Dressing for Your Life

Posted by Jill Chivers in My Story

Hello and welcome to a schizophrenic Wednesday here in now-it’s-sunny-no-wait!-now-it’s-raining Queensland.  I feel sorry for the people who are here on the Sunshine Coast on school holidays – they’ve come for a week in the sun, and they get showers instead.  Coulda just stayed in Melbourne for that, right?  (oooh, skating close to the edge with that comment, aren’t I?  I love Melbourne.  Really.  I think it likes me, too).

Ok, so we’re up to blog #73.  I wanted to come back to a topic I raised in the scandalous blog #59 on A Working Definition of Shopping Your Wardrobe.  Catchy title, I know.  I talked then about the importance of dressing for your lifestyle.  If you are single with no kids, work in corporateland and commute via train every day then your working wardrobe will look and feel really different to if you work part-time as an artist and have 3 children (where your clothing is covered in either paint, car fur or sick-up half the time).  Well, we’d be hoping those wardrobes would be different, right?

navy suit

I worked for an international consulting firm for many years.  I was the queen of the navy suit, like the one in the image above.  I was Ms Appropriate — buttoned down and stitched up, and that extended from my attitude to my wardrobe!  Never an ounce of inappropriate flesh was to be seen.  I was a rule-follower, and it was only after I had been free for many years that I realised how bound up, in every possible way, that environment had forced me to be.   Those corporations have certain codes of behaviour – some written and clear, a lot unspoken and hidden – and you deviate from them at your personal and professional cost.   That’s a whole other blog posting, but if you’ve ever worked in corporateland, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

When I left that organisation, I became an image consultant for about 15 minutes, although it took me a lot longer to get qualified.  I’d always been interested in clothing and make-up and all that girly stuff.  Some corporate days, the best part of my day was getting dressed – it went downhill from there.  So, I thought “well, it’s now or never” which was ridiculous, because I was only 29.   So, I studied to become an image consultant which was an eye opener.  And along the way, I met a lot of other image consultants both here in Australia and in the USA.

Vivienne.  One of them was a woman named Vivienne Cable and it’s safe to say that Vivienne changed something important about how I felt about myself.  When I first met Vivienne, my wardrobe hadn’t changed from my corporateland days.  I was trying to dress more casually, but I didn’t really know how to do it in a way that expressed something about the new ME.  I knew how to do casual for corporateland — the firm I worked for had Casual Friday’s and so I had a casual wardrobe that worked for that environment.  But I didn’t have anything casual that really expressed anything about me. Well, not the me that no longer worked there.

Who the heck am I?  With the great wisdom that hindsight brings, I can see that part of the issue was that I wasn’t really sure who the ME was that I was supposed to be expressing.  I had just gotten married and I had just left a long-term corporate job that was very meaningful for me (and formed a huge part of my identity — “I work in a building in downtown Sydney that has a huge lobby, it even has art in it!  I get to travel all around the country and I got to work in Canada and the USA and parts of Europe!  And I ran whole teams on big projects! Isn’t this who I am, somehow?”). 

No wonder.  So, no wonder that I had a few bumps in the road of working out to to dress for this new ME that was emerging.  I was in a “state of transition” as career coaches like to call it, and trying desperately to retain some feelings of control.  Ha!  It’d be kinda funny, except it happened to me, and my sense of humour had taken a vacation along with my sense of life direction.

I remember the words that Vivienne used that jolted me out of the fug I was in, and had me taking action.  They were some of the most insightful, inspiring and offensive words I’ve ever been on the receiving end of (oh, and by the way – the offensive bit was necessary, I needed somethinig to crowbar me out of where I was as I was deeply stuck (and yep – didn’t know it.  Had no idea).  And nothing short of “what you’re doing does not work, in any way” would’ve done it for me.  At least, that’s what I’m telling myself now that it’s all over and many years have passed).

“It’s not working”.  So,  Vivienne said something like:  “the way you’re dressing isn’t working.  You’re still dressing for when you worked for Deloitte.  You’re too buttoned up, too inaccessible.  It’s too stiff and too dull – there’s no shape, no texture, no colour, no life.  Wouldn’t you like to wear something with a beautiful animal print (I swear she said this), a soft slinky top, a pair of pants that hug your body and move when you do?…” I can’t recall the entire text of what she said after all these years.  But I can recall the emotional impact they had on me.   They shifted me.  It was very uncomfortable, but it got me moving.  (And, Viv, if you ever get to read this – I can’t thank you enough.  Really.  And where should I send my psychotherapy bills?).

So what changed?  Well, a lot has changed since then.  More candles on the birthday cake, more of life’s experiences etched on my face, more animal print in my wardrobe.  I have 12 animal print jackets (excluding the outer-wear ones), all of which I have collected lovingly over a 7 year period, and all of which I wear (way back in January, I blogged about my love of animal print – when it started and how it’s affected the building of my wardrobe.  I wear it every day – even if you can’t see it, I’ve got it on).

 The way my wardrobe works for me is it supports the me I am now, and the life I’m living now.  I don’t have any more suits, let alone a navy one.  The clothes I have move with me, and with my life.  There’s nothing I don’t wear (and if I discover something I’m not wearing – it goes on probation, or out the door (whoa, how Dirty Harry did that sound?)).  There’s more colour, in every way, to what I’m wearing (that’s me, above, last year, in the Castro district of San Francisco).

One of the ways my clothes support me and the life I’m living is I know what suits me.  Style wise, I am a Suited-Siren (no idea what I’m talking about?  Check out this post which describes the 4 fun categories of personality dressing).  I have embraced the Suited-Siren as part of the essential ME-ness that my clothing aims to express.  I like clothing with some structure and discernible shape to them (that’s the Suit bit)… and I also like the playfulness and sassiness that the Siren brings.  I combine these in a way that makes sense to me – the way I put myself together in the mornings both expresses and informs something about who I am being that day.  They’re like a good newspaper that way.

And that is the joy of clothing, isn’t it?  Clothing  should add something to our life, not be heavy and restricting or limiting.  I’m glad I don’t own a navy suit anymore.  It just wouldn’t fit my life.  Right?

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