Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

22 Aug

You know you’re not in Oakland anymore when you get reprimanded at work for wearing jeans. It was a forgiving scold, but I still wasn’t expecting it. I mean, I know enough to not show up in t-shirts and sneakers. I wore a patterned short-sleeve button-up belted at the waist over dark skinny jeans and wedge slingbacks. It was a sizable step up for me but not office appropriate, I learned.

One of my favorite things when I worked in a small grassroots nonprofit is that I could wear whatever I want. Jeans, t-shirt, flip flops was my go-to work outfit. It meant that I could bike to work, rummage through our towering stacks of boxes, and disregard the soup I spilled on myself at lunch.

No dress code is also a great equalizer for a workplace: even if I was the boss I certainly didn’t look like it. No financial burden of buying “professional-looking” clothes. Everyone can get down and dirty when dealing with the aforementioned boxes. We can focus on attitude and competence rather than appearance.

Before I moved, I was counseled that I would need to look more professional in Los Angeles and that perhaps I should start wearing make-up (I can’t tell: was that friendly advice or a slam?). Because the last time I lived in Southern California was as a teenager, I always thought that sundresses, bikinis, and flip flops were the SoCal outfit of choice. It’s hard for me to reconcile the two conflicting images. Who wants to wear a blazer, slacks, and sensible shoes in sunny summer weather?

The only fashion trends I’m aware of that have come out of Oakland are all those Oaklandish t-shirts (I have several) and Black Panther berets. Los Angeles has a lot more going on and Orange County has a serious case of clothes shopping fever, boasting 12 shopping malls (compared to Oakland’s zero malls).

I want to look nice but I don’t care about clothes. Luckily, I have many people around me who love clothes and can help me put together inexpensive but flattering outfits. From a partner who designs t-shirts to sisters who gleefully give me hand-me-downs to friends who run a vintage clothing store out of their apartment (special shout-out to Retrofit Republic who did a personal shopping appointment with me to get me SoCal-ready). And I have a lot of Ann Taylor Loft, H&M, and Forever 21 all up in here.

So it has been brown, gray, and pinstripe slacks for me every day. Straight skirts and button up shirts. Cardigans in attempts to dress up my cheap blouses and tanktops. Neutral-toned high heels and wedges. Lipstick and hair pinned back.

Those who know me may be shocked that I have been able to keep this up for 10 days straight (minus the day of the jeans transgression). But it’s no shocker that once I hit the lobby, I slip into the flip flops hidden in my purse. And the second I arrive in my apartment, I change into a t-shirt.

While I’m sad about the jeans policy, I’m not sad about making the effort to look nicer on a regular basis. I haven’t found the separation between work and play to be soul-crushing yet; it’s actually kind of fun. Maybe one day I’ll even figure out how to put on eyeliner…but let’s not push it.

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2 Responses to “Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing”

  1. Tanya Mote August 23, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    I would never make it to work on time………So funny you are writing about this – it did occur to me that you don’t care about clothes at all and that you probably have a dress code at this office…….

    • cil1977 August 23, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

      Hi Tanya! These are the days I miss being the ED. 🙂

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