I just started my first full-time job in the “real world” at an office with no dress code.
Currently, my daily life is akin to the dread that only a party invitation calling for business or resort casual could inspire. The intentional vagueness of “no dress code” supposedly represents a progressive shift of power to the dresser to use their best judgment — but for me (a new employee at the company and new member of the American work force), this is anything but empowering. In fact, even for the more seasoned worker, it presents a strange combination empowerment and disempowerment. On the one hand, you make your own rules, but on the other, you don’t, because your clothing choices are often based on the ones of your coworkers.
On my first day of work, however, I didn’t have the luxury of comparing my attire with peers, so I knew I must walk in blindly. That day I erred on the conservative side, not knowing whether I’d be greeted with Payless or Prada by my coworkers. I wore a patterned pencil skirt, a white blouse, a black suit jacket, and kitten heels. I even dug up a pair of stockings for the occasion.
When I entered into a sea of North Face jackets and jeans that first day, I was completely mortified knowing I was completely overdressed. I attempted to compensate by removing my dress jacket and just hoping that no one would notice my shoes. (Walk fast and don’t seem tall, Claire.)
But I was lucky. Although I was completely embarrassed and self-conscious, my colleagues were completely understanding (albeit amused). One of the younger women confided that working here saves you from investing in “a whole wardrobe of work clothes”– an ironic phrase to me given that we still do work in an office setting.
On day two, I relaxed a bit and donned a plaid flannel shirt, jeans, and brown leather boots. Once again, I was mortified when I arrived. Apparently that day was a day of meeting clients downtown for many coworkers, so I felt like a girl in leggings and a t-shirt in an office of suits (although thankfully, it wasn’t quite that extreme). I stood tall and pretended I didn’t notice. It taught me two valuable lessons though: err on the side of overdressed and check the calendar for meetings.
Now on week three, my level of formality still varies from one extreme to another on a daily basis, though I have been trying my best to create a series of outfits that lie somewhere in between hipster chic and Blair Waldorf. Right now, I’m in a strange place between wearing jeans, leather boots, and a sweater one day and a dress skirt, kitten heels, and a blouse the next. But as I look around me at the wide variety of styles and formalness, I know I’m not alone in my fashion identity crisis — and that’s something I didn’t notice as a nervous newbie three weeks ago.
However, nervous questions (“Is this appropriate for work?” “Do I look professional enough?” “Is it true that I should still dress for the job I want?” “How will my level of formality compare with my boss?” “What if I look too dressy?” “What if I look like a slob?”) still rattle around in my head at 6:30 a.m. as I tear through my closet, despairing of ever finding a happy medium.