Even as a teenager, I stood out because of the way I dressed. The way I styled my hair. The way I look. I mean, I have freckles for crying out loud. And when I did use it, the make-up on my face. I’m digging for photographic evidence but basically, my style of dressing emulated that of the amazing Anita Mui. Just do a quick search on Google for how she styled herself during the 80s and you’ll understand my groupie feelings where she was concerned. I wore harem pants in the late 80s. Pixie boots in a country wherein the only seasons we had were dry and hot, and wet and hot. This was also the time I very happily painted my lips Black and swished around in ankle length skirts (in Black, but of course) as homage to Robert Smith. I recalled odd looks aplenty and how my parents would be ever so often asked why I did the things I did. They, bless their hearts, never once mocked or ridiculed anything I wore. Not once. I can only but try to imagine how they fended off disparaging comments and suggestions.
My harshest critics were actually members of the clan. Little surprise, I know. It’s usually the toughest within one’s inner circle.
I distinctly remember one of them asking, “what happened to me, I used to be such a cute kid.” Why, thank you. It didn’t help matters that my brother was/is the perfect opposite. He is the antonym of unconventional when it comes to matters of the wardrobe. He lives in his jeans and hippie shirts, and I love him for staying true to himself no matter the countless times naysayers told him he’d never advance, professionally, if he didn’t dress the part.
And that’s the crux of my story today. Dressing the part.
How is it that we are pigeon-holed into specific roles and, must therefore, dress in a certain way to play the part we’ve been assigned? How is that societal rules dominate our lives so? Leaving scant room for personal preferences? With nary a consideration for creative liberty? While we may, up to a certain level, place blame upon perceptions and expectations, it’s really up to ourselves to decide yea or nay. It’s our call and no one else’s.
It’s easier said than done, I know that for a fact.
Once upon a time, I worked in a very corporate environment wherein image was beyond everything. And the image that was expected of me at the time was formal, very formal. Suits were the order of the day. So too pumps and hosiery, and Black, Grey, Navy reigned. There was one time I walked into the office wearing a Burgundy Blazer trimmed with Black Leather. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my then boss look closer to cardiac arrest than that very moment. How things have evolved in the workplace a decade later. And yet, we remain bound by the invisible chains of societal expectations.
People in the creative field are presumed free-spirited and adventurous when it comes to the clothes they wear. One doesn’t expect a lawyer to sport Electric Blue highlights, no ma’am. And Heaven help any engineer or computer buff who is as familiar with Gucci and McQueen as he/she is with Linux and encryption codes. I’m in my 40s and I’m a working mother. I create and implement brand strategies for a Managed Security Services Provider (#geekspeak). I also have several tattoos, bright pink hair, wear leather and spikes for the most part, and the occasional brightly coloured mascara too. We’ve all met someone whom we’ve judged from the way they dressed. ‘Fess up.
The messages are conflicting, I’ll admit. One camp behooves to tell us that we must dress in a specific way if we are to be accepted and, consequently, progress. The other camp lauds the merits of using fashion to express one’s personality, even one’s moods. Which do you belong to? Is there a happy medium?
More questions – who determines the part? Who casts the role?
I wrote that first part of this post approximately a year ago, on 30th September 2014, while I was was waiting for Eve to finish a physiotherapy session. I saved the draft, then I forgot all about it. My memory was jogged this morning only because of something Keiko wrote. The memories came flooding back and I felt the time was right to press the Publish button 🙂
Investigate also these thoughtful pieces from Catherine as well as Sylvia, and then come back, and tell me what you think.
Linking up with Style Elixir, Style To Inspire, Turning Heads, Let It Shine, What I Wore Wednesday, Myriad Musings, Style Me Wednesday, Confident Twosday, More Pieces Of Me, On The Daily Express, Personal Style, How I Spring, Watch What I’m Wearing, Walking In Memphis, Tremendous Tuesday, Sweaters Stripes & Sweets, Pumps & Push-Ups, Cappuccino & Fashion, Who’s Wearing What Wednesdays, Fun Fashion Friday, Casual Friday, Whitney a la Mode, and Midweek Muse.
I like to think and believe that we cast our own part in the role of our lives and how we choose to express ourselves through our choices of clothing.
That said, I’ve never worked in an office environment. I’ve worked where I’ve had to wear uniforms and for quite a few years I had to wear a lab coat, which I just despised.
I’ve worked from the time I was 11 and from that point on I was able to buy my own clothes choosing how I wanted to be seen by the rest of the world.
In high school everyone knew me because I dressed in a furry vest, and light blue suede boots with fringe (oh how I miss those damn boots!), but it wasn’t a negative that I was known for my choice of clothing. It was positive. I stood out because I didn’t dress the same as everyone else. It takes more courage to stand out than it does to fit in.
In the end the most important person we please is ourselves after all.
” It takes more courage to stand out than it does to fit in.”
Beautifully said, Suzanne. As a product of mission schools, I never had the opportunity to express my personality during school so I tried my level best to make up for it outside of class. Being born and raised in Borneo, the culture is so different from what I see here 🙂 societal mindsets are far more conservative and, consequently, prohibitive. I was blessed to have parents who really encouraged me to dress however I liked and never once questioned nor put me down. The maturity you displayed in high school in terms of staying true to who your sartorial senses clearly belied your age because that’s generally when we feel our most insecure and unsure. I think you were way ahead of the curve (and still are) xoxo
I love Robert Smith, so I am sure you looked equally as amazing! Being different is very good indeed.
Thanks for linking up to “Bloggers WHo Have Inspired Me”
I thought I did but I think those around me at the time hadn’t yet wised up to the notion of dressing for oneself as versus dressing to conform LOL but you’re absolutely right, Rachel, being different is such a good thing. Our society is so afraid to step outside the line that, more often than not, we’re all puppets on a string xo
Hi Sheela, our clothes can mean so much more than style and function. But clothes choices often portray a much deeper picture…for some they empower, while for others they constrict. I am thrilled to have you join our first My Refined Style Linkup…I hope you will come back for many more!
Perfectly put, Shellie. Clothes convey our thoughts and, to a large extent, how we perceive ourselves. They go far beyond being a means of keeping warm and avoiding public indecency ;P when I’m feeling put out, I gravitate towards wallflower pieces that attract zero attention, and, when the mood strikes, bold colours/prints/cuts. In fact, thank you SO much for giving me the idea for a follow-up to this post xoxo p/s and thank you also for the Refined Style Link-up, it’s always so encouraging to have platforms with which to share and meet new like-minded souls.
Thanks for linking up to Top of the World Style. I also was an outsider with respect to dressing. First not on purpose, but forced to look her way. Later I adopted it and made it my way. It is a good thing now, but in the beginning before embracing it it hurt.
It does hurt to feel like an outsider. No matter how much people gloss over it or tell you it’s fine, it really isn’t. Not at first anyway 🙂 I’m glad you embraced your uniqueness, Nicole, you’re a lovelier person for it.
I have always played it safe in every aspect of life (just my personality) and maybe that’s why I am a banker. Like you, I wore dark suits daily and so glad that dressing has become a bit more relax and I can be a little more free with my choice of colors/patterns.
Thank you for being a part of TBT Fashion link up and hope to see you Thursday.
I like to pretend I’m bold and adventurous, when in reality, I’m very much a creature of routine and habit, seeking safety in the familiar and predictable 🙂 with age, however, I’ve begun venturing outside my comfort perimeters so there’s hope. I think you’re the epitome of someone who knows where to draw boundaries when it comes to dressing professionally and appropriately for your industry, Alice, and that’s something only time/experience can achieve. Bravo to you xoxo
I enjoyed reading every word of this Sheela. I just love your photo! I guess I am at the point I really don’t care what other people think about the way I dress. I dress to make myself happy, not others.
How blessed you are, Jennie 🙂 I’m still working towards that end goal.
Style is a very individual thing and everyone should find their own style and what they want to look like and are comfortable in and not care about what everyone says.
Very well said, Nora, but it’s so much harder to execute in real life. For me, it is anyways. No matter how much I tell myself that it’s what I think that counts, I still (on occasion) get bothered and affected by the opinions of others. I’m a work-in-progress 🙂