Almost like a postscript to the #metoo campaign that swept across the United States, Self Magazine posted a controversial article. The author, Nina Bahadur, asks, “Why are we still talking about what successful women wear?” While reading the article, I could understand and connect with her vantage point, and her outrage. But, there are two sides to every story. In the end, it is important to remember that what we wear always matters. It might be nicer for some people in the world if this notion were ultimately debunked. But, that is lazy and unrealistic.
Ms. Bahadur describes a scenario in which Radhika Jones, editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, is derided for her fashion sense. A reporter for WWD [Women’s Wear Daily] wrote an article detailing how other editors reacted to Jones’ appearance at a group meeting. They had more to say about what she wore, apparently, than about her credentials or accomplishments.
Then, Ms. Bahadur turned her sights toward a Business Insider article about Silicon Valley’s “best and worst dressed.” It’s worth checking out so that you can appreciate an amateur’s critique of peoples’ personal style. The first thing worth noting is that, by Bahadur pointing to this article, she kind of negates her argument. She claims that discussing men’s personal styles is not the same as discussing women’s personal styles. As men, unfortunately, far outnumber women Silicon Valley techies, the writers go after plenty of high profile men. In fact, in the article’s rankings of 19 people, they evaluated 13 men. Honestly, even most of the men mentioned in the article are deeply in need of style direction.
Their reviews are what I call “nickel reviews.” That’s when someone is paid a nickel to stand on the street and offer passing commentary on a person’s style. In other words, the evaluation, judgment, or opinion is essentially worthless. I can easily blow their critiques out of the water with a far more informed analysis. [Maybe one day, I’ll take the time to ‘undress’ the reviewers and those reviewed.] But, the point is that pieces like this get us talking about both genders and what they look like.
And that brings me back to my point that what we wear always matters, and to Bahadur’s assertions. I actually would love nothing more than celebrating what women and men achieve in their professions. I wish that we all would want to honor someone’s pathway to success. But, check this out. Let’s say that you’re a candidate for a very big deal job. You have the chance to step into a big-time leadership role. You could make a big-time difference at the company if you are hired. Your lifestyle could dramatically change because your earning potential significantly increases. Maybe you even take on more of a public persona because of your new role. When you show up for rounds of interviews at this level, your resume isn’t what the interviewers are looking at. Yup, they’re checking you out.
Anytime we are in situations when people check us out, what we wear always matters. Let’s face facts. This happens a lot. We don’t wear our credentials or accomplishments on our sleeves, or elsewhere. We wear our personal styles. Who really wants to get into a bunch of chatter with people where you talk about how fabulous you are? It’s unbecoming, and lacks in humility. But, it certainly makes a difference, showing up looking accomplished, talented, and like you are someone people should know. This is where the power of clothes and accessories becomes so valuable and important. And, it’s the thing that NO ONE talks about in “nickel reviews” or in passing conversation. Certainly no one thinks about it this way when in the middle of a juicy gossip, gossip, gossip session!
I don’t like to talk about fashion that sexualizes people, unless that is the wearer’s intention. In the aforementioned Business Insider article, one of the men “knows his body well and chooses clothes that look great on him.” That was a professional way of otherwise writing, “He’s hot.” The thing is, not everyone is out to look “hot.” How we show up in the presence of others create narratives about us in the eyes and minds of others.
Ultimately, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not so much that we’re still talking about what successful women wear. It’s that we – the public at large – are not talking about the subject in the proper context. In remembering that what we wear always matters, we must remember that making mistakes gets people talking negatively about us. Why take the wrong style or fashion risk and damage your reputation when you have stellar credentials and accomplishments? I can’t think of a single reason to leave what we wear to chance. If you’re famous, or otherwise in the public eye, you may never live it down.