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Basic Career Advice (Usually Aimed at Young Women)
Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
You’ve no doubt heard this common career advice before. And it makes sense – if you dress like a sloppy intern, you’re going to be treated like a sloppy intern. But if you dress a little more put together, there’s at least the chance that at a meeting you might be mistaken for someone more senior than the kid who just graduated from school and is in charge of exactly two things – setting up the conference call technology and making sure there are enough seats in the conference room for everyone who is attending.
If you are wearing a too-short skirt or ripped jeans, nobody is going to think you are somebody important, trust me. And looking more put together really does convey more confidence, knowledge and authority, and that in turn gives you yourself a sense of those same things.
I was probably never a better dressed employee than when I was a summer associate. Granted, I distinctly remember wearing pantyhose often (you never forget the feeling of pantyhose on a hot July day in New York City) even though there was no reason why someone who was sitting in her office all day should have been wearing pantyhose in 2008.
When I say “better dressed” I mostly mean I wore more suits. Lots of suits. Before I started my Biglaw career, my mom and I went on crazy suits shopping sprees – we went to Macys, Lord & Taylor, multiple TJMaxx locations and bought up every Tahari suit they had in my size. I was set for a Biglaw career that could span decades and I wore those suits all summer long.
My Interpretation of the Rule
Fast forward to the reality of being an actual associate. While I still wore a few of those suits on occasion (only if I had a client meeting or some other formal event), I mostly wore black pants, black nine west wedges and some variation of an Ann Taylor or Banana Republic blouse.
This style stuck around until my very last year or two, when it took a turn. A nosedive some in the professional world might say. While I never wore anything inappropriate (i.e., too short or too low cut), I wore my fair share of leggings and riding boots (eek) and flannel (oh man) shirts, especially on our casual Fridays. I was finally dressing for the job I wanted, not the job I had.
My Trusty Black Pants
Looking back on it, I realized this was one of the first signs that I was not going to stick it out at the firm (for other signs, check out my post on the 10 Signs You Should Quit Your (Biglaw) Job) I was not looking to build anything for the future there – not even a professional wardrobe. I had exactly three pairs of black pants that I would wear Monday through Thursday, washing them when I felt I couldn’t squeeze another wear out of them.
The Gap made the best work pants in 2008 and I was going to wear those until the end, frayed hems and see-through bottoms and all (it helped hide the see-through-ness and the wear and tear if I wore black underwear, I told myself). And wear them until the end I did.
My last day was a Friday, so of course I wasn’t going to wear my fancy black pants that day, so technically I didn’t wear the Gap pants until the bitter end, but they stuck around with me until the end.
The week after I quit, when it was time to do my laundry for the first time since leaving my job, instead of throwing those three pairs into the wash like I usually did, I took them out of the pile and had a little moment with them.
If this were a romantic comedy, and the pants were pictures of and letters from an ex-boyfriend, I would have had a bonfire on the beach with my best friend. We would have thrown all of those old letters, pictures and mementos into the burning fire, all the while dancing and getting drunker and drunker on wine as each memento burned. And then a gorgeous surfer would just happen to walk by looking for his lost golden retriever that we would help him find, and then…ok, I’m getting away from my point.
This was real life, and it was a Tuesday afternoon in my Manhattan apartment. It was too early for wine and I wasn’t going to risk burning down my city block just to get rid of some pants. So I did the second best thing – I ripped them.
The hems gave way with one gently tug (there were some safety pins holding them up, after all). Then the seams of the legs and the backside. By the end, I just had a pile of black shredded fabric sitting on my floor and I felt so free.
I was now free to wear whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was dressing for the job I wanted, even if I didn’t know what it was yet. But what I instinctively knew was that it was going to be something that gave me more FREEdom, in both my dress and the rest of my life. RIP, black Gap pants. 2008-2018. You served me well but it feels so good to never see or smell you again.
Your Wardrobe Is Telling
What is the state of your current wardrobe? Is it in need of a makeover or a makeunder? Does it match where you are right now (mine didn’t match either where I was at the time (associate, who should have been dressing like a professional) or where I wanted to be (somewhere on a beach))? Does it match where you want to go?