Women today have it good.
We’ve got the right of the vote, we can enter into any profession we choose and we can finally admit that we’re not all great cooks without the world collectively coming to an end. We exercise more autonomy than ever in relationships and we can literally find a Google article on how to do just about anything we put our minds to…including how to calculate rocket velocity (yes, I really looked that up!).
But amidst all of this change, a time honored feminine art has fallen to the wayside and that is the art of dressing well for women.
Every week, America groans a collective sigh of condemnation at the latest video making the social media rounds that always undoubtedly captures an Americana woman grocery shopping in her pajamas or pumping gas in her bonnet. Don’t let said Americana woman be black, because if she is that will introduce a whole other level of hand wringing about why this country has gone to hell in a hand basket, and why the inner city is a perfect case study in how far womanhood has fallen in the West.
The hand wringers are often racist jerks, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Dressing well for women was a topic taken so seriously that entire school curriculums around it (home ec sewing class, anyone?). Women paid good money to attend charm schools that would teach them the fundamentals of elegant dress and set their reputations around how well they put themselves together.
And then something happened.
Revolution came, and along with it sexual liberation,the rise of the mini skirt and hippie culture. Who needed to be taught to dress well when you could slip in (or out of) a mini skirt in 5 seconds flat?
But all fashion is not created equal and as women get older, we start to feel the consequences of not dressing well: the dating opportunities that were missed, the job promotions that never came, and a general sense that our look got caught somewhere in the middle of the body we used to have and whatever the celebrity du jour happens to be wearing.
That’s exactly where I found myself when I came to my fairy Godmother Deborrah Cooper and told her that I was in need of a serious makeover.
I was just plain tired of hearing men call me “sexy” but not much more. My look consisted of the standard 20 somethings wardrobe: tight jeans, tight skirts, tight dresses, tight…well, everything.
As an educated and well-traveled woman, I knew I had the potential to dress as sophisticated as I thought myself to be, but I felt that my budget didn’t allow for much more than the trendy clothes that fell in style and right back out just as quickly. Sure, the trends were momentary,but the kind of upper class dressing that I thought was the pinnacle of a woman’s look seemed to only be housed in pricey stores like Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom’s.
I later found out that my assumption that better looking clothes would automatically cost more was flat out wrong. Dead wrong.
Deb pulled the Band-Aid off quick. “That gray dress is not flattering; I would throw that out if I were you” is how she started. No, not the gray, skin-tight maxi dress that showed the beautiful curve of my hips and waistline? (See above) Yes, that one! It also showed last night’s tacos and this morning’s Frosted Flakes. Not the best look.
And that dress with the slit on the side to show some beautiful leg? “Not appropriate for work. Men are only thinking of one thing when they see you in that dress and it’s not your intelligence. They are stupid like that.” She kept it all the way real.
And it was just what I needed.
However, I initially chafed at her blunt talk.
“What does she know about what’s in style?”
“How can she just judge me like that?”
But despite the chafing and the snatching of the edges, I knew Deb was right. My look wasn’t getting me the kind of responses that I wanted in the love arena or at work. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then I was definitely crazy!
Deb proposed that I try dressing in a more professional way that flattered my figure, while reflecting my youthful femininity for just one week to see what would happen. I took Deb’s Dressing Well for Women challenge head on.
So for seven straight days, I would dress well. This meant actually planning my outfits as if I were in Kindergarten; this meant actually dressing with a particular intention, i.e. “I want my look to say that I’m happy and professional today” or “I want my look to tell people that I’m edgy, but feminine tonight” or “I want my look to convey that I’m capable and trustworthy.”
And, most of all, this meant getting rid of stuff in my closet and only adding pieces that were versatile and appropriate in any number of situations. Deb sent me links to sample outfits she thought would work to give me a visual to go on. So out went the printed leggings that showed all my business and in came pencil skirts that hinted at curves, but never fully showed them to you. Gone were the too small mini skirts that were unforgiving and in came A-line dresses with actual liners in them and real fabric (gasp!).
In a short period of time, I went from having absolutely nothing to wear (despite having a closet full of clothes) to having fantastic combinations of blouses, skirts, and dresses!
I found most pieces at moderately priced stores like New York and Company and Burlington Coat Factory; the difference was not in the price but the quality and utility.
You can buy one beautifully well made white blouse with a sailor’s collar that works with a pencil skirt in the office or a sleek pair of jeans for a date night or that works perfectly with a pair of capris for lunch with your boss. Or you can buy that too-tight, sequined top with the words “Juicy” written across it in leopard letters for the same price with none of the style or versatility.
By the end of Deb’s seven day challenge, I had more dates lined up than I’d had in months (with guys with serious careers and intentions who treated me like a queen!), had gotten more compliments on my style than ever before, and was featured in my company’s newsletter as a model employee (although my level of work productivity had not changed.)
I also had a newfound confidence as well as a polished look that said, “I’ve arrived” without me having to open my mouth much at all. I finally reached a place where I was getting the “you look beautiful,” instead of the “Hey sexy!” and it all came from changing just a few key points.
I also bought a book on style and dressing (“Frumpy to Fabulous: Flaunting It: Your Ultimate Guide to Effortless Style”) and used my newfound knowledge to learn how to dress for my particular body type, which is a pear shape.
I’m not saying that I’ll never wear leggings again (I probably will), or that I’ll never wear a maxi dress again (I definitely will!). It’s just that now that Deb has schooled me in the art of dressing well, I know WHEN and WHERE those pieces will work and how to put them together in a way that says, “She has her act together!” And isn’t that what all women want?
Deb’s seven day challenge has come and gone, but the principles that I’ve learned about the feminine art of dressing well for women are here to stay!
Category: Women's Issues