As the weather in England has been better, I have been leaning to wearing dresses rather than the typical suiting and blazers and I’ve felt a surprising confidence in walking into a room where I intend to wield my influence. I wasn’t sure where this was coming from. In many situations’ dresses are impractical. Picture this; it’s a warm summer’s day and the breeze on the way to work keeps me cool, but when I get into the office it’s as cold as an igloo, so I need a pashmina around my legs when I’m working to keep warm. Everyone that comes over to my desk starts off the conversation with ‘Aw, cold are we?’, and I end up drinking copious amounts of coffee to keep warm. This outfit is clearly not functioning in the office, is it a bad choice?
I’ve usually erred on the side of caution but since starting this fearless pursuit of creating online, I’ve just said if this dress says what I want to say i.e. it speaks to my power, I’m wearing it. By doing this, I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy being feminine and powerful at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive; they can co-exist in the same woman, at the same time. Walking into a room accepting, owning and celebrating myself as a smart professional woman speaks volumes at first sight. I found myself confidently sharing my opinion and not feeling attacked when others disagreed. I expected more out of negotiations because I valued myself enough to get what I wanted.
However, I said however, I don’t wear any old dress to the office. I realised I’ve created a list of mental pointers that I consider before I pick out a dress. This is me using my blog as a diary so that I don’t forget them. I hope they will be useful to you also.
Get to know your body shape. For years I would buy sheath midi dresses and wonder why the dress would ride up as I walked and bunch up around my waist. I would feel uncomfortable as I’d be pulling my skirt down all day. Or I would wonder why the split would slowly get longer as I walked around the office. It would always be in the back of my mind to take careful small steps, but I didn’t see Olivia Pope taking small steps so what was going on.
We must remember that Olivia had a designer dress tailored perfectly to her body shape, and a wardrobe stylist to make sure she could walk through Washington thinking about how to take down Command rather than worrying about whether her dress would split open at any given moment. We don’t have these resources to hand, but the real value in personal style is understanding who you are, where you are going and what you want to say. Anyone can find the time to figure this out and find out what their own personal style.
If you are not sure of your body shape, I have written a list of steps/ questions you can take to figuring this out. Subscribe to my email list if you’d like to get it.
Choose your fabrics carefully. For me I need a fabric that has at least two of these elements before I can wear the dress to work;
- The fabric must have some weight, usually woven fabric like wool
- The fabric must have some stretch to it, for moving around easily
- The fabric must give an element of luxury, for example silk or man-made fabrics with a similar sheen.
This means if the dress is from cheap stretch fabric it’s a no for me as the fabric is flimsy and screams ‘I’m fast fashion!’. The only way I can see a dress like this working is if I’m wearing a blazer that deflects from the dress, but we’re talking about dresses that can stand out in their own right today.
Keep it modest. Modesty is relative, your opinion of modesty is bound to be different based on your background. I will always remember when I watched Prince Harry and Megan get married, not only for the wedding, but because of the reaction to her dress from one of my girlfriend groups on Whatsapp who are primarily from Nigerian and Caribbean descent. For large functions the aim for many Nigerian women is to ‘show-dem’ or ‘owanbe*’, so as the bride the pressure to impress comes to another level. Seeing ‘our princess bride’ in such a plain (aka sleek and chic) dress was disappointing. Messages such as; ‘Really?!’, ‘Where’s the real dress!’, ‘Not even rhinestone’ had me in stiches. As the world has gotten to know and understand Megan it’s clear she has an effortless approach to fashion. This dress worked for her personal style, but it also worked for her new role as a member of the royal family.
Remember to keep in mind your audience as a leader, you want to influence them so they need to be receptive to you. What would the people you are influencing deem as modest? After assessing my clients and team, I know my shoulders are best covered, my dress length should be at or below the knee, and my jewellery needs to be simple. Assess your audience and see what works for your environment.
*the literal definition is ‘it is there’ but is usually used to describe when someone throws a party to celebrate in grand style.
What do you think about the above? Am I too conservative, do you think we should just wear whatever we want, it’s 2019 for crying out loud? Only honest comments appreciated 🙂