An anonymous commenter had this request:
I’d love to read your thoughts about the difference between self-love and vanity. I work at a university, and I know you do, too. Sometimes I feel that my colleagues look down on my love of fashion and style – “the life of the mind vs. the life of the mall.” (That’s not original, btw.) Now that so many people dress down, can you offer some support to those that like to dress up? Or, at least, put some thought into their clothes?
I explored this topic in my guest post over at The Coveted, but it’s definitely worth examining again. As you likely know by now, I believe that caring for your outward appearance is an essential component to overall self-care. People who say that fashion is frippery may be referring to haute couture, which is equal parts drama and design, and a WHOLLY different critter to everyday, normal-person style. But if they are not – if, in fact, they believe that learning to dress well and wearing clothing you love is a waste of time, money, and energy – well, that’s a toughie. Both to endure and to undo.
My coworkers tease me on Fridays because I often come to work looking just about the same as I do every other day of the week. As I’ve explained, my Casual Friday look has nothing to do with sweatshirts and Crocs; I merely add a casual element or two to an otherwise dressy outfit. I feel comfortable and chic …. but some of my fellow employees get rankled. Perhaps they think that I’m showing off. Perhaps they believe that I’m judging them. Perhaps they feel that I’m making them look like a pack of slobs by dressing up on a day reserved for dressing down.
But none of those things are true, and whenever one of my coworkers says, “Why are you all dressed up? It’s Friday!” I merely reply, “I’m sorry, have you met me? I LOVE CLOTHES.”
And they totally get it. My coworkers may get grumpy about things, but they’ve got the humor. When I remind them that I’m dressing up because I enjoy dressing up, they hear me. But I’ve got it easy, and I know that. I deal with the occasional ornery comment, easily diffused. Many women face a more insidious form of judgment from peers and coworkers, even friends, family members, and important others. Confusing style with vanity is a common error, and a difficult one to navigate. And while there is no easy solution – and certainly no one course of action that will work for everyone – here are a few of my ideas for combating this prevalent prejudice.
THINGS TO BEAR IN MIND
Every clothing decision reflects: Like it or not, first impressions are based on appearance. Ongoing impressions, too. And not just how tall or short, brown or pale, groomed or unkempt we are … clothing figures into the appearance equation. If you wear ill-fitting, stained, outdated, or inappropriately casual garb, it will affect how people perceive you. If you wear flattering, pressed, stylish, appropriately formal attire, it will ALSO affect how people perceive you. Pick your poison.
Looking good and feeling good are linked: No, really. And you deserve to feel good about yourself. Not just some days, EVERY DAY.
Style is a valid outlet for creativity: If you enjoy clothing and savor exploring personal style, you likely feel good when you’re assembling fun and funky outfits to wear. If you deprived yourself of that creative outlet in reaction to misguided peer pressure, do you think you’d feel better or worse? There is nothing shameful, shallow, or stupid about style.
THINGS TO ENACT
Defend yourself: To be clear, I am not recommending that you get defensive. Merely that you stand up for your right to be stylish. Don’t let anyone bully you into saying, all sheepish-like, “Oh, I know, fashion is shallow … but it’s just so fun!” NONONOnonono. No. Also no. Here are some phrases to keep in your back pocket in case anyone ever gives you shit about your enviable shoe collection or ability to assemble amazing ensembles. (Earnest delivery, not snippy, please.)
- I feel more confident when I’ve put some thought into my outfit.
- I find that a stylish, professional appearance garners more respect.
- My style sets me apart. I like looking different!
Don’t rub it in: While I would never advocate masking your love of fashion, there’s no need to spout off to a hostile audience. Don’t spin long tales of shopping excursions or seek opinions on the latest trends from or in the presence of naysayers. No need to hide, but no need to fuel the fire either; Save style-focused chats for fellow fashionistas.
Encourage exploration in others: This can be awkward to orchestrate, but when it works, it WORKS. If you’ve got someone who seems to be teasing you out of envy instead of real distaste, try to draw them out a little. Use humor to defuse the situation, and then see if they’d be open to shopping together, a clothing swap, a closet purge, even a makeover. Sometimes all it takes is a little personal experience with the transformative powers of flattering clothes to convert a skeptic.