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.
Diane von Furstenberg created the iconic workwear item for women: the wrap dress. Jonathan Van Ness is changing the way people think about expressing themselves as the grooming expert and breakout star of Netflix’s Queer Eye — and on his podcast, Getting Curious.
Thrive Global thought it would be fun to get the two together and see what happened — and the duo did not disappoint.
In a Thrive Global original video, JVF meets his idol for the first time, and the two interview each other about how they boost their confidence when they don’t feel their best, the mottos they live by, and their thoughts about the psychology of what we wear to work.
Plus, DVF asked JVN about his impetus for pairing a beard with heels. What happens next is both inspiring and adorable!
Their discussion unsurprisingly yielded some incredible tips on dressing for work and the important things to remember as you do it.
Repeating outfits is a sign of strong personal style
Van Ness brought up Kate Middleton’s outfit repeats (a habit Thrive’s founder and CEO Arianna Huffington feels strongly about!) during a discussion of the mental stress caused by the perceived need to stay on trend and always be wearing new clothes. “If a duchess can do it, why can’t I?” he asks. Ain’t that the truth.
Von Furstenberg’s insight on the subject was poignant: she explained that rewearing items you love is a sign of real personal style, because it means you are clear in your tastes and know what works for you. She also advocated for getting those pieces you love in multiple colors. This Steve Jobs-like uniform approach to dressing for work, according to a fashion icon, doesn’t just take the stress out of getting ready every morning — it also indicates to the people around you that you have a strong sense of self.
DVF’s packing trick will change your life
If you are struggling to figure out exactly which items to rewear (or buy in multiples), von Furstenberg shared a brilliant trick for winnowing your wardrobe down to the stylish pieces that are worth repeating. She suggests only packing items that you’ll want to rewear on the trip, and that you can rearrange into different combinations. Those are the only clothes you need. Von Furstenberg explained, “As a designer, I always had the best ideas packing. Because when you pack, you want to be light. If you know how to pack, you know how to live.”
Your style should marry where you are with where you want to be
Von Furstenberg explained that even if the style of your workplace isn’t exactly your own — and even if your current job is more of a stepping stone, “you deal with the stepping stone” and remain present where you are. You should also dress for the job you want, though: “You have to deal with the present situation, and you have to deal with your dream,” she says. She gave an example: if you want a more creative job, then “maybe you show a little bit of your creativity” in how you put your work outfits together. But whatever your job, she stresses, “you have that job because of your unique qualities: “You were hired for who you are, and therefore, you should be you.”
The right shoes are critical for confidence
Van Ness revealed his “recent obsession and love of wearing heels.” The reason? They make me feel powerful.
When von Furstenberg asked him why he chooses to wear heels in combination with his beard, he said the combo helps him feel balanced. “So it’s a yin and yang,” von Furstenberg replied. “I like!” The legendary designer agreed that heels or boots can give that “extra oomph” if you want to enter a space with power. Shoes in general, she added, should be a starting point for determining your outfit because of the practical weight they carry: “I have a funny line that I say: ‘I love my legs, but I count on my feet.’”
If you’re going to be doing a lot of walking, make sure you’ll be comfortable by wearing shoes you can move in. If you’re not, go wild with those pumps that aren’t ideal for stairs, but are ideal for helping you own a room.
But shoes aren’t the only item that can make you feel powerful
Von Furstenberg’s most iconic design is a wrap dress, which she explained has been so beloved for so long, especially for job interviews, because “it looks proper and powerful.” Good style is all about balancing different parts of your personality and finding the pieces that that bring out your whole self.
Being yourself is the most important thing
Both Van Ness and von Furstenberg emphasized, again and again, the importance of being your authentic self in your style. Van Ness came at the question through his background doing hair: “I’ve often noticed that the times when I get in the most trouble as a colorist is when the hair color has gone two shades lighter or darker than their natural color. Because… the universe doesn’t screw up your natural color that bad. So when you get too far away from it, all hell breaks loose.”
The anecdote, he explains, underscores the importance of embracing yourself as you are. Von Furstenberg got at a similar point by pointing out that you should present yourself in whichever way makes you feel most yourself: “What gives you confidence is your character,” she says. “Accepting who you are is what will make you the most confident. Trying to be somebody else is only going to add to your insecurity.”
Remind yourself of who you are and return to that relationship
Remembering who you are and what makes you comfortable is crucial to your style, and certainly your style at work. But remembering that sometimes takes work, even for von Furstenberg, and the solution is all about realizing that we have to cultivate a real relationship with ourselves:
“Your character is your backbone. That, nobody can take away,” she says. “I wake up [feeling like] like a loser sometimes, like everybody else. But, I have a relationship with myself.” She turns back to that relationship — “the most important relationship in life” — when she feels like she’s losing herself, and she reminds us that even when the going gets tough, “If you can wink at yourself in the mirror and smile in the shadow…then you’re good.”
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