How To Reject the Stupid Things You've Been Told About Your Style
“Try being less ‘Wednesday Adams’ in the way you dress.”
…is what a supposed entertainment industry “life coach” told me when I was a 22-year-old actress in New York. Why was I meeting with a life coach? Long story short, she was recommended to me by an agent and I thought that if I demonstrated that I could take the agent’s advice by meeting with their life coach friend, they’d be more inclined to sign me.
Classic young actor mistake.
The meeting was weird. It felt weird. We sat a table in a classic New York diner (When Harry Met Sally-style. And I did not want what she was having.) What I thought was going to be a productive and educational meeting in which I would learn some key steps I could take to get started in the entertainment industry had turned out to be an awkward hour-long conversation about the way I looked and how I came across at first glance.
This was nothing I wasn’t used to already. I had already become somewhat accustomed to being viewed, and viewing myself, as a product I had to sell in the audition room. I didn’t like it, but I understood it. This meeting though… it just felt gross.
She went on at length about how I needed to wear brighter colors, be more cute and conventional, play up my youth. (Ugh I threw up in my mouth a little bit just typing that.) I knew exactly how she wanted me to package myself: as a brightly colored smiley young thing who could step right onto a Tide commercial and SELL 👏 THAT 👏 SHIT. 👏
I had arrived at our meeting in a black tank top, black shorts, and heavy eyeliner. She seemed genuinely confused and disturbed by what she saw. She told me to be less “Wednesday Adams” in the way I dressed because it would make me more sellable.
The meeting ended after an hour the way a drug deal goes down in movies; with me awkwardly sliding the hundred bucks she was owed across the table and walking away feeling dirty. At least a drug deal would have given me something I could have actually used.
So how do we, as women whose appearances are in a constant state of appraisal and critique, stay true to what makes us feel good about ourselves? How do we mitigate the daily incoming attempts to change and control the way we look, trying to make us into something more attainable and palatable? Into something less self-possessed and therefore less threatening?
Some ways to assert yourself through your style are pretty simple. In the case of my Wednesday Adams story, that was easy. I got nothing from the meeting and certainly didn’t see any value or validity to what this supposed entertainment industry professional had said. I went on with my life wearing head to toe black whenever I wanted.
The only loss I suffered was the $100 I could have spent on more black clothing.
But there are trickier scenarios women have to navigate on a regular basis. Whether it’s a request from someone at work to alter your appearance to better fit into the corporate hive aesthetic or a comment from a boyfriend about looking more feminine and ladylike (I’ve been there so hard with past relationships I could write another blog post about it. Maybe I will.), you totally have it in you to firmly reject those outside opinions and wear what you want to wear. Feel how you want to feel about yourself.
But once you throw in the complications of, say, wanting to keep or job or being in love with the person who’s trying to change you, things aren’t as simple as my Wednesday Adams story. How do you navigate it all?
Here are 3 scenarios in which a woman’s choice in attire (emphasis on the word choice) is commonly challenged and how to gracefully reject the situation and continue being yourself.
When your boss tells you to dress more corporate
It’s not exactly unreasonable for you to be expected to dress professionally at your job. However, there are plenty of issues with a corporate dress code that should be unpacked and called out. It’s one thing to be expected to dress professionally, and it’s another for a company to use its dress code as a tool of oppression.
This one is the tricky because of course no one wants to jeopardize their job over clothing. Sadly, because our society still places a premium on robotic suit-and-tie attire for its cogs in the corporate machine, this one requires the most flexibility from us. Meaning we kind of have to go along with this one for the most part.
Luckily, there are ways to express your style while still playing by the dress code rules, which I talk about in this Moda Misfit post. It lists 10 blazers that are great for cool girls who don’t want their style completely neutered by their corporate job.
And with fast-fashion stores like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21, women have more options than ever when it comes to professional attire on a budget. Within all these options, it’s very possible to find dress code-friendly clothing that still has a cool factor to it.
While playing by the corporate dress code rules, there are still some ways you can be sneaky about working in your edgier cool girl style through accessorizing. A witchy statement necklace here, a black studded watch there, or perhaps a tiny elegant skull ring - these small pieces are meant to serve as little reminders of who you are and what you love beneath the corporate aesthetic you’re being forced to embody.
Clark Kent had to wear a suit to work (and those sexy glasses), but that didn’t change the fact that underneath the corporate attire, he was Superman. And when duty called, all he had to do was rip open his shirt and blazer to reveal the suit that represented his true self. A discrete edgy accessory here and there can be your Superman suit; the hidden pieces of yourself that demonstrate your true power and the fact that you are so much more than your corporate job.
When your boyfriend tells you to dress more sweet and basic
I’ve had a couple boyfriends in the past who repeatedly made it known that they would have preferred me to adopt a more girl-next-door look. The approachable, “I didn’t try very hard but I’m cute as a button anyway and I’m so laid back and conventional” look. The look many men mistakenly construe as the “I won’t get mad if you tell me to get in the kitchen where I belong to make you a sandwich” look.
One boyfriend of mine in particular had a fixation on leggings, a piece of women’s clothing that’s very commonly fetishized due to the fact that they simultaneously make us look laid back and approachable yet also sexy (tight, thin fabric hugging every curve of your lower body = desirable to cave man brain).
If this boyfriend had it his way, I would have exclusively dressed like a Lululemon model; the perfect easy-breezy “I woke up like this and I’m still totally fuckable” ideal.
That’s not a knock against athleisure, which I actually really love. It’s a knock against my past boyfriend’s attempts to fit me into this little box of what he considered desirable. As if the way I dressed was for him and not for me. It was about control. And a woman who enjoys dressing like a modern day witch or a free-spirited flower child from time to time like I do comes across as far less easy to control than a woman who doesn’t.
So how do you reject this? Of course, every relationship is different, so I can’t give a definitive answer. Instead, I’ll tell you what I should have done and you can apply it to your own situation as you see fit.
What I should have done (but didn’t do at the time):
Calmly stated that I was going to dress the way I wanted to dress, then left it at that. No more dignifying his statement with a response. (In reality, I would get angry and fight with him about it which gave him the sense of control he was seeking in the first place.)
Leaned into my personal style even more rather than making allowances for him (which I did from time to time by actually allowing myself to think “will he like this?” when getting dressed in the morning).
Broken up with him way sooner than I actually did.
If it gets to the point where a guy is consistently making you feel unworthy because of how you dress, it’s time to release him to the wild. That’s really all I have to say about it.
When society tells you to show less skin
We live in a society that conditions women, starting in middle school, to be ashamed of our bodies. Hell, even the aforementioned overly fetishized leggings - which reveal zero skin - are deemed a dress code violation in schools.
Starting at a young age, we’re all taught to be self-conscious when wearing tank tops, short dresses and skirts, and v-neck shirts, to name a few of the shame targets fostered in our school systems. We’ve had it instilled in us that our choice in attire can be used as a weapon to exclude us from participating in fundamental life experiences such as, you know, school.
So if you regularly find yourself putting on an outfit you love in the morning, then tend to change out of it at the last minute before you leave the house, think about why you may be doubting yourself. It’s drilled into our brains that going out in that sleeveless sundress will get us sent home.
So how to we reject this collective brainwashing we’ve all undergone without, you know, getting sent home?
In terms of what can actually be done, there’s some good news and bad news. The good news is that there is actually a whole movement that has been embraced by girls in middle and high schools around the country called “I Am More Than a Distraction”. Girls are stepping up and calling out their schools for their sexist dress codes and their stance that girls are responsible for ensuring boys and male faculty (ugh ew) are not distracted by their newly post-pubescent-yet-still-child bodies.
The fact that girls are confronting their schools and shedding light on the issue through social media (#iammorethanadistraction on Twitter is a pretty incredible thing to behold) gives me hope that these girls’ voices will be heard and that maybe, maybe, there will eventually be some changes. Perhaps future generations will not be plagued by the same level of shame and self doubt we’ve all been conditioned with in school. Maybe they’ll be able to leave their houses without changing out of an outfit they love at the last minute out of fear.
The bad news is that we adults have jobs we don’t want to lose over our preference in clothing. What do we do to reject that little voice in our heads that tells us to change out of that skirt that might technically be slightly too short but still looks amazing and makes us feel good about ourselves?
It mainly depends on your work environment and what you feel comfortable doing. And of course, it also depends on how much it actually matters to you. It may be that you don’t find the same level of empowerment I feel from expressing myself through style, which is totally cool. You keep rocking at the things you do get empowerment from, girl!
But if expressing your personal style is important to you, it may be worth it to you to test the fashion waters at your job. I’m personally a fan of pushing the boundaries ever so slightly, where I do kind of a light version of my style. Then I go full force on the weekends and wear whatever I want. Wednesday Adams comes out with a vengeance on weekends.
Try baby steps. When you get that impulse to completely change out of that outfit you love before you leave for work, try removing one element of it rather than the whole thing. Test your boundaries. See what feels right. Wear that shorter skirt one day. Rock that lower v-neck another day. You may even find that your work is a lot more accepting than you realized, and that your insecurities come from that fear we’ve all been instilled with since middle school.
At the same time, arm yourself with your company’s sexual harassment policy in case any inappropriate comments are made. Familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of your company’s dress code policy in case you get called out. Have faith that your company is cool, but at the same time get ready to defend yourself and your perfectly reasonable choice in attire.
I think the main thing we can actually do to reject the stupid things we’re told about our style is to try our best to reframe our mindsets. Try to separate ourselves from the shame and insecurity that stubbornly lives in us.
If you love head-to-toe black, rock that shit. If you and your boyfriend have different tastes in women’s style, your style wins every time. And if you’re afraid of what will happen if you dare to show an inch more skin than usual, remind yourself that your body is awesome and you shouldn’t feel the need to hide it like it’s a dirty little secret.
Fashion is one of the many tools we can use to assert ourselves, my friends. If you’re into it, use it.
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What’s the worst piece of criticism you’ve received about your personal style? Tell me in the comments!
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Hey there! I’m Steffi, creator of Moda Misfit - a lifestyle blog that aims to inspire you to embrace who you are and express your creative self through decor, fashion, & music. We're all Moda Misfits here!