Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dress Like You Mean It

Recently, we were struck by a photo of a well known local artist who had just been featured in a full page spread in our city’s alternative weekly. Pretty woman, lovely smile, obviously talented and smart. If we had read the article, I'm sure it would have said something great about her and her art. Alas, we could not read further, because what we noticed were her clothes: they were decidedly frumpy, greys and blacks, shapeless. No style, no inspiration.

So why, we asked ourselves, did she choose to dress so dowdily for a photo to be published? Did she not care? Did she not have the skills? Did they catch her on a bad day? Or was she afraid, terrified even, of actually looking good?

We’re not being bitchy here (although we could be, because the woman was wearing fUggs with a skirt), but as we get older, it becomes increasingly apparent to us that many women still for some reason refuse to own their awesomeness. Why is that?

Does it go back to our girlhoods? Remember back in high school? What was it we called those girls who were the prettiest, smartest, and most successful? Awesome? Cool? Seems like fun? How about conceited and stuck up? Yup, that was it. Because somehow we’d been taught that self-confidence was something to deride, not admire.

As a result, we think many women now suffer from a kind of schadenfreude and also a bit of fear when it comes to our relationships with other women. For the most part, men are outwardly competitive with each other and that competitiveness can be a positive thing; it can spur them on to bigger and better things. But women are different. We tend to hide our feelings and are more likely to put another woman down by calling her desires self involved or conceited.

But that was high school.

Why, we wonder, are we doing it all these years later? Not only to other girls, but also to ourselves?

We are not the only bitches to notice and be tempted to pre-judge a person based on what they are wearing (book/cover/blah blah blah). What happened to our artist centerfold happens to everyone on a daily basis. Our theory: nobody bothers to give feedback because style choices are so personal. Could you tell the girl standing in line at the post office that pajamas are for the bedroom, without sounding totally sanctimonious? (well, we wouldn't have the balls for it, but we know Pirate's Mother would).

We put it to you that if you're not dressed to be taken seriously, you will not be taken seriously. To that end, we think the sisterhood needs to take care of itself: be a positive influence. Use your powers for good!

We here at Bitches believe that no bad can come from supporting your fellow sisters. We are advocates of unconditional positive regard.

Tell the woman next to you, when you are shopping for shoes, that those heels make her legs look a mile long! Tell the woman in the gym that the dress she is wearing today looks great with her skintone! Tell your office co-worker she looks really great today!

We’re a big fan of letting people know when they look good. Why? Because we can spend 30 minutes putting our outfits together before leaving the house and still feel self-conscious. So we bet all those gals out on the street and in the stores and tucked away in their offices do too.

We really are all in this together, and it really all is connected. Telling someone she is beautiful is making her feel good about herself. This can only be positive. What goes around, comes around. Remember that lady with the shoes? She could be the loan officer who processes your home loan. The lady in the gym? Might return the favor by wiping down the gym equipment. Your co-worker? She might save you half of the last cup of coffee in the pot.

The Bitches are not precious when it comes to random acts of kindness. We say, Tell The Truth, Pay it Forward, Love Your Fellow Woman!

Now, let's all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Only not in Birkenstocks.


LaDivaCucina said...

Because I am a woman who is secure in herself, I do compliment other women often, in fact I make a point of it. But only sincere compliments. Birkenstocks with socks and pajamas worn to the store or huge tits flopping around bra-less in a tee shirt are targets for my scorn!! haha!

I don't understand women that don't make an effort to dress up. No matter what you weigh, how busy you are or how many freakin' kids you have, you can't take 10 minutes to put on something decent? Look at my post about the SuperBowl event and take a look at Chef Ingrid Hoffman. She's wearing an oversize man's shirt for her demo. The first thing I said to hubby was: "What was she thinking? She's so sexy, why dress like that?" Hubby agreed and said her publicist was none too happy.

I also dress for ME first and hubby second and the world at large third. I want to look good for ME. I take pride in my appearance and it's funny but even on days when I'm feeling extra plump or am not feeling too good, I make the effort to leave the house looking nice and lo and behold, La Diva is sure to run into someone who says: "you look fabulous!" And you know what? I say THANK YOU! EVEN if I feel I don't look that great. If they say: "you've lost weight!" I say: THANK YOU! Even if I've put on five lbs.

Here I was, doubting myself for years, thinking I'm "fat" and yet so many have said to me "you always look great!" THEY don't notice the five lbs. I put on THEY notice the effort and time I put into pulling together an outfit!

Great post!

Flamin' Mo said...

Interesting. True, in HS it was only the attention-seeking bratty girls that "dressed." And being kids, they didn't let us that didn't know a good look from a vegetable forget it. So I love your advice to pay it forward as a grown up and express support for those that look good. Chances are, they won't turn around and tell me that I should never wear THAT color.

"I don't understand women that don't make an effort to dress up.... you can't take 10 minutes to put on something decent?"

well, let's remember that some of us have nothing in our closets that make us look good. (Actually, now I have 5 things in my closet that do this, thanks to the bitches.)Shopping, not dressing is the larger, more time consuming and challenging problem. But you get my point. I could have taken two hours in my closet, and still come out looking like a chemistry grad student. So, back to the positive reinforcement, I say! The more put-together women we see out there, being complimentary to each other, the more likely we are to infect others with the desire to look as good as we all are inside.

LaDivaCucina said...

Mo, you are talkin' 'bout a gal that has cried many tears in the dressing room, living in the fashion purgatory between petite, misses and plus size! I'm usually a 10/12 on bottom and a 14/16 top. I put on 10 lbs. and all of a sudden, NOTHING FITS ME ON TOP ANYMORE and all the largest size is a 12. I have 42DD. They ain't gonna fit in no size 12. No matter what. I go into Macy's and they say Plus size is upstairs. I'm not a plus size, bitch. thanks.

So, I FEEL your pain. BUT....NO ONE SAID IT WAS EASY. I say, take the time to add on to your five things suggested from BOF. It takes time to find clothes that fit, designers that cater to your body type, etc. etc. But, it can be done.

Also, a great hair cut and good, cute shoes, accessories play a huge part. You can have a plain dress from Ross for $15 and dress it up with Calvin Klein shoes and a great bag! It's not the cost, but the fit, color and fabric.

What I don't like is women going out in their pajamas, wearing slippers for shoes and sports clothes for reg. wear because it's "comfortable." Watch a bit of "What not to Wear" for inspiration, Mo, you'll learn A LOT from it! Truly! Good luck!

the Dread Pirate Rackham said...

I think Mo's softly spoken point is that some gals don't like to shop - and therein lies the reason they don't go out 'dressed'.

Whatever the reason, don't let it stop you from looking your best. The rest of the world will see and judge your outsides long before they get to know your insides - I know this to be true.

I say, let us not judge our sisters unless we have walked from the car to the office in their Louboutins. Let us, instead, encourage one another to dress the outside to match the inside.

moi said...

La Diva, you made a comment that you "don't understand women who don't make an effort to dress up." I think that the reason for these women isn't one of deliberate slovenliness, but, rather, a kind of cultural fear, instilled in us from a young age and taken to heart by many women, that taking care of ourselves to the point of actually looking good is in fact a bad thing.

We touched on that in the post. Men are taught that having confidence is a good thing; in fact, it's expected that they have egos. Women, on the other hand, are only taught how to get attention through their looks, to the point where it's only the "mean girl" types who garner all the attention. I.e. being attractive equals being bitchy, mean, stuck up, conceited, etc.

As for the logistics of shopping, Mo points out quite rightly that it's a headache. Not only that, women aren't taught HOW to shop. They're at a complete loss when faced with the myriad of clothing hanging on the shelves and so no wonder it's that they choose the default uniform of tee shirt, jeans, and clunky shoes. It's easier and, again, in some ways more righteous.

Even worse, as Pirate says, we women encourage each other to be this way, again out of fear. Instead, what we should be doing is supporting each other in our efforts to blossom and equating that blossoming with something positive instead of negative.

LaDivaCucina said...

Sorry, I'm not buying it. First of all, no one said it was easy shopping for clothes. No one taught me either and obviously, I still have a hard time "seeing" what really looks good on me instead of just blindly following what's being offered. Moi, you are lucky you are teaching your niece how to shop. Most of us have no one teaching us. It's no excuse.

All you have to do is watch a few eps of What Not to Wear to hear each and every woman lament shopping and saying she has a hard to fit body. They teach her how to dress her body type in the most flattering way with $5K. Lucky for them. It also doesn't help that most designers are secretly designing clothes for themselves and their boyfriends. I can't think of one designer that celebrates a woman's curves and is known specifically for that. Still, even though I hate shopping because it's so time consuming and frustrating, don't think for one minute that means I'm going to just give up and wear tee shirts and sweat pants instead.

I also don't think the reason some women don't dress up is due to some kind of cultural fear. I can't think of one friend that even doesn't take the time to dress up or make an effort, out of all my friends and all of their ages, and I'm thinking of my friends all over...One of my girlfriends does not dress appropriately for her body type and does not care. She thinks she looks fabulous. I've tried to gently tell her...nope. She's the type that lets it all hang out wearing too tight pants with a gut hanging over. Instead of changing what she likes to wear, she worked out like a fiend and lost the weight.

Anyway, I think that some women who become mothers find it quicker to put on whatever is easiest and they get into a rut and those clothes become their uniform. Not having to go into work doesn't help either or working in a place that is super casual can also put a woman into the "too comfortable" zone. But you can still be casual and very cute.

I also think that a looser, less repressed and sexualized society also allows people to not dress to their best capacity, ie. casual Fridays was the first time I saw a girl on our office wear pajama bottoms to work. I don't know why some women wear the crap they do but I believe they all think they are doing their best. (although some ARE lazy as her comment to me when I asked if she just rolled out of bed into her car was "Why do I bother?")

Honestly, I can't think of anyone that I know that has been encouraged to dress any way out of fear! I think as a society we've become more permissive and, uh, lazy. Hip hop artists in the 80's made it fashionable to wear sports gear as regular clothing. sure, wearing pants without a waist is comfortable but you can get dress slacks in good stretchy dress fabrics these days, so really, there is no excuse.

I wish I COULD help a sister out who's a fashion victim or needs a few style pointers but that's just not socially acceptable and there really is no diplomatic way to approach a stranger. I was dying to tell an industry acquaintance to hem her long, dragging dress pants but even then thought it not worth the effort for the bad feelings it would have created.

As for this alleged "we're sisters and we're all in this together" support, I'm not sure to what degree that exists or is even wanted. When I worked for the beauty magazine and gave skin care for stretch marks to a pregnant mother in the office and a skin care line for troubled skin to the spotty admin girl, both were received with contempt. Apparently even pointing out that someone COULD have a flaw is not being very supportive but veiwed as "mean."

As stated, I DO compliment plenty of strangers and find no need to encourage my friends , I compliment them when they look nice. However, there is no excuse whatsoever to wear bad shoes.

moi said...

La Diva, I agree wholeheartedly with your premise about the slobification of America. Certainly, that kind of laziness comes into play when we're talking about people who don't take care of themselves.

And while not all women dress down out of fear, I do believe that fear is a major factor for many of them. The show you mention, Not What to Wear, is a great illustration of this. Those women who break down in the stores or in the hairdressers chair balking at the idea of wearing a dress or cutting their hair, they're exhibiting fear. Fear of change, fear of drawing attention to themselves, fear of criticism by friends and family. Fear, maybe, of what change on the outside will mean to their insides.

A very smart and successful woman I know often tells me she admires the way I dress but that it's not for her. Why not, I ask? Because, she says, I'm not comfortable being looked at. I used to think she was in the minority. Now, I'm not so sure.

And I can just imagine those women at the magazine balking at your offer for assistance. Confident women are curious, not insulted. Women operating under false bravado, though, that's another story. Their reaction was part of what we're talking about when we talk about women regarding each other warily.

the Dread Pirate Rackham said...

well, La Diva, this is the Bitches of Fashion. So, I guess you're on the right track with the bitching :-)

I cannot speak to the fashion failings of your friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. From your writing it sounds as though you perceive their approach as lazy, and sometimes offensive.

I could not agree more that "helping" anyone with their fashion choices is universally taken badly. There is no way, no matter how gentle, to tell someone that their approach could use some work. This is a lose/lose situation, I stay out of it unless I am asked for my opinion and my assistance (which I will gladly and tactfully give). I don't even tell my children how to dress, unless they are leaving the house inappropriately (e.g., shirts that are too small, pants too holey, and no you will not wear jeans to the ballet).

Offering unsolicited advice is the fastest way to drive a woman back into her shell in a hurry. I keep those comments to myself, and I apply them to myself. If I am tempted to tell someone about a bad choice of color, I make a mental note to choose my own color carefully. Remember that pithy saying: point a finger at me, you're pointing 4 back at yourself? Yeah...

Postive regard, however, is always positively received - which is why I say share the love freely (and I'm glad to hear that you do too)!

Flamin' Mo said...

Diva - Kudos to you for working to dress your self well! And really, you are making my point, in that it is not EASY. It takes time, money, and work to dress well. Not just 10 minutes in the morning.

An aspect of the BoF post that fires me up is the idea of social contagion of behaviors, as in this NYTimes story:

Sure, they are talking about health, but they also mention happiness. So why not confidence and style? And for me, that is exactly my experience. Without knowing Pirate, and Herself - women friends that MAKE AN EFFORT - it doesn't matter that I've watched multitudes of episodes of What Not to Wear. I was still certain that I would not be able to pick out things for myself, that I'd look foolish. So I didn't try. Out of equal measures of fear and laziness. Fear of failure - what a paralyzer.

Although I have NEVER gone ANYWHERE in actual pajams. Close, though.... :)

moi said...

Excellent article, Mo, thanks for sharing. I love that concept, "social contagion of behaviors." So. True.

I actually went through a pajama wearing phase. I was seven or eight, I had a pair of those pink fuzzy ones that zipped up the front with feet. I wanted to wear them everywhere. My parents took a couple valium and let me . . .

LaDivaCucina said...

I love you guys and that you allow me to snark. I wish I was there to go shopping with you Mo. Between me and BOF, we'd make sure you'd look fabu!!! Believe me, I used to CRY in the dressing rooms, esp. shopping for bathing suits. "I'm not that big, just my boobs are!!!" I even went so far as to wish I didn't have such big boobs and then the woman sales clerk reminded me to be careful of what I wished, she was a breast cancer survivor.

I get choked up myself watching some of those women on WNTW, that they don't allow anything good or nice or time for themselves. Many of them have become mothers and put everything into their kids and that's when Stacey and Clinton remind them that it's ok and what a great example of a mom they make when they DO look after themselves!

Big hugs to you Mo! I'll look at that article later, obviously this is a subject that fascinates me. besitos, bitches!!!xxx

LaDivaCucina said...

Oh and thank you gals for a stimulating post and snarkservations!!

LaDivaCucina said...

One more thing....I just told a lady with a beautiful cobalt blue pashmina that the colour really suited her and her face lit up with many thank yous! :)

Joanna Cake said...

When Im dressed in my particularly non-sexy uniform, I often big up anyone looking fabulous. At first, they look at me as if Im mad, but then they walk on with a big smile and a spring in their step.

I can recall on a shopping outfit with my sister, who was helping me buy an outfit for a wedding, a whole host of people in the other changing cubicles coming out and asking for her advice. She sent away at least five other women wearing outfits that really suited them. My sister is very much into style and is not afraid to share it :)

Me, I have spent the vast majority of my life hiding my insecurities in shapeless outfits. Now that Im confident enough to want to wear nice clothes, I have to wear my yellow blob - which is why half-naked thursday is so damn good for me.

moi said...

Welcome, Ms. Cake! We here at the Bitches totally grok to the fact that many gals have a uniform in which they must outfit themselves on a daily basis. So we would never suggest, for instance, that a school teacher wear a mini skirt or a home builder wear Louboutins. To the job. But all bets are off in the off time! I admire so much the journey you've taken and so say, yay! to half naked Thursdays and perhaps a Fully Dressed in Awesome Ass Showcasing Outfit Sundays are also in your future.

Herself said...

Some of us dress frumpy because it's easy, we're lazy, and it's comfortable. Sometimes I'll use the excuse that it allows clients who are down and out to feel more comfortable with me.
But, I have to admit, I am often the first person clients see when they come into the company, the one who interviews them and their needs, so perhaps I should just get real with myself. I have to say, there are certain things and/or colors that, when I wear them, people comment, and they seem consistently to consider my opinion seriously.

moi said...

Hmmm. Interesting question: Do people respond more or less positively to people giving them assistance if they both appear to share the same socio-economic class?

I don't know.

But I do know that it's possible to dress well and still be easy, lazy, and comfortable. Frumpy, however, is not an option :o).