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Pretty Is As Pretty… Dresses?

19 comments | May 7th, 2012

(Story by Mir, from Woulda Coulda Shoulda)

I decided to conduct a little experiment, just for the heck of it.

We've all heard the phrase, "Dress for the job you want," right?  When it comes to my "professional self," I've always adhered to that old adage. When I meet clients, go to conferences, or am otherwise representing myself as a business entity, I dress professionally. (Let's not get into the irony of this, given that most writers are believed to work in their pajamas 24/7.) And there are differing understandings of what dressing professionally means, too, but let's just say that when I'm "on" in the business sense, I'm generally wearing a nice dress, or a skirt and blouse, or nice slacks, etc. I don't go meet a client in jeans. I probably don't give a lecture in a t-shirt. I clean up pretty good and know when to do it, is my point.

Now: I've always known that dressing accordingly boosts my confidence in those situations, too. It's a win/win because I look like someone a client can depend on, plus I feel capable and well-equipped. Rereading that sentence makes me want to punch myself in the face, and then punch society in the face. Really, I have to depend on my clothing for that extra confidence boost? And clients would judge me if I wasn't dressed to match some outdated societal norm? I weep for humanity. (And then I do it anyway. That's a whole 'nother essay.)

Anyway! Assuming I've bought into this particular set of conventions about how people "should" dress and all of that, I've known for a while that I really do feel different (better) when I'm in a high-pressure situation and I'm dressed nicely.

Hence the experiment, but not for work. See, life has been a wee bit stressful around here lately. Like, non-stop-angst level of stressful, with work and lots of other things taking the backseat to what feels like one family crisis after another. On a rare day when I don't have to leave the house, I putter around in my pajamas until lunchtime or so, then shower and don old jeans and a t-shirt; on the (much more common) days when I have to taxi children around to doctors' appointments and such, I wear slightly-less-old jeans and double-check that my t-shirt is clean. Heh. And I feel… stressed. Because life is very stressful right now.

So it occurred to me that maybe if I applied the same principle about clothing to my non-work life, it might help.

For two weeks, every single day I had to show up at school, the doctor's office, or even just do a grocery run, I pretended I might run into someone important. And then I dressed accordingly. No, I didn't go shopping for milk in a ball gown, or anything, but I wore skirts and dresses and nice pants. I wore make-up every day (not a lot, but I am not usually a make-up-every-day person). I wore cute shoes, and jewelry. I got a lot of compliments (mostly from people who've only seen me in jeans).

And I felt… stressed. Because wearing something cute doesn't change the stressors in my life one bit.

I'm all for doing what works for you; if dressing up makes you feel better, I think that's awesome. But I was a little disappointed that the "magic" didn't seem to carry over into my personal life the way I'd hoped it might. Then again… it was kind of a relief to know that what I'm wearing isn't exactly a matter of magical transformation, either. I'm okay with that.

Can you influence your mood with your clothing? Do you think you should be able to?

(read more Mir here)

19 comments

  • Anonymous

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    I think it depends a lot on what kind of mood you are trying to avoid.. or trying to entice. For instance, I think someone might choose to dress up nicer and spend some time on one’s look to help you feel more attractive, sexy, confident, etc. Its not the same thing as dressing for a job or to impress someone in the workplace. Its also not the same as dressing to bleed off stress.
    In a larger sense, it really boils down to this: choose your style of dress by the expectation of the situation (e.g. “business casual”). Choose the manner in which you do it by what gives you the most help to be that situation.

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  • MomQueenBee

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    Nope, I can’t influence my mood with my clothes, but I can influence my IQ. Seriously. When I was a part-time editor and part-time baby-barf-mopper, I could become a better PTE by putting on pantyhose. Pantyhose engaged the section of my brain that didn’t care that I still had a load of wash to be put in the dryer, and the IQ of that brain section was 20 points higher than the barf-mopping part. (Also, the pantyhose reference shows just how long ago I was a PTBBM.)

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  • Kelly

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    I often use it to help me on a single day (maybe I won’t feel so tired if I cover up these dark circles with makeup) – but I think it would be hard to overcome the many days (months/years) of stress that you are dealing with right now.

    Interesting experiment though!

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  • Lucinda

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    I have a “hidden” illness. So if I dress well, I look well. If I dress sloppy, people know I’m having a bad day. But sometimes, I need to convince myself I feel well even when I don’t. So I dress like I feel well and often I do actually start to feel better. Not all the time of course, but on days when I’m on the upswing, it seems to speed up the process.

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    • Victoria

      Posted on May 8, 2012

      I have an unseen illness too. Perhaps not the same one as yours but I also, at times, dress to look the way I wish I felt; to get to that point faster. Although not based in science, the success rate of this experiment is pretty good :)

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  • Megan

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    Hmmm. I used to dress ‘professionally’ not to convince myself but because I figured out it really, really intimidated the faculty I was dealing with. As some of them were, well, interesting shall we say, and tended to take the cliched patronizing academic noodle-head thing to extremes this was very useful. Also a couple of the worst offenders happened to be rather short and I, when rocking nice heels, am not which gave me a psychological advantage.

    All is fair in love and higher academics. Even killer pumps and a sleek black suit.

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  • Diane

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    It takes an effort to look good, and making that effort makes me feel I’m worth something. I’m not saying I get all my self-worth from clothes and make up, but sometimes, when the rest of life is doing its best to stomp me out of existence, a new, pretty pair of earrings can give me the boost I need to roll out of the way of the next stomp.

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  • ScottsdaleGirl

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    That pair of jeans that is both comfortable AND makes your butt look awesome. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

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  • Jen

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    Hey, on the upswing, at least now you can wear sweatpants to the grocery store! If you’re going to be stressed no matter what, you might as well be stressed in an elastic waistband. Whee!

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  • Kass

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    I often get comments like, “Why are you so dressed up?” when I feel terrible. That tells me that 1. I have a habit of dressing up when I feel terrible and 2. Because it’s “why” rather than “how nice” that I’m hearing when I do it, I may not be fooling anyone into thinking I feel okay. That doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop dressing for stress, but kudos to you for admitting that when you feel stressed you feel stressed! This article might help someone else get over the stress of pretending not to be stressed!

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  • Bob

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    I’ve read in many contexts that a critical tool to reshape your thinking when depressed is to tell yourself you are happy. Smile even when you don’t feel it. Getting into this habit of telling yourself you are happy leads you to think you are happy and then: you are happy.

    In other words, if everyone was a perfectly emotionally adjusted person then yes, it would not matter how you looked – your mood (and competence) would be a reflection of your even emotional keel. But we aren’t, so it is natural to look for external validation that we look good and therefore are good. Look good = feel good = everything is good.

    So, while the mascara and slacks didn’t make the stress go away, I hope that maybe the (positive?) reaction to your dressing up made you feel a bit better.

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  • dad

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    Do you know what they call a woman with a high fever wearing a great dress?…sick. Mind over matter has its limits. That said, there is no harm and much benefit in boosting your ego by being classy and looking good.

    On the other hand, will power is an awesome thing. I once came upon a girl with such a bad case of laryngitis she could hardly talk at 4:00PM and performed the lead role in a play, beautifully, at 8:00 PM the same day.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted on May 9, 2012

      I wish there was a like button for comments too. Hang in there Mir. You and your family are awesome.

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  • Victoria

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    My job requires me to dress up weither I feel like it or not. Sometimes it does have a positive affect on my real mood. So, I guess there is something to be said for the price of the cuter clothes in my closet.

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  • The Other Leanne

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    Some months ago, I decided to reinvigorate myself and my wardrobe. I usually dress in schlub-wear and can get away with it. But I let a couple of lovely, kind women select a pile of new clothes for me; clothes I never would have picked out for myself that turned out to be fabulous. I looked good, I felt good, I got lots of compliments and people started treating me differently.
    Should any of this have made that big of a difference in how I saw myself or how others saw me? No. But when you have maybe a tiny self-esteem problem, anything you can do for yourself helps, whether wardrobe, exercise, or a cute new hairdo that the Internet just loves. Maybe it doesn’t relieve stress, but maybe it does help turn the volume down on that little “not good enough” voice in the head.

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  • Joan

    Posted on May 8, 2012

    I think Diane and The Other Leanne have the right idea. The dressing up itself is beside the point. But often knowing you’ve put some effort into yourself helps you feel better when nothing else will.

    Since dressing up didn’t help, maybe that wasn’t quite the right balm for your type of soreness. The idea of investing a little time in yourself is probably good when you’re stressed. Maybe a massage, facial, a mani/pedi, or some other kind of spa treatment would make you feel good (even if it has to be a diy-home spa treatment). I think the idea of investing a little time in yourself when you’re stressed out by your caretaking duties isn’t a bad idea at all.

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  • addy

    Posted on May 9, 2012

    Ya sometimes it really does help. Other times it makes no difference whatsoever…. So, if it boosts you some go ahead with it. For the amount of time and of concentration it takes to beautify, you can forget the stressors. That may be worth it.

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  • Therese

    Posted on May 9, 2012

    In my job, the public often stops in unannounced. I always feel better if I’m dressed for the manager part. Loving the warmer weather when I can wear pretty skirts and tops with my assorted sandals. But sometimes, they sneak up on me when I’m rocking my favorite football jersey, sweatshirt, jeans, sneakers, etc. (kind of like today). Couldn’t help it this morning, my feet hurt, I needed my sneakers, yada, yada, yada……

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  • CJ

    Posted on May 10, 2012

    I agree that the dress-for-work tactic usually helps for work, and I’ll sometimes dress up a bit even on non-meeting days at the office to boost my sense of professionalism & productivity.

    However, if I reach for an adorable outfit for a grocery store run and then feel like I have to tuck in everything and stand up straight while perusing the frozen foods, it kinda adds more stress. I can go with the makeup thing, though. So my reflection in the glass case doesn’t look quite so bedraggled.

    You do deserve a ball gown for keeping all the balls in the air as the universe keeps throwing chainsaws, eggs, feathers, and grenades into your juggling act. Keep on keeping on, whatever you’re wearing!

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