Advice to my Younger Self

The finest clothing made is a person’s skin, but, of course, society demands something more

than this.

—MARK TWAIN

This post has little to nothing to do with religion or theology but it is something I hope some of my readers, who might be going out into the working/professional world for the first time will find helpful.   

I was watching this channel on youtube last night and I really like these guys. They’re gracious and they know a lot of things about etiquette and style (I have a side interest in textile and fashion history.) and if you listen to their videos, it’s clear that their interest in these things has also caused them to become better men, because it has led to a focus on developing better character. I think that’s pretty cool (though I don’t agree with their every sartorial choice!). Well, in one of their videos, there is a discussion about things one of the guys wishes he could tell his twenty-year-old self. I couldn’t find the video a second time but the very last suggestion given in the video is one that would have transformed my working life in my twenties and early thirties: clothes matter.

I really wish someone had taken me aside when I retired from ballet and drilled this into my head. In ballet, the line of your body matters. Your technique matters. I suppose your ability to play company politics matters but clothing not so much. Your daily work garb is a leotard and tights. When you’re not wearing that at the studio, you’re likely in sweats. At least that’s the way it was in my day. After I retired, I temped for awhile and eventually got hired in finance. Moving into the corporate world was a huge shock. I was poor as a church mouse, my clothes were many times mended, and I tended to dress comfortably. I had no idea how important it was to dress in professional attire. I always dismissed clothing and make up as shallow vanity. It took seeing a photograph of myself in shabby clothes at a work event to drive the point home, that care for one’s professional appearance wasn’t vanity so much as sheer survival (1). Even knowing how important a professional appearance is (and how what constitutes “professional” differs from field to field), it took me a long time to figure out how to make this work for me. I can do it now, but there was an awful lot of trial and error, lots and lots of error. 

The sad reality is though, that you will be judged by your clothing and the way you look every bit as much (if not more) as by how you speak, work, and perform. Here’s something about that you can control: you can use that to position yourself well or poorly. You can control to some extent the first impression you make, and people are by and large shallow. If you *look* professional and *sound* professional, half your work is done (2). 

Here are a few basic guidelines: Dress appropriately for the situation (and maybe a touch more professionally than is strictly required), shine your shoes (3), iron your clothes, carry a stain stick to remove sudden mishaps, a small sewing kit to handle popped buttons and simple on-the-spot repairs, and make sure your hair is done appropriately. Women should wear light make up – and this I *really* hate but I’ve seen women written up for not wearing make up in a work setting. Keep the scent to a minimum. It’s ok to wear perfume but your co-workers shouldn’t smell you half a block away. Also, wear jewelry. I don’t know what it is today, but women aren’t wearing jewelry and they look really unfinished in professional or formal settings. Wear earrings and a necklace or brooch, maybe a watch. A ring is ok, especially if it’s a wedding ring. Don’t go overboard though. I forget actually the rubric I was taught. I think it was something like wear thirteen adornments and then take two off.  That includes scarves, jewelry, watches, etc. None of this has to be expensive (though I have a friend whose grandfather used to say, “we are too poor to buy cheap things.” In the end, if you buy crap, you’ll be replacing it way too soon, repeatedly and spending more money in the long run. Her grandfather argued that he was thrifty and therefore wanted to buy things that would last).  I personally favor having one or two pieces that are high quality that I wear a lot, but one could just as easily buy low cost but pretty jewelry. Do what works for you but pay some attention to aesthetics. This is part of dressing appropriately. 

Both women and men should invest in a good brief case appropriate to their field. Women should do the same with a handbag (4). Work within your budget and don’t be afraid to hit thrift stores. You’d be surprised at what you can find. If I could sew more than the basics, I’d probably end up sewing most of my own clothing. I am slowly seriously starting to consider bespoke clothing but it’s very expensive and so I’m still just at the consideration stage. It looks and feels better and lasts longer though, this I know. Women’s clothing is made poorly, not to mention no pockets. It’s made, no matter how high end it might be, to last a single season. Synthetic fabrics are poor on the skin and really devastating to the environment (5). I think it makes more sense to buy a few staples for one’s closet, classic staples in good fabrics with which one can mix and match. There’s no need to buy the latest fashions if you stick with classic looks (though the marketing and fashion fields may be the exceptions to this). 

This is a language. It’s a way to signal certain realities about yourself, to signal your competency and your belonging in a particular setting or group. Should this be necessary? No. But we live in reality not in a world of should and would. I’d like to spare anyone reading this the difficulty I had on this front. It really set me back professionally for a long time. I still like hanging out in leggings, or well-mended pants and a t-shirt when I’m home, but you won’t see me heading into work like that. Once a year, before the fall semester starts, I check through my clothing, make sure it’s all clean and in good repair, and replace anything that needs replacing. I find if I’m careful about upkeep, mending what needs mending when I first see it starting to go, it saves a lot of money in the long run (6). 

The best thing you can do is find a mentor. I have been lucky to have really good mentors in academia. That was never the case in corporate. If you don’t have a mentor, do a bit of research on what your industry standard is. There are lots of books available on dressing appropriately for every industry. Figure out what the industry base line is and then you can experiment – frugally—with finding your own style. 

I think vanity is a terrible fault in a person. It twists the soul out of true and leads to all sorts of damaging behavior. It is unbecoming a person who wishes to develop character. Care of the self, however, is not vanity. It is a necessary part of becoming a professional, and one that insures you’ll be able to put food on your table (7).

Notes: 

  1. I still mend my clothes but I’m more careful about where I wear those with visible darns. 
  2. I detested working in corporate. I have, however, found this to be true a huge percentage of the time. You still can’t be completely incompetent, but no matter how competent you actually are, if you don’t look the part, you’ll have issues. In academia, I make it a point to dress up, all the more so when I’m teaching. There have been studies on how female professors get lower ratings in student evaluations, and are, as a matter of course, expected by their students to do more emotional labor. It can also be a problem for younger female graduate student teachers to be taken as seriously as their male peers by students when they teach. Dressing for success, as I’ve seen it called, is a weapon in your arsenal that can help offset all of this, maybe not perfectly, but at least somewhat.  It sure as hell doesn’t hurt.   
  3. When I worked in HR it was the first thing I’d look at, especially in men. By the way, do not wear white socks with a suit. EVER. There is literally never any time you should do this. Save the white socks for the gym. This is one of those things that you might not be told, but it’s the unspoken sartorial language that signals whether or not you belong in a particular setting. I do love that funky socks are in vogue now for men, even with business suits (at least in academia) and also that the pocket square is coming back. It’s a good look. 
  4. I have found when I worked in HR that women are largely judged by other women on hair, nails, and handbag. Maybe shoes too in some cases. Scuffed handbags can be fixed by polishing them just like you would shoes (so long as they’re leather). Leather brief cases can be heavy, which for me with my injuries is a problem. I prefer canvas bags with leather accents. 
  5. Did you know that a huge number of synthetic fabrics are really just plastic? 
  6. If your invisible mending skills are lacking, you can take damaged clothing to a dry cleaner or tailor. They are usually more than capable of mending any issues properly. It’s also worth developing a working relationship with a tailor who does alterations.  
  7. And beauty and adornment themselves can be sacred in and of themselves. 
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About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on May 26, 2021, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I was taught the same lesson both when house-hunting as a first-time homebuyer 8 years ago as well as throughout my advertising career the past 15+ years: the most important element of your wardrobe–the one staple by which you are irrevocably judged and assessed by income level and earning potential (especially during interviews but also during client presentations)–is your shoes. Stylish and well-maintained shoes open literal and figurative doors. High heels were never my thing and went against my affinity for comfort above all else but patent leather “kitten heels” checked off the boxes for classic “feminine” style (get two pairs: a neutral like a tan or taupe as well as black) as well as comfort in a long work day, as well as the convenience of transitioning from a “day look” to an “evening look.” I cannot tell you how many prospective clients zeroed in on my footwear the second after shaking my hand in an introduction. And countless realtors during appointments for house showings were blatantly gauging my shoes, noting the Apple Watch on my wrist, etc. Yes, women unfortunately do get penalized for not wearing makeup. The good thing about being an advertising creative is I can wear full-on Cleopatra-style eyeliner like I would in devotional ritual to the Kemetic Gods and no one thinks twice about it, LOL.

    Liked by 2 people

    • ganglerisgrove

      shoes are always a problem for me. Because of my back injury I cannot wear heels (or I won’t be walking for a couple of days); I can, however, wear oxfords so I usually go that route if I need to be particularly professional. I only wear pants so I can get away with that type of dress shoe rather than heels. You’re so right though: dress and all the little accoutrements that go with it will make or break you with clients.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a very nice reminder of why I never want to work in a corporate, business professional setting. I’m glad the field I’ve chosen more or less expects Heavy Metal t shirts, piercings, and visible tattoos, because that’s how I dress anyway. I’ll dress up when I have to, and can do it well, but I absolutely loathe doing so. The thought of having to wear a suit and carry a briefcase every day makes my skin crawl.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ganglerisgrove

      I don’t mind it in academia – more flexibility — but I loathed corporate with every fibre of my being.

      Like

  3. Keith McCormic

    I’ve been thinking more about bespoke myself. I was reflecting recently about why I settled into cargo pants, boots, and t-shirts. Some of certainly had to do with outdoor time, but also with money. Even relatively expensive menswear, say a $1000 tailored suit, tends to have cheap parts that wear out very quickly. It seems like I could partially get around that going bespoke, though of course the prices can stack up quite quickly.

    That and it’s really hard to find frock coats on the rack.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ganglerisgrove

      if you find on the rack clothing that is a bit too big, take it for alterations. it is much less expensive than going bespoke. It’s just easier to take in than let out, so this works better if the jacket is too large.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great advice for any age Galina.

    Like

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