When I was first starting out as a junior advertising executive in NYC in the early 1980s, my highly ambitious female boss taught me an important lesson. When you are trying to make an excellent first impression in business, but are in doubt about what to wear, dress one level up from what is expected – so, if it’s casual, dress in business casual, etc. I have never veered from this in nearly 35 years, until the past 14 months.
I have always thought that dressing the part was important in gaining professional respect and success, especially as a woman, but now I am not so sure. From dresses and heels to jeans and boots, the pandemic has changed my thinking about professional wardrobe.
Miuccia Prada said, What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language. And, while I agree that fashion is language, in this time of COVID, I have found that my language is, literally, language.
I have spent 14 months leading a school in this complicated and unprecedented time requiring a high quantity of written communication and Zoom Town Hall Meetings to speak with parents. Professional clothing has not been a focus of my day, nor has it been a close second. The enormity of the issues facing schools and the world in this time of COVID require a very high level of reflection, informed decision making, and clear communication. This can be accomplished quite well in the comfort of casual clothing, especially from the waist down in our Zoom world.
Ralph Lauren said: Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s not about brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you. These words resonate with me. I know that it is not about fancy clothes or popular name brands, it is about feeling good about yourself and choosing clothing that reflects your personality. It seems to me right now that our personalities need soft, warm, and relaxed clothing to counter the heavy lifting our brains are doing.
Remember Jane Jetson – she was ahead of her time with her video telephone. The perfectly coiffed hair and face she “wore” over her true, tired self is what we all need for our Zoom meetings! Yet, it is our authentic tired selves making the world move forward and we are doing a pretty good job in jeans.
Dress for success? To me, in this moment, means being at ease with your fashion choices so that your mind can succeed.