Even if you’ve never heard the phrase “dress the part,” you’ve likely felt the pressure to dress for your surroundings at least once in your life. It’s the idea that all accountants wear khakis and glasses or that everyone that works at a magazine company is in high heels. Heck, it’s why you’ve likely got a black blazer sitting in your closet that you only wear on job interviews. While there’s nothing wrong with being surrounded by like-minded, similarly-dressed people, there is pressure to look a certain way in any field. Some may feel it more than others. But for those of you feeling it and hating it, I have a way around being forced into playing the part that might not feel so natural — creating your own uniform.
When I started working at my local school, I was 25 years old and not ready to trade in my denim for slacks. While it was a big role change from work-from-home writer to working behind a desk with students, I still had absolutely no intention of throwing on blazers every day. Heck, I didn’t even like the idea of wearing real pants. So I did what any millennial would do — I decided not to dress how I was expected. Yes, there is a strict “no blue jeans” policy at work, but that didn’t mean I could wear black denim. Sure, I had to look professional, but I didn’t have to become someone that I wasn’t.
Now, keep in mind that I was already 10+ years younger than everyone who worked at the school. I was also about six inches (at least) shorter than everyone and looked as if I was still in high school myself. I won’t lie, that part made me self-conscious.
Transitioning into any new role can be tough. But it becomes even tougher when you feel pressure to dress the part instead of being who you truly are.
Instead of running out and getting a whole new wardrobe to “dress the part”, I decided to take a step back. I looked at what I was technically allowed to wear and what I wasn’t. Obviously, working around kids meant no short skirts or low-cut tops. I also knew that I was only allowed to wear jeans on Friday. While I do love a great pair of jeans, the restrictions didn’t seem so bad when I thought of how much else there is out there. Dresses, pencil skirts, boots, patterned pants, colored pants, sweaters — all of these options were still open to me. So I took the matters into my own hands and created a uniform.
My uniform consists of three parts — top, bottom, and a layer. Jackets and sweaters, skirts and black denim all felt natural to me. The uniform is what makes me feel like myself. Bonus points that it also makes it a heck of a lot easier to get dressed in the morning.
I pulled all my staple tops and tanks, sweaters and jackets that I already loved to the front of my closet. I thrifted a staple skirt to hold me over in any month and a few great dresses that could be layered in a ton of different ways. Boom, uniform made!
“Dressing the part” is annoying. I’ll be the first one to admit it. But try looking at what’s possible, instead of only seeing what you can’t wear. That’s how you create a uniform, likely out of what you already own, that makes you feel comfortable and is still policy approved. Maybe for you that looks like a staple blazer and different pants every day. Or maybe it’s the same pants with different tops throughout the week. Find your own flow and go with it!
I also heard one comment more than once when I started my job…
“Good luck thrifting all of your outfits when you’re working a 9-5.”
Well, I am proud to say that almost all of my clothes are still thrifted — work clothes and lounge clothes alike. Thrifting takes time. There’s no way around it. If you want to find great items, you have to take the time to look. I certainly don’t thrift as much as I did a few years ago, which could be why people have made the comment. Is it harder to thrift now that I’m at work 7 am to 4 pm? Absolutely, but I do make time throughout the week to hit the thrift shop. I don’t find as many items as I did before, but my closet thanks me for it.
Actually, I won’t lie, there was a temptation to go out and thrift an entirely new wardrobe when I got the job. I understand that this is a completely privileged thing to say, but it was my truth. The items were in my price range, which meant I could essentially build up and entirely new work wardrobe while still not breaking the bank. Actually, I did. Okay, not an entirely new wardrobe, but I did end up getting a handful of blouses because they “looked the part.” They almost all ended up not being worn and went straight to Poshmark after a few months of hanging in the back of my closet.
Moral of the story: no one is immune to the phrase “dress the part.” But as long as you step back, take an inventory of your current closet and think before you shop, you got this. If I can go from leggings to real pants every day, then there’s hope for all of us. Remember, it’s your life so dress your own way.