If you feel like you’re being overlooked at work, the very first question you need to ask yourself is, “am I doing good work?” The second question is, “what message are my nonverbal signals giving?” If you think that second question is unfair – so what? It’s real. Humans evaluate other humans non-verbally, and that evaluation is almost invariably subconscious. I’m going to help you manipulate your non-verbals, particularly your clothing.
Always, when you’re being overlooked, check your fire levels. You can’t ignore fire! Add bolder colors, bolder accessories, sharper contrasts. (Stay within your personal flattery guidelines, don’t skip over into costume). The next thing is to check the quality of your earth – all your clothes *are* in perfect repair, right? They fit properly? Good colors? Right for your industry? How’s air? You keep wearing the Hello Kitty dangle bracelet to staff meetings, maybe it’s time for that to move to a weekend-only accessory. Water? How’s the texture? Fuzzy sweaters will not get you taken seriously.
Let’s use an example.
Betty just re-entered the workforce after a sabbatical of 5 years. She’d previously had 20 years experience in the industry, and has kept up on the latest developments. She re-entered the workforce because the budget was tight, so she doesn’t have much money to invest in a work wardrobe. She’s wearing the suit skirts she wore five years ago with the cardigan she wears over her dress to church. She gets cold, sitting in the air-conditioning all day.
The five-year-old skirts are all just a little tight. They fit okay with a pair of spanx, but who wants to wear spanx to work every day? So, her skirts are pulling over her tummy. When she’s not wearing the cardigan, she wears tunic-length sweaters over knit trousers. This conveys, “soft”, “uncomfortable”, “worn”.
First assignment: Capsule wardrobe – dark blazer, light blouses, skirts that fit. Skirts should be in dark, neutral colors – the fewer Betty can afford, the more neutral a color she should pick (dark, neutral skirts in classic cuts are very nearly invisible, and can be worn repeatedly without being noticed). Next, grab a blazer. She’ll go to a fast-fashion outlet and get one for $20 if she can’t afford better, but again keeps it dark neutral. If she can buy two, add a vivid color in the blue/green/red range. (No pink, no orange, no yellow). Grab a couple of viscose t-shirts in light neutral colors and several in her best brights. Toss the knit pants into the “clothes to wear on errands” pile immediately. While she’s at the fast-fashion outlet, she grabs a couple of pendants on long chains and a bright scarf.
On Mondays, Betty’s wearing a blazer, viscose t-shirt and skirt. On Tuesday, the second skirt under a tunic-length sweater with pendant. Up the makeup ante on Tuesday. On Wednesday, see if that church dress can’t be worked into the routine – under the blazer. Thursday, again with the tshirt/blazer/skirt combo – but adds the scarf. Friday, Betty can wear the tshirt/skirt combo with your cardigan, assuming it’s in good condition. When she can afford to invest in quality pieces, the order of operations goes: Lingerie -> leather -> blazer/suit -> skirt/pants -> blouse.
By adding those dark neutrals with sharper edges, Betty’s drawing more attention (humans look at bright shiny things). By attending to the details of fit, she’s saying, “I’m serious about this job”. When she can afford to upgrade the other things, the good bra will youthen/slim her figure, the nice shoes and belt will complete and upgrade her entire look, the better blazer should go with everything (and last a lot longer than that fast fashion mess)… you get the idea.
Slowly, her co-workers will find that they are taking her more seriously. (It takes more than a day to change a long-held perception of someone). And Betty will take herself more seriously, which is imperative. Betty will be speaking, “I’m an expert in this field” and “I’m at work” to *herself*, which will change the way she interacts with others.
Clothes affect attitude. You can spiral up, or spiral down.. choose wisely.
Susan walks in the room, all long legs and raven hair, in an LBD and delicate jewelry, all eyes on her – including yours. You’re feeling a little blah in your dress, it’s definitely not getting the attention that Susan’s is. You compare yourself to Susan, and the next day run out to buy the same dress, the same shoes, the same jewelry… but somehow that Friday night, you walk into a room and it just doesn’t work.
You have some choices here…
A) You can beat yourself up and indulge in a lot of self-recrimination. “I’m so …” Congratulations, you just added to your burden of self-hatred.
B) You can call Susan nasty names in your head and make up motivations for her. Hey, you’ve just convinced yourself to hate someone you don’t even know!
C) You can sit back and observe Susan, and take notes about not just what she’s wearing, but how she’s wearing it, and what effect she’s having on her audience. Then, you can analyze your own outfit and figure out what you can change to get the same results.
Obviously, I vote for option C. A and B are counterproductive.
So, let’s look at Susan. First off, Susan has endless legs, and she’s choosing to showcase them in her dress and stiletto heels. Second, Susan has raven hair – so the black dress she’s chosen looks great on her, especially with the bright red lips she’s rocking. Yeah, yeah. Susan’s gorgeous. But what about you?
Well, maybe you have an hourglass figure, luminous green eyes, and strawberry blonde curls. Instead of feeling inferior about your “cute” looks, make them work for you. How about a bias-cut wrap-dress in ivory silk? A statement necklace to match your eyes, gold heeled sandals, and a soft updo with just a few curls drifting down and all of a sudden you’re in the spotlight.
And better yet, to my way of thinking, there are two beautiful women in the room tonight. Every night, let’s have a few more! Let’s take over the world! -ahem- We all have goals… 😉
In the meantime, you’re there, you’re sitting in the club … observe. Enjoy. Isn’t Susan pretty? Isn’t that a nice necklace? What a great effect! She’s like a piece of walking art! Oh look, here comes Veronica – meow, girl… check out that jacket! Fierce!
We have this really weird thing going in our society today where beauty = sexuality. And sure, endless legs are pretty sexy – but how about just enjoying the art? Appreciating other women doesn’t mean you want to bed them, and it doesn’t lower your social status. You don’t have to compete, you don’t have to compare, you don’t have to push someone else down to raise yourself up. That relaxed enjoyment is going to affect your attitude in a positive fashion, which is going to affect *your* beauty – in a positive fashion.
As far as I’m concerned, one of the highest compliments you can give is, “You really look like yourself today”. If Susan is capturing Susan, enjoy. She’s sharing part of herself with you. You don’t want to copy her style, you don’t want to buy those clothes, you want to emulate her achievement. And that is done by learning to work with your own raw materials… not hers.
Admire, don’t acquire.
I just joined Instagram. Forgive the blips as I learn to use it.
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Author: Charlotte Smith
If you need a pick-me-up book of vignettes… find this at your library or book shop. It’s just LOVELY.
Format: One page of vignette (occasionally no more than a paragraph) and a matching sketch of a dress.
Concept: The stories behind a large collection of vintage clothing collected by the author’s godmother. Eras from the turn of the century (the *last* century) through the late 80s.
Result: Charming! Upbeat!
It’s no novel, and reading it straight through (which I am doing) is a bit choppy, but oh. And now I want a closet-full of couture. 😀 Well, that’s not news.
Subtitle really ought to be, “The Power of a Dress”.
Touch: The texture of your clothing, your skin and your hair is of primary importance in the overall loveliness of your presentation. Even if you can’t magically lose 50lb overnight, you can still wear a silk nightgown to bed – or a cashmere sweater to the mall. When you are soft to the touch, you are more desirable to touch, which makes you lovelier.
Not only does texture please your husband’s hands, it can put a private smile on your face. Who doesn’t feel more lovely when she’s wearing a silk slip or really soft stockings? Am I the only woman who strokes fuzzy sweaters or jackets when I come across them in the mall? Why not let yourself enjoy actually wearing the fuzzy for once?
Perhaps your tastes run harder… regardless, recognize that the texture of your clothing (and hair/skin) does convey a message.
Smell: Have you put on a bit of perfume lately? The rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t smell at all to anyone who isn’t in hugging range, and that seems wise to me, especially in this age of allergies. But to those who get close, isn’t a little scent nice? Part of the way we decide who we do (and do not) like is the scent of their skin, however subconscious that evaluation is. Adding perfume – or bath oil, body powder, scented shampoo – to one’s natural scent (or to camoflague it) is yet another part of the package.
One does wish to use scent that works with one’s natural fragrance – and yes, fragrances change according to body chemistry. You also don’t want to wear clashing fragrances. No baby powder over Chanel No. 5, if you please.
Scent, more than any other of the senses, is tied closely to memory – and to the subconscious. Be very careful what image you evoke with the scents that you choose. Perhaps you want more than one!
Taste: Only your husband will ever get close enough to taste you! But there’s a bit of fun to be had in bubblegum flavored lipgloss – and one should understand what the other aspects of one’s presentation might bring to the flavor party. (Scent in particular – some perfumes taste absolutely ghastly). Chew a bit of mint gum or nibble on some fennel in the garden – allow yourself to fully inhabit the body you wear. Allow that sensation to come forward in your smile and your laugh.
Sound: How mellifulous is your voice? Yes, you can make it more soothing and more pleasant. Also, have you considered how your clothing sounds when it moves? A soft noise makes for a very feminine presence. Read an old book and learn about the sursurration of taffeta petticoats, or contemplate why is it that we consider ankle bells ever so slightly naughty?
Allow yourself – at least in private – to be fully present, unforgettable. Call attention to your smallest move. Certainly this impacts one’s self-awareness, and that affects presentation.
How do you wear clothing made from 60yo patterns without looking like your clothing is antique?
– Accessories. This is the biggest thing. If you wear a pillbox hat or a fascinator, gloves, stockings, red lipstick and kitten heels, you’re going to look vintage in blue jeans. Accessories set the mood of an outfit. So – pick modern accessories, a modern aesthetic.
– Fabric. Speaking of aesthetics… if you make a dress from the 40s in a tiny floral print, it’s going to look vintage. If you make it in plaincloth, it will look entirely different. There are vintage enthusiasts who hunt down vintage fabrics for their vintage makes – and there is a reason that they do this!
– Fit/Hemlines. I do like the mid-century fit – it suits my body well. But should I make up a lovely lace blouse from the Edwardian era… I’ll skip the pouter-pigeon front that was so en vogue back then. If I made a dress from the 70s (possible) it would be fit to wear over proper undergarments, not braless with a girdle. This hits my beloved mid-century dresses straight in the hems – a calf-length silhouette was all the rage back then. Tea-length gowns are friends to those with long, slim calves. (Aka not me, not me if my weight was in the two-digit mark). I put my hems where they flatter me.
That’s the key for vintage inspiration. Take what the past has designed, and work it for you. I’ll never wear a 70s caftan, no matter how fond I am of seeing them on other women. If something is oppressively vintage in style – either pair it with something modern or tone down the aspects of the style that are very vintage. For instance, the 40s brought out some of the most fabulously detailed and interesting suits – but the collars and shoulder pads scream “times past”. So – tweak the collar ever so slightly and ditch the extreme shape of the shoulder.
And when you see something from times past that makes *you* swoon – snag it. Snag it, wear it without apology, and own it!
No one will be the wiser……….. 😉
On the first chapter, I thought I was going to really enjoy this book… but it ended up being too snark-tastic to appreciate. If one imagined Kitchen Confidential as a fashion travelogue, this is what you’d get. Lots of swearing, loads of contempt.
It started out well, as the author described her upbringing and fashion consciousness in SF in the 70s. Honest and brutal, and I “recognized” the gritty California of my own youth. The best thing about Wilson’s book is that she appreciates that style (whatever style you are wearing) is a conversation with the world around you, and she’s happy to deconstruct that style… including her own. The worst thing about Wilson’s book is that she couldn’t recognize goodness or truth if they bit her on the nose.
Wilson finds beauty and style in people on the wrong side of the tracks, and in ways other than the usual, “look thin and rich”. Laudable. But in most other classes of people, she is unable to see beauty. What she finds aesthetically appealing is a bit NSFW to review here.
If Wilson had been as viscerally honest about the fashion travelogue and really gotten to know the people in other areas of the country, I think this book would have been substantially better. It’s not the snark I minded, it was the close-mindedness.
The whole thing reminded me that beauty qua beauty IS important, and that it is worth fighting for.