Thursday, May 13

You are shaped by your environment---by choice?!

I was talking with my old roommate recently (who lives in another state) and she told me she got a new job, but that there is a dress code and thus she had to spend hundreds of dollars on a new work-appropriate wardrobe. My coworker, who has a second job said a similar thing when she first got it, saying that you can't just dress casually (as we do in the office), but that if you want to look professional and mature (as we do in our age, apparently) we have to dress the role.  If anything, we all know that first impression is everything, and even if we would rather not, we judge people by how they look.

It's a topic I've had in the back of my mind for a while now, but I do wonder: how does your job/environment affect how you dress?  I posted an outfit post from last Friday wherein I wore a black cardigan--well the truth is I wanted to wear a black blazer, but I changed my mind last minute because I don't want to out-dress my boss.  The last thing I want to do is dress more professional than my boss (the client's would wonder), and in fact one of the first career advice given is copy your environment, follow your boss, because being copied is usually flattering.  Strangely, I have always felt the opposite.

I feel that copying in fashion is like copying in art, you do it for practice, you do it so that you can implement them to your own style and transform whatever it is you copied to look like "you". Blatant copying of an outfit, a style, etc. such as in buying the exact same piece from the exact same chain (store/brand) is just wrong (in my opinion).  It's one thing to buy the same piece and style it differently, it's another to buy the same piece because you like the way it was styled and want to copy it. Of course, this is just my narrow-minded opinion, and in the end I do think that doing it while searching for your own style is fine (as long as effort to find that style is recognizable).

....Back on topic, I of course don't copy my boss' style, but it's important to recognize that she only wears suits when she goes to court, and normally she wears trends and boots and blouses and jewelry.  So I don't get to wear my blazers in the office, I rarely wear heels (I'm already taller than her so what's the point?), and I don't even wear make up most of the time and I don't feel bad because it doesn't seem like she does either.  In another words, I feel like I can be lazy to a certain extent. As long as I avoid t-shirts and jeans she does not seem dissatisfied with my dressing.

On the other hand, I feel that because of where I work, I would not wear a beach/summer outfit to work (i.e. shorts, a tank top, a mini skirt without leggings), because if I were a client I would wonder about a place where the employee dresses like she's going straight to the beach afterward.  I feel the need to dress a certain way, but there is a glass ceiling that I just described, but actually only recently have become conscious of, and yet there is also a minimum requirement that has never been explicitly stated in the office.  So what am I supposed to wear?

On another note, I noticed that while the receptionist indulged in the secretary look all winter she has begun to wear floral skirts and no stockings as of late, and I wonder if she tired of her wardrobe or if she was given an "ok" to dress unprofessionally (the other receptionist, male by the way, was fired for not looking professional).

While looking for pictures to insert into this post, I found AcademiChic run by three women with PHDs "on a crusade against the ill-fitting polyester suit of academic yore". How very interesting!

How are you shaped by your environment? I mentioned in previous posts that since moving to California (from Finland) I have worn less collar shirts/vests/dress pants/heels & more jeans/skirts/tanks/sandals. Yet I know many people who come from Europe and refuse to wear flip flops, or distressed jeans, and essentially refuse to assimilate into their environment.  Sometimes this can cost you your job, sometimes it means you are regarded as omega, so refusing to blend in with your peers comes with a cost.


  1. very interesting post--my work environment is a more casual office (i work as a secretary for a college)--though i would never be allowed to wear jeans or flip-flops, i would look ridiculous in a suit. a few weeks ago I wore kitten heels to work and my co-workers thought that we had trustees or board members on campus that day, since i was "dressed up." While it does limit me somewhat--no suits, and no blazers for me either--I do appreciate that I can wear things to work that I would wear outside of work too--cute skirts and cardigans, blouses and nice trousers. Its kind of nice to have one wardrobe, rather than "work clothes" and "not-at-work clothes"

  2. I work for a financial firm that has a lot of people around my age. I wear a lot of dresses, skirts and on Fridays, I go for jeans. We don't have a very discriminating dress policy so I am grateful for that. Some of the girls @ work wear those crazy high stilettos and fishnet stockings but they are in the marketing dept. I guess everyone has their own definition of work clothes. I try not to be too center of attention and I try to stay as professional as I can. Besides skirts, I always have trousers and pants. To make myself feel extra special, I have on open toe heels or colorful wedges hiding in the pants :)


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