The culture of work is changing, and with it, our office dress codes. As companies encourage staffers to bring their whole selves to work — and people embrace style repeats and “personal uniforms” in an effort to de-stress workwear — Thrive decided to take a deeper look into how what we wear to work affects our mental well-being, creativity, productivity, and authenticity. We welcome you to take a spin through our special section: The Psychology of What We Wear to Work.
The VP of the start-up company I was working for gave me a sideways glance. Then, a short while later, he pulled my direct superior into his office and when she returned to her desk, she started typing away on her laptop.
A minute later, I got this email: “Can we go outside for a quick meeting?”
We made small talk as we took the elevator down to the lobby, then sat down on the patio furniture outside the front door. Finally, my marketing manager brought up why we were here.
“So…” she said, as she breathed in. “The higher ups wanted me to tell you they’d prefer it if you wouldn’t wear your ‘weekend wear’ to the office.”
I looked back at her.
“Weekend wear?” I responded.
“Y’know, like maybe your shorts…”
This was a complete 180 from when I was a consultant for the company. Every single time I walked into the office on those days, this very same marketing manager with her hair pulled back in a tight bun would compliment my shoes, my dress, my bag.
Now that I was hired as a full-time employee, I was expected to fall in line.
“They’re just old school. They come from a corporate background and they’re not quite used to this start-up environment,” she defended them.
I wanted to tell her, I would never wear the clothes I wear to work on the weekend. I’d rather be in cut-offs and a t-shirt any day of the week.
But, I smiled. And agreed I’d be more mindful.
Two weeks later, I put in my notice to quit.
It might seem like a small reason, but it was actually the bit of affirmation I needed that it was time to truly devote my efforts to my own company, Wild Hearted Words.
Ever since I was born, I was told what to do. I grew up in a traditional Chinese environment, where we were raised to be quiet, to follow the rules, to not be seen or heard.
And, I hated it.
My family thought I was too loud.
They thought I was too much.
I wanted to be the star performer of every school play, but they didn’t understand my creative interests and felt my interests were much less valuable than becoming the traditional immigrant image of success: a doctor or a lawyer.
So, I tried to stuff my personal desires far down inside of me, to the point that I suffered from anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, and a continual compromise of myself when it came to relationships.
It took two decades of therapy and personal development pursuits, including giving myself permission to become a yoga teacher and Reiki Master, to break free from the shackles of who I thought I had to be.
Now, I’m wildly me. And, I love it.
After traveling around the world doing everything my own way, including getting a camper van with my husband and daughter to drive around the U.S. for six months, I wasn’t about to let a start-up VP tell me how I needed to play small again.
Here’s the thing: the shorts the “higher ups” were complaining about weren’t exceptionally short or overtly loud.
They were a pale blue. J. Crew. Preppy.
I purchased them because I actually thought they were conservative for work and comfortable to wear in the hot in the Texas summer heat.
And, I’ve actually been approached repeatedly throughout my life for me to consult others on my style.
So, here was a man who had achieved massive corporate success and found it important to reprimand me about my attire that I wore in the most remote corner of the office where clients never saw me.
I am much more than my shorts.
That was actually the reason I quit.
Because I’m no longer placing my value, sense of worthiness, potential, or acceptance in anyone else’s hands — much less that of a white man.
We’re overdue for a paradigm shift in both business and being.
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