Marshall: They just pay me to drive the limo, sir. I’m not here to tell you who you are.
Joe Banks: I didn’t ask you to tell me who I am.
Marshall: You were hinting around about clothes. That happens to be a very important topic to me, sir. Clothes, Mr…
Joe Banks: Banks.
Marshall: Banks. Clothes make the man. I believe that. You say to me you want to go shopping, you want to buy clothes, but you don’t know what kind. You leave that hanging in the air, like I’m going to fill in the blank, that to me is like asking me who you are, and I don’t know who you are, I don’t want to know. It’s taken me my whole life to find out who I am, and I’m tired now, you hear what I’m saying?
This is a post that is sort of about going shopping, but mostly is about identity.
I went shopping for clothes on Sunday. For possibly the first time ever, I bought exactly what I intended to buy and was completely pleased with everything I purchased. I wanted to buy a set of dressy jeans, two or three nice blouses, some accessories to go with the blouses, and a pair of comfortable high-heels. Back in April, I read a post from Liz Strauss about learning that her jeans were misrepresenting her. It stuck with me.
If my personal appearance was a little (or a lot) inconsistent in the last few years, at least it was authentically inconsistent. I spent a long time hiding. At one time, everything I owned was black, tan, taupe, grey or brown. Most of it was completely shapeless. I put on weight as a way of padding myself against injury from a harsh, insensitive world. I didn’t want to be seen.
Then I did want to be seen. My clothes got tighter and brighter as I was figuring things out. I went from one extreme to another.
At the end of June, I had my “annual 360 degree review” where I got feedback from my coworkers and direct supervisor. It was mostly positive, but one person did comment that they would like to see me dress more professionally, that others might take me more seriously if I did. Which is a fair statement. I always dress appropriately (if boringly) for client meetings, but for ordinary office days, I tend to vacillate between frumpy and casual.
So as part of my “deciding where I want to go as opposed to just following the current” thing I’m in the middle of right now, I decided to figure out how I want to be seen.
That word “how” makes everything so much clearer, doesn’t it?
When it comes to how I want to be seen, I knew a few things for certain:
- I want to be seen as I really am. Or if I’m going to do the “fake it till you make it” thing, at the very least I want to be faking what I actually aspire to, as opposed to someone else’s ideal.
- I am not a “highly structured corporate suit.” Professional, yes. Corporate, not so much.
- I am curvy, feminine and comfortable with those things…
- …But I don’t want to be a distraction to others (for example, I love the long maxi-dresses that are popular right now, but I’ve discovered that most of them qualify for “one wrong move and you’re Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl”)
- I’m colorful and creative–but with a very specific emotional palette. I’m not Andy Warhol or Jackson Pollack–rebellious, in-your-face bold and cocky. (So the punky lavender hair is probably not coming back.) I’m a bit more Rembrandt and Degas, if you’ll forgive the conceit.
- I’m current-aware and forward-thinking.
With my “how” firmly in hand, I was able to make confident choices. And hey, I may be confidently wrong. I was shooting for “confident, creative professional.” If I missed, hopefully someone will tell me.
Hopefully, not by submitting me to What Not to Wear.