When Style Isn’t About Expressing Yourself

Do you ask yourself in the morning, “What’s the state of my interiority today, and how can I authentically express it through my clothing?”

I don’t.

And I don’t think many professional women do, either. My goal for the day isn’t to ensure that my external appearance wholly reflects who I am on the inside, if there is such a thing as an inner, authentic self.

While paparazzi (and also Karl Lagerfeld) might assume that jogging pants reflect inner turmoil, most people don’t make grand narratives out of our lives based on one outfit.

Rather than trying to project “who I am,” I dress with two pragmatic goals in mind. The first is comfort. Call me practical, but once I put on my outfit, I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want it to be overly constricting. I don’t want rashes to develop in places I can’t scratch, and I don’t want to have to tug my jeans up every time I sit down. Also, because I have the world’s most problematic feet, I absolutely cannot prioritize fashion over foot functionality unless I’m either being whisked away by a chauffeur (not happening), or can learn how to manage smiling pleasantly while being in excruciating pain (I can’t). In other words, I don’t want the discomfort of my outfit to distract me throughout the day from what I’m supposed to be concentrating on.

My second goal is to project confidence, in order to command respect from colleagues, clients, and sometimes, even family. It’s not as important for me to express myself as it is to present myself in a way that doesn’t signal subordination or a lack of authority. Regardless of your profession, women need to work much harder than men to command the same level of respect–and this is even more of a concern for minority women, petite women, young women, or women who look younger than they are.

Sometimes these two goals are at odds with each other, notwithstanding instances where uniforms are required. Adding height, for instance, is always a professional advantage, especially if you’re petite. You might decide that any potential benefits that come with heels are worth any physical discomfort.

Of course, even if we’re not fully “expressing ourselves,” we still want to feel like ourselves. But happily, you don’t have to wear The Perfect Outfit to feel like yourself. Instead, your goal should be to find an outfit that feels “just enough” like yourself.

I gravitate toward combinations of white, navy, black, and blush/beige, because I find this to be the perfect balance between satisfying my own style preferences, being physically comfortable, and encouraging peer respect. This might not convey an inner penchant for drama, but it’s not an absence that I notice throughout the day.

What about you? Does what you wear to work reflect who you are? What kind of compromises do you make with how you dress, and how you’d like to dress?

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