A boss once said to me, “I don’t care if you do this job from a laptop in Hawaii, as long as you get the job done.”
Wise words indeed. Especially to a girl like me who’s relocated from London to Sydney to live and work by the beach, and who brings that outdoorsy sense of freedom to my work.
If I had my way I’d wear no shoes. Ever. The way we dress is an indication of who we are. And in my opinion, the more aligned your dress code is with your inner code, the more productive you are. At least, that’s certainly my belief.
Barefoot may be my preferred choice but as an editor and copy director (two positions I’ve held in esteemed magazine publishing companies), there’s an external expectation. My interpretation of that is that I’m expected to be an expert, in my case, with words. And for me, creating words that have the most power involves me feeling comfortable both physically and creatively.
Which is why, I shunned my no-shoes preference and wore a t-shirt and sneakers whenever I was presenting to the International Board of Directors at my old company. Colleagues and friends of mine were horrified that I would turn up to such an important meeting wearing what they would term as ‘weekend attire’.
But for me, it was what I needed in order to give the presentation and do my best job. And for me, that was dressed up.
Had I been restricted in a suit or god forbid wearing heels I would have been more focused on how uncomfortable my body was which would have distracted me from what I was saying. And ultimately, resulting in less authentic and less useful presentations.
As GM CEO Mary Barra puts it, I felt I was dressed ‘appropriately’. I had tailored trousers on, my t-shirt was funky and fitted, and my sneakers were Persil white. I oozed confidence. It matched my personal style. I’m a beachy kinda girl who was working for a magazine company in Sydney. Another person wearing the same thing may well have felt underdressed, but I believe how you wear the clothes speaks far louder than the clothes themselves.
Take the converse for example. After 15 years in publishing I took a break and pursued a career as a natural therapist. I was excited when I landed my first job as a massage therapist. Pepped for a full day of clients I turned up and was shown the room that I’d be working in. Electric table, a rack of clean, warm towels (wow) and an orangey-red shirt that was my uniform. Gulp. I didn’t know about the uniform part.
But, undeterred, this was my new career and so I put said shirt on … and instantly looked unrecognizable. To me at least. It was a nice, fitted shirt, and would be perfectly adequate for massage. But it felt so wrong to me. And then every cell in my body began talking. Get out of here. Huh? Get. Out. Now.
I know that might sound extreme. Like, it’s just an orange shirt, get over yourself. But what I learned in that moment has stayed with me and made me even better at what I do. Be that writing, editing, massage or whatever.
Because what I got from that was how strong my instinct is for what’s right for me, and what’s not. And no, it’s not all down to the shirt on my back or whether my sneakers are white (although that too), it’s about Being Me. When I can show up as me – even if that means getting around barefoot (one MD I worked for found me in the lift, barefoot and exclaimed “You look like you’re going to the beach.”), I can remain steadfast in the knowledge that my work speaks for itself. And that I’m happy with Me.
Because if you want me to look a certain way (tight clothes and heels) then you’re definitely not going to get my best work. I’ll be too busy fidgeting in my chair, silently bemoaning how my hips hurt and dreading the walk to the train station on the way home.
But let me show up in black leggings, a black v-neck jumper and clean, white sneakers and I’ll bring my fullest game.
And so that’s what I’ve done. For 25 years, whether it be board meetings, planning meetings, interviewing celebrities or now, as I coach and facilitate meditation, I wear what makes me feel good. What I wear tells you who I am. I’m down to earth and practical, and being comfortable is important to me.
But don’t mistake that for me being slack or unprofessional. What I choose to wear is a conscious choice. I recognize that my choices aren’t suitable for everyone, but I when I look at fellow colleagues teetering around in heels I wonder how they do it? I’d be a lesser woman if I couldn’t run for the bus. But that’s what makes working in the arts a perfect fit for me. There’s room for people from every shoe camp.
I’m confident in my smart-casual wardrobe because I believe I what I wear is appropriate. And you will, on rare occasions find me in wedges. But as soon as I’m back at my desk you can bet I’ll be popping them off, wiggling my sun-kissed toes and hoisting myself up into a cross legged position in my chair.
Because for me, comfort equals creativity and I wouldn’t have it any other way.