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Why your work clothes matter

How work clothes suppress your authentic self

On my way to work at a fashion company in Shoreditch, London. 

Consistently, my friends complain about their office attire. Because I work in a creative industry, however, I’ve only experienced the dress-code of ‘just look cool.’

Last week, I had a few corporate friends over. On my couch, they saw my outfits laid flat. When they noticed this, I remarked off-handedly that ‘this is how I actually dress.’ In that moment, I was wearing all-black, and my weekly outfits are far from that.

Once the get-together ended, I contemplated the discrepancy between ‘office’ and ‘private’ personas. While my corporate friends felt uncomfortable in their sterile suiting, I felt (and to some extent, feel) uncomfortable in real life.

When I started interning in fashion, people told me I was a completely different person at work. As an intern, I was confident, opinionated and hungry to learn and gain new responsibilities. I doubted myself in a whole myriad of areas (like any normal human), but my work in fashion was characterized by self-assured flow. While my attitude is still this way at work, I adopted the belief that ‘self-assured flow’ is wholly who I am now, and that my past uncertainties have been abandoned.

While I’ve gained a considerable amount of confidence in the last few years, I’ve noticed how my style subdues during times of discomfort. Whether it’s a nightclub, a date, or travelling to a country with different dress restrictions, I suddenly become sartorially challenged.

On a psychological level, this makes sense. When do you struggle to be the most authentic? Odds are, you struggle in moments where you feel uncomfortable. When everyone else is one way, but you’re another, clothing is the easiest way to make that apparent. In the fashion industry, it’s easy to wear a feather vest and Doc Martens to work. When you’re an accountant, however, it takes far more courage.

From contemplating this issue, I’ve been reminded how we all face situations where hiding is tempting. Even as the host of ‘Fashion Originators’ podcast, I sometimes want to disappear in places where I don’t fit in.

Because of these thoughts, however, I’ve been more conscious of what fashion I gravitate towards. While I don’t believe that bold feathers and Doc Martens are the pinnacle of style, I do believe it’s important to know what you feel most confident in. In safe spaces (like with friends and family), I think it’s crucial to feel like you can wear (and be) the most fully expressed version of yourself. In spaces that aren’t as safe (like the workplace), I think it’s also crucial to push yourself a little. Considering how much time we spend at work, and in public situations, I think maintaining this challenge is important (so we can all be a little more real).

Moral of the story? While I don’t advocate for accountants to start wearing thigh-highs to the office, I do advocate for a little touch of something different (even if your co-workers think you’re nuts).

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