I remember having a job as a waitress in college at a supper club owned by two middle aged sisters. One sister was quiet and nice, the other sister ran the show. The ‘other’ sisters name was Billy which gave the staff (made up of all college kids) the pleasure of calling her “Billy Goat” or sometimes during the Friday night fish fry, just ‘The Goat”. The Goat had various means of torturing the wait staff, like not allowing us to drink anything, even water, during our shifts…but the thing we hated the most was to hear her say “that uniform needs some heat”. If she said that to you it meant you had to go into the way back room behind the fryer station, take off your clothes and use the ironing board and iron that stood alone in the small, greasy paneled dark room and apply some ‘heat’ to your clothes. At any time, one of the cooks could walk in and see you standing there in just your bra and underwear…this was part of the game. It was The Goats use of this particular form of psychological humiliation that made us all run out and buy our first iron. Nobody wanted to hear those words. We came in freshly washed and pressed. Every. Night.
Fast forward to yesterday. I was at the bank making a deposit. The friendly young teller who greeted me was wearing a dingy, used to be white cotton shirt. It had obviously been in a heap, rolled in a ball, with one of those cast iron sandwiches presses on top of it for a few days before he put it on that morning. Before I could even process what was happening the words had already come out of my mouth. You know what I said. “That shirt needs some heat”. Now, I’ve been known to deposit my foot firmly in my mouth before, so for me, it was a quick recovery. I started to explain that he was a handsome young guy who clearly wanted to get ahead and he wasn’t going to get there by not wearing a pressed shirt. Oops. I was doing it again. I backed up and said…”Have you ever heard the phrase ‘dress for success’?” “No”, he said. (The look on my face probably said it all….I mean really. You’ve never heard that?) So I explained it to him. I told him to look around the bank at the executives…do they come in with wrinkled shirts? “No”, he said again. Do you want to be a teller forever? “No”, he said again. I told him where to buy an iron.
So maybe you think it was mean of me to point that out. Maybe you’re calling me ‘The Goat’ right now. I don’t care. I look around and I think we need to start being a little more politically incorrect if we’re going to turn this ‘wearing sloppy clothes to work boat’ around. Or wearing sloppy clothes to school…or wearing sloppy clothes to anything (other than a Saturday night at home on the couch watching Netflix with the cat).
I was still reflecting on the whole bank experience while I drove across the street to drop my watch off for a new battery at the local jeweler, who happens to be a beautiful, young Russian woman. As I walked into the store, she got up from her desk to come out and greet me wearing a red silk sheath dress with impossibly high Christian Louboutin shoes….hair done..makeup done. Beautiful. I looked around waiting for someone from the academy to announce her name and present her with a trophy. I asked her if I was there on a special day. “No, nothing special today”. I asked her why she was so dressed up….and you’ll never guess what she said.
She said “I dress for success”.
This honestly happened. I almost died. I thought I was on Candid Camera. She started telling me that she wanted her customers to know that they were important enough for her to wake up and take the time to really look her best. For them. She explained that it makes her ‘feel’ more professional, and therefor behave in a more professional way all day. When she gets home, she takes off the ‘uniform’ (her words) and puts on her pajamas and fuzzy socks to relax. One uniform for work, one for home. I think this is how it used to be.
So all this got me thinking about my grandma. I remember her having to change out of her ‘house dress’ into something more special to go downtown to McCrory’s department store in our little up north town. She wore gloves. I’m serious. It wasn’t even winter. These were ‘going shopping and out to lunch gloves’. And sometimes she wore a really cute little hat. She wasn’t a professional and she wasn’t going to church, she just CARED about how she looked and what other people thought of her. When did that change?
Throughout the day, we encounter hundreds of people who will never meet us or hear our voice or know our thoughts. The only impression they have of us is what we look like. The first impression is also the last impression. At what point did we decide as a society that it doesn’t matter what other people think of us? What do your clothes say about you? What do they say about how much you care about the people who are looking at you?
Whether you’re a stay at home mom, fat or skinny, a student or a business executive, a guest at a wedding or a bank teller….are you dressing for success?