In the past week, I’ve left my safe shlumpy cocoon of Israel’s Galilee countryside to attend two conferences in “the center.” Both required me to think twice about my outfit.
One gathering was an independently organized TedX event at the Center for Environmental Education in Hiriya where nine “change leaders” presented ideas ranging from conscious eating to local and global social impact projects, and the other, was the Agrivest Conference, an agritech industry and investment event featuring Israeli start-ups organized by Trendlines (the VC investment firm where I work).
In general, I prefer to think once about my outfit, if at all – and favor cozy over chic. I’m a jeans girl, mostly, and when I must incorporate shoe choice into the equation (because it’s December, and my cold feet can no longer tolerate sandals) I typically sacrifice height for the sake of comfort.
This is not to say I don’t like looking good. I do. I salivated a little in envy over the woman in the sleek bohemian slip-on dress who managed to look both comfy and hip. I silently acknowledged the female corporate execs who flew in from the U.S. for the conference and who donned their formal business best, unaware or in defiance of Israel’s tendency to dress down, even when cocktails are involved.
While I admire these women for pulling off the C-level look, frankly, it’s just not me. And I wonder if I am not doing a disservice to professional women – and myself – when I dress in an Ann Taylor suit and heels. Corporate wear and lipstick feel to me like costume. I am my most authentic self when I’m in jeans.
I arrived where I am professionally because of my performance, experience and my ability to sell myself in an interview. Presumably, passion won over fashion. And yet, it would be naive for me to suggest that dress and appearance don’t impact the way an employer sees me as a prospective candidate. It would be irresponsible to ignore that how I present myself outwardly reflects upon company for which I work.
However, what continues to grasp my attention is the fact that women seem to dress the part not necessarily because they want to properly represent their company, but because they want to be taken seriously.
Because shlumpy-dressed women usually aren’t.
Professional men, however, can and do “shlump” all the time. Hip $10 t-shirts from Threadless and dark jeans are typical on most high tech founders these days. (They say you can tell a real investor in the room because he’s the guy dressed down.) Male academics? Scientists? They often don’t run a comb through their hair, let alone spend an hour in front of the mirror with a diffuser and a straightening brush.
At one of the conferences I attended this week, a presenter showed up in raggedy baggy pants and a very over-sized, untucked wrinkled white shirt. I stood with a group of women and we looked at each other knowingly – no way would a female have been able to pull that off. The talk of the hour would have been her dress, not the thoughtful comments out of her mouth on stage.
What I’m saying is nothing new … but it’s become very personal for me. On just the edge of 40, I am tired of dressing for a part. I want to come dressed as me.
Without a blazer, without heels, without lipstick. This is how this smart, passionate, driven, curious, capable professional C-level likes to work. This is how I prefer to create, to market our projects, to network, to lead. I do my best work in jeans.
In fact, I do my truly best work in PJs and a ponytail. After more than 20 years in a professional capacity, I can write that with confidence. But somehow, I still can’t own it.
Maybe if women (and by women, I mean me) start taking ownership of who we truly are, we could defy conventional wisdom that smart women won’t be taken seriously unless we dress a certain way.
We could start being noticed for the business we’re doing in the room, as opposed to the fashion statement we’re making.