If you follow me on Twitter, you read how fun it was for me to begin last Friday at 5’7″ in the shoes in this picture and how ready I was to return to 5’3″ by the end of the day. Each blistered step from the subway to my home reminded me of a question I’d been thinking about during the week: Who am I dressing for?
When I worked at a law firm, I never wore big bracelets because they interfered with my work on the computer. I could have slipped one on when I went out to lunch or met with a partner, but I never bothered. Perhaps if I’d realized what bracelets could do to complete an outfit, I would have made the effort.
As for purses, I’ve always thought of them as purely functional. They had to carry everything I could possibly need in a day while blending in with the rest of my outfit. Now that I see that purses can do the work of a bracelet, I’m re-thinking them. However, who really sees your purse? Your friends may compliment it while you’re out shopping together, but it’s usually only seen in transit by strangers on the way to an event where it’s left on a chair or tucked in a corner.
Some of us work in fields where we regularly come in contact with different people for extended periods of time. Others work with the same people day in and day out. Finally, there are women like me who work in isolation most of the day and only come into contact with other people in passing.
On a surface level, the first two groups have it easiest when it comes to answering the question, “Who am I dressing for?”
They need the people with whom they work to see them a certain way. The third group has more of a challenge. When I dress to go to the pharmacy and post office, I’m not worrying about first impressions or being perceived as competent. Usually I just want to be comfortable. So why dangle a red bag from my arm, stack a bracelet on my wrist or increase my height by 4 inches in cute sandals?
This question can be answered with another question: How much do I care whether my outward appearance expresses my personality? If I consider myself to be feminine and vivacious but run around in a big tee shirt and sweats, I’m expressing just the opposite.
Interestingly, this is where even the first two groups face a similar challenge. On the surface level, they are dressing for others, but on another level, how much does it matter to them that their appearance reflects who they are inside? I liked a suggestion that I read from Tim Gunn about this recently: if you’re corporate during the week but rock n’ roll during the weekend, how can you find a way to bring some of your weekend personality into your week so that you don’t feel so stifled? Accessories are the perfect way to do this.
Another challenge, however, is how to balance comfort and function with form and design. My gorgeous new sandals may express my desire to look put-together without being too formal, but I won’t wear them for a full day of running around Manhattan again. My search for a pair of black summer sandals continues.
This is turning into a lot of work! But here’s one thing I’m realizing: I can’t help but express myself through my appearance. Whether I make the effort or not, my appearance is sending a message. It’s up to me to ensure that it’s the message I want to get across. Fortunately, accessories make this a lot of fun to try to do.