Dress for success?

Image taken from Eman Winston's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Image – It’s an issue you’ll find raised again and again in my posts.

I think it’s fair to say that consumerism is spurred on by the desire for both ourselves, and the things we surround ourselves with to look ‘just so’. We want to project the ‘right’ image.

I’ve never been comfortable with the issue of image.

Maybe that’s because I’ve never been glamorous in any way. I grew up with two brothers and a mum who had short hair and never really learned anything about hairstyling or make. I have a PhD and still if you asked me to braid someone’s hair the challenge would be beyond me.

A group of girls from my primary school who went to my high school intuitively new that they had to turn up at day 1 of high school with their skirts taken up to a particular level. They knew what ‘cool’ was. Mine remained the original store bought, unaltered version. From day 1 I failed ‘cool’. It didn’t help that in year 8 the only school shoes I could buy to fit me were sandals. In 1992, socks with sandals were not an option for ‘cool’.

Maybe no one else noticed these things. But as a teenager I did. Even if other people didn’t perceive me as daggy, I certainly didn’t feel ‘cool’ or ‘beautiful’.

The figures are often spun at us that over half the impression you make on someone is how you look. I’ve always found this notion very disillusioning that sometimes getting ahead in life seems to be all about projecting the ‘right’ image.

I’ve mentioned previously that sometimes I have a go at trying to pull off the ‘corporate look’, to ‘play the part’ of someone who quite obviously has the potential for a managerial role, but it’s not something I ever maintain.

I could never do the Julia Gillard ‘prime ministerial attire’ of the jacket and string of pearls. The jeans will just always slip back in there.

A part of my discomfort with image is that I just don’t have the skills. I’m not a ‘girly girl’ and never learnt the arts of blow drying, hair straightening, and make up. I can never manage to look professionally ‘styled’. Also I quickly snatch back the extra 10 minutes spent doing my ‘hair’ to exercise or sleep in a bit more.

Another part of it is that I’m a spendthrift and balk at spending $200 on a hair straightener.  Not only because there are very few times I’d ever part with such an amount of money on a discretionary purchase, but because to me it kind of seems almost immoral.

Maybe it’s because I view spending money on my image as discretionary, and not essential, as some people do?

Or perhaps the nub of it is that deep down I think that it’s a sell out. That I think that people should take people for who they are, and not what they appear to be – that we should not be that shallow.

But does it disadvantage you if you can’t, or won’t, ‘play the game’?

We have charities that have developed around this notion. Dress for success provides suits for disadvantaged women who are trying to establish themselves in a job.

Taking the ethical clothing pledge has also stirred up some thoughts on image for me. If you wear second hand clothes can you carry off a ‘corporate look’? Or do only new clothes really give that fresh, crisp look?

I think perhaps the key lies with style and confidence. Developing a sense of what you like and don’t like, and of how you want to present yourself. Thinker maker writes  some great stuff on these issues, particularly about colours that suit you, and make you feel good.

There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look nice. I think it’s true to a certain extent that every girl wants their princess moment – whether it be at their wedding or another occasion.

We all want times that we feel genuinely beautiful. But on a day to day basis we’ve got to look at how we can create our own sense of style and have confidence in our image in sustainable ways.

Surely that is possible?

What are your thoughts on image in society, its role in consumerism, and whether sustainability and ‘fashion’ can go together?  (Incidentally for an interesting take on sustainable fashion check out the Uniform Project).

What do you wear to work? Do you ‘dress for success’?

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/emanwinston/3030845968/sizes/l/in/photostream/ with thanks to Eman Winston.

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About greenleftyidealist

Green, left and idealistic. A mum, a runner, a rogainer, a public servant and wanna be writer. My dog is golden.
This entry was posted in consumerism, identity, image, women and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Dress for success?

  1. Ken Coulter says:

    From a Buddhist perspective, adorning the body only reinforces a misguided sense of permanence and grasping. After all, making ourselves beautiful is all about playing down our “shortcomings” such as weight, height and the most feared of all – age – and playing up what ever positive attributes we may have (according to societal values). By dressing for success, we are essentially pretending – pretending we’re younger, thinner, taller…what ever, and worse yet, we’re doing so to gain acceptance, approval. Not our own approval of ourselves, but the approval of others – in many cases, perfect strangers. The confidence we feel when we receive that approval is, in keeping with the Buddhist view, a recipe for disaster. People may look at us and say “my, how young/fit/healthy you look”, but there’s the rub. These attributes are short-lived. We don’t stay young, fit, healthy. No one does. And worse yet, when we try to look this way, we’re setting ourselves up for a lifetime of suffering, of battling against natural processes; a battle we will lose, guaranteed.

    The truth of life, regardless of one’s philosophical or religious views, is that we all age, are afflicted with illness, and die. The fact that we all become trapped in the delusion that we can somehow slow or altogether halt this process by adorning our bodies is incredible. It also seems to be largely a “western” affliction. There are other cultures that don’t appear to be caught up in this exercise in futility, and in fact respect and (gasp) celebrate aging and death.

    I agree that consumerism and media all play in to this collective delusion, this mass hysteria. But I think we need to take a step or two backwards, and reflect on our personal reasons for wanting to be beautiful in the first place. It’s not a comfortable or easy exploration, but if we ever want to bring the machine of corporate driven consumerism to a halt, we need to look at our true reflection in the mirror and be honest with ourselves.

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