I am heading to a “networking meeting” organised by some important people to help other important people (I include myself brazenly) meet up and find a possible “network.”
Like clockwork, when asked to put my best foot forward, arrives the crisis of confidence in both my personality and in my wardrobe.
Why is the corporate and conference culture so obsessed with formals? And more importantly why does it send me in a tizzy? There’s something about the idea of putting on a jacket that boils my blood. As if I am only worthy of being considered a serious student/ employee/ employer (what have you) only when I don the grey facade.
I’m a fairly compliant person with no will or interest in transgressive behaviour. If I have to be described for a police sketch, the sketch artist would automatically put me in a t-shirt and jeans without the need for consulting or verifying with the witness. Boring, isn’t it?
Now when it comes to dressing for formal events such as this one…what drives me mad is the need to look “professional” because it is a bonkers notion. If by professional one is implying that the costume I wear should appropriately reflect my profession, well then, I should be turning up to events in full length clothes, closed toe shoes and lab coat (eye glasses and gloves optional). However, as per accepted conventions, the implication of formal events is to go with the “corporate look.” The fault with this is that in today’s world the biggest corporate giants actively encourage hoody and shorts in working life. Kindly look at the average engineer at Google!
In August 2019, I went to my first “conference” as a graduate student looking for peer approval for my work. It was an industry heavy audience (read: big men in suits). One look at the crowd in the hotel near the venue told me that I had to wear the dreaded “professional” clothes. After spending €200 and still not feeling confident I decided to wear my own sneakers for the presentation. This was my first time speaking in front of close to 50 strangers and I was not going to trip on my way to the podium in “corporate culture approved heels!” The minute I put my sneakers on, my feet were happy and I felt confident. I recognise that my grasp on my own presentation must have played a part in my confidence but as a person with severe anxieties about the idea of being “out there” and being one of only three brown people in the room there was a certain constriction in my throat the night before my presentation that seemingly dissolved when my heels came three inches down and directly earthed my body. I apparently work like a tall building with a mounted lightning pole! I understood in that moment why transgressions pump dopamine in your system and why some people love breaking rules. This was me breaking my own accepted conventions.
So today despite putting on a plain grey long formal dress which according to my boyfriend makes me look like a Congresswoman of the Clinton or Warren ilk, I put on my everyday ankle length green and grey snow boots. It’s all petty and pointless, I hear you wonder out loud. But I submit to you that if you’re a swagger-less human trying to navigate the world, and if you suffer from tiny social anxieties in your everyday life, finding something that makes you feel grounded before you step out goes a long way in keeping you sane.
Additionally it works as a filter. Only someone with a whacked out sense of what’s appropriate or someone with a complete disregard for conventions would indulge in a conversation with me. Hence I have decided that wearing sneakers in a crowd of black leather shoes and click-clacking heels is a tiny transgression I will not shy away from.
So I wrote all this stuff on the way to the conference in the morning but at the time of publishing I have already attended the conference and am on my way back home. So here are the thoughts post today’s conference: To be completely honest this piece (read: rant) is pointless because when we reached the venue for the conference today I found myself in a sea of sweatshirts and sneakers. I remembered the oft repeated maxim…you become what you hate.