand. ;)
    Flossip: We have to embrace the Southern belle when it make sense. But I love me some PJs!
    Kelly: I love that you're commenting while watching Stacy and Clinton!!!

  5. I came to work in my cycling clothes this morning, but I had to get out of them. Not because I was dressing up for someone, but because I SMELLED!

  6. @Gini: Ha! I know--sometimes I come home from workouts and get so caught up in work until I smell something foul and realize it's me!!!

  7. Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry thought the guy became Jewish just for the jokes? I became a yoga teacher for the clothes!! Even if it's a day I'm not teaching, I'll most certainly say (even if just to myself), "Oh, I'm a yoga teacher." Woot Woot!!

  8. Love this story, and chuckled to myself as I grew up in a very opposite atmosphere. I went to a catholic elementary school and a letter went home that skirts were to be worn on Fridays by firls when we went to church. My mom (who grew up in Richmond, VA and went to UVA) told my elementary school principal (and nun) that i had to jump the fence to get to the school bus, and that she would put me in nice pants but not make me wear a skirt. And so started a life of wearing pants to formal events, jeans or khakis and flannel up through the first few years of my professional life (as a civil engineer)and no makeup. I loved your post - it made me smile as I thought and compared histories. It's all about being comfortable with yourself. Sounds like you are.


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