By Carrie Perrien Smith
Okay, brace yourself. I’m going to weigh in on fashion.
I’ve loved to follow fashion trends my whole life. I haven’t necessarily looked the part but often admired those that did. Early in my professional career in Dallas, I tried to get into the apparel manufacturing industry. It was a short-lived dream.
I was already making more than the jobs I qualified for and I was barely making it at that. Making a jump like that didn’t make sense for my family. So I continued to follow the industry as a fan.
Over the years, I’ve learned that clothing affects a person’s self-image. What we wear often determines whether we feel successful, relaxed, uptight, confident, or attractive.
There is nothing that looks more beautiful on a woman than confidence and a warm smile. It is evidence to the world that we believe in our value, love ourselves, and have something to offer wherever we go.
I wish I could say that clothing doesn’t matter. It would be awesome if the only thing that counted was what is inside.
But here’s the dirty little secret about clothing: what we choose and how we wear it makes a huge difference in how people perceive us. And if we’re serious about respect wherever we go, we influence people more if our clothes don’t get in the way.
I share this with you not only because we need to understand that. We also need to reach back to the generation coming along behind us and help them understand it. Here are three rules that I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way).
Fashion Rule #1
There’s a rule that has served me well as a woman of a certain age: If you were old enough to wear it the first time it was in style, you are too old to wear it when it comes back in style again.
This thought kept running through my mind as I was shopping eBay for some stage apparel last week. I sing in a 60s/70s rock band called Paper Jam. Yesterday, after watching some YouTube videos of 70s bands, I decided I need something leather with fringe — and it has to be tasteful.
I could take a lot of fashion license with my band apparel, but I work in this community and my professional contacts also come to our shows. Plus, I’m hanging out in establishments with people who occasionally drink more than they should (wink wink). It’s easier to be the same person on and off the stage, at home as a parent and working in the community and with my clients. Because of that, I make careful apparel choices.
Fashion Rule #2
And this reminds me of another fashion rule: Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. We might have the figure for it or everyone else might be wearing it but that doesn’t make it a good choice. The fashion industry’s sole motive is to provoke us to buy clothes. And sometimes, the industry promotes trends that look dumb on slender models and celebrities and even dumber on the rest of the population.
A male friend gave me a good piece of information a few years ago. In essence, he said cleavage was a huge distraction for guys. This is probably not news to you. But just like that little V shape at the top of you lip draws attention to your teeth, that vertical shadow of exposed cleavage draws a person’s eyes down to your breasts. No matter how endowed a woman is, the low-cut shirt may be in style but it draws the eyes to a place that shouldn’t draw attention in the workplace.
And while I’m here, remember that safety pins are your friends — especially on button-down shirts. Manufacturers never put enough buttons on them to close the gaps that pull across the chest. Fill in the gaps with a safety pin from behind. I’m surprised how many women don’t realize that people sitting beside them are getting a prime view of their bra. They are good for keeping bra straps out of sight too. There you go. That’s my public service announcement.
Fashion Rule #3
It isn’t always about the individual items but how we pair them. This goes far beyond making sure we aren’t wearing low-cut shirts and showing bra straps. Let’s take some current fashion items and discuss their appropriateness for professional settings. For instance, we have leggings, sheer shirts, and stiletto pumps. Ladies are wearing them together … to work. Ack!
All three are great fashion items. However, any woman who wants to be taken seriously at work needs to mix wisely. There are great outfits and then there are pairings that just make people stare.
Leggings. The thing with most leggings is that they are a few fibers away from being tights. We wouldn’t wear tights alone without something over them.
Why on earth do people think it’s okay to wear leggings with a short shirt? I’ve been behind a few ladies in public that frankly had the figure for it but still, it exposes a little too much of the goods. A mid-thigh-length sweater or opaque shirt with boots or flats is a good pairing. Leggings are popular to wear for exercise, but I avoid them when I work out at a gym where my potential clients or professional peers also work out.
Sheer shirts. The last time these were in style, I had one that I loved to wear over a tank top and slacks. The tank top and slacks would have even been appropriate worn without the sheer shirt. However, I had a few comments that made me question whether the sheer shirt was a good professional choice. While appropriateness is about how garments are paired, I’ve learned that some people consider sheer fabric to be for the bedroom. You never know what kind of paradigms and baggage people drag around with them. It can affect how they view a woman professionally if she is wearing something that is regarded as too provocative.
Stiletto pumps. I love these although I just can’t walk in them anymore. Actually, I didn’t do such a good job in my younger days. They look great with a longer skirt or slacks.
But once someone pairs a skirt length above the knee, it heats up the sex appeal and changes how people in the workplace view the woman wearing it. Choosing shorter heel heights can take the hotty factor out of wearing shorter skirts. And your knees will thank you later in life. Click here to watch a video about the long-term dangers of high heels.
The Workplace Factor:
Over 75 percent of my clients and professional relationships are men. I’ve not only garnered their respect but their wives do not feel threatened by our professional relationship. I value that and I regard how I dress to be part of honoring that trust and maintaining that respect. There is obviously more to the equation than that but clothing plays a significant role.
Choosing appropriate clothing makes it more comfortable for men and women to work together without the inherent distractions of human nature. And it is still possible to be hip and fashionable in the process.
If this article has you saying “I wish [insert name here] would read this article” or even better, “I wish our supervisor would talk to [insert name here] about what she’s wearing,” next month’s article will provide a loving way to address the issue.
Carrie Perrien Smith is mama to Darcie and a pack of black dogs (Snappy, Jazmin, and Midgieboy — in pack order), grandma to Robert, wife to world-traveler and Walmart-blue-bleeding Tom, daughter to Wayne and Phyllis, speaker bureau and publishing company owner, Business: Engaged! small business radio show host,
community activist, singer in a party band, and home improvement junkie. Follow her on Twitter @soarwitheagles or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.