I was the little girl who loved playing dress up. When I graduated with my business degree and started my career in 2006, like Elle Woods, the very stylish protagonist of Legally Blonde, I wanted to “totally look the part”. I knew how important dressing for work was and how it shaped the impression others had of me. I heard the old adage “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” over and over again and took it to heart. I started my career in an admin role but I hoped it was just a foot in the door and I would quickly advance.
" I knew how important dressing for work was and how it shaped the impression others had of me."
I was not officially required to wear a suit, but I noticed that most of the leadership team at the commercial real estate company I worked at wore suits. My boss wore a suit every single day. And so, I wore suits, or what I referred to as “a jacketed outfit” every single day. It didn’t matter how much I liked a dress, if I couldn’t wear a blazer with it, it was out. I had about ten different blazers in different prints and fabrics I wore on rotation and was sure to restyle them differently to avoid looking like I only had ten outfits. Of course a good black blazer is a closet staple that goes with anything but my absolute favorite was a wool mint, black and white houndstooth blazer – I wore it layered over a black dress or pants and sometimes a cream colored skirt. In the early days of my career I lived with my Dad so I was able to spend more than an admin would be able to afford on my work wardrobe. I often had clients comment with surprise when I mentioned being in my early 20s, most presumed I was older because of the way I dressed and it made me proud to be seen as a mature and competent professional.
When the dry-cleaning bills started adding up I learned tricks to stretch out my need for cleaning. For example, taking my blazer off at lunch so to not to spill on it and freshening suits with Dryel at home in between wears to cut down on bills. Once I moved out on my own I had to be more careful with my spending and most of my closet was “work appropriate”. It was where I spent five days a week, I just couldn’t justify spending money on clothes I could only wear on the weekends.
" Fifteen years later I have the confidence to know that I can like pink and still be smart."
After obtaining my Master’s degree in Finance, I moved on to a lease analyst role working in a more relaxed department where the leaders didn’t wear suits every day. I still wore my blazers on a regular basis, but I also learned to look professional without them. Occasionally on Fridays we could wear jeans and while my co workers lived for these days, I rarely participated. In 2013 I moved to a different company and went from a corporate office to the financial analyst for an operations environment and quickly realized my way of dressing was too stuffy for this new environment. So, I started wearing bright colors, whimsical prints and letting a little more of my personality show through my wardrobe – in an office appropriate way of course. Over time I relaxed and learned to love the feel of jeans and an oversized sweater on a cold winter day or a simple cotton dress in summer.
In 2019 I headed back into a corporate environment as an accountant and times had changed; but so had I, I no longer felt the pressure to dress up every day. The irony that as my career has grown my work wardrobe has become more casual is not lost on me. When I was starting out I was so desperate to be taken seriously, to show that I belonged. Fifteen years later I have the confidence to know that I can like pink and still be smart.
As the world shifted to working from home in 2020 it’s no coincidence that as my coworkers only see me from the chest up on Zoom that my headband and statement earrings collection has grown. These days my average work day look is a pair of leggings and a comfortable sweatshirt.
I like to step it up and put on a blazer and makeup when I have a Zoom, especially if I’m presenting. I used to hate the idea of working from home believing that I needed that separation to keep my work life from my personal life; yet I was walking around in my everyday life as if at any moment I might get pulled into a budget meeting. This past year, for the first time in my adult life I bought clothes purely based on my love for them vs if they were office- appropriate. I have filled my closet with cottage core dresses and pink— lots of pink! Not having to go to the office everyday has given me more separation between work and personal time by allowing me to really explore my style and play dress up all over again.
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