“I must be a mermaid. I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.” -Anais Nin
Happy New Year! After months of working remotely, I went into an office for work last week. I am still getting use to maneuvering through Atlanta rush hour traffic again, but this transition also affords new opportunities to create more work place looks. I played with mixed prints and metallics, with my new favorite boots, to create the look featured in this post. It was a pretty bold choice for a first-day-in-the-office look and I want to share some reflections on fashion in the work place.
This story begins with Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. I finished it over the holidays and there were many parts of her journey as a young professional that were inspiring and also experiences that resonated with my own. It was also interesting to read her reflections on her personal style as the First Lady. Mrs. Obama has been photographed wearing some iconic looks and her choices in fashion were commonly praised and dissected during her tenure as the First Lady. At one point in her book, she expressed her discontent with what seemingly was an interest in her latest outfit over her intellect and the social and public health efforts she was spearheading. “It seemed that my clothes mattered more to people than anything I had to say,” she wrote in a telling revelation that resonated with some of my own fears.
Can you relate? When I started graduate school, for example, there was a period where I considered how my usual attire, often praised for style, may influence others’ perceptions of me as a young Black woman pursuing her PhD. It didn’t help that at the time, I was attending class in a building with the fitness center, so I often passed by undergraduate students dressed in athletic attire as they fit their workouts in between classes. Ultimately, I decided to just be myself. A professor once called me her “little fashion plate” at a conference we were attending, followed by statements about how we, as women, were multifaceted. I couldn’t agree more.
This is the double edged sword that we sometimes experience as women, however, a state in which our appearances are constantly dissected and measured against unreasonable standards. On the other hand, the perception of too much concern or time spent on our appearance can be regarded as shallow. It is an unfair plight where our intellect could be overshadowed by our ‘ootd’ or where our freedom to express ourselves artistically through beauty and fashion could be diminished. A man, on the other hand, could meticulously match ties, to shirts, to shoes each day, yet no one would question his competence or achievements within his field, based on an expression of personal style.
So, what do we do to challenge these ideologies? We push against them and make way for new ones to be realized. I, for example, accept that being creative and an analytical PhD scholar are not mutually exclusive. One of the many ways in which I express my creativity is through fashion. I accept that sharing this expression of creativity is also a part of living authentically. Although my love of fashion is just one part of me, it permeates through my different life experiences and can be used to shift our social norms.
What does professional look like to you?