Oh, how I love this skirt. It’s romantic yet funky, playful yet sophisticated, and ever so fun to wear. It’s also, in essence, a grown-up version of a tutu. And whenever I wore it to the office, whenever I wear it now, it draws lots of comments. Lots of curiosity. It’s an attention-grabber, and causes people to come out of the woodwork to share their thoughts.
And no one has ever said anything nasty about it. Not directly to me, anyway. And I’m able to field whatever questions and opinions get thrown at me, no problem. But I’ve had years of practice and given it loads of thought. And several readers have mentioned that they love the idea of dressing smartly and stylishly, but worry about how peers will react. Specifically how often peers may comment upon or question any noticeable changes in personal style. So I thought I’d offer up a few suggestions for dealing with clothing and style commentary from your peer group.
If you’ve gone barefaced for 15 years and suddenly start wearing full makeup every day, people will likely notice and comment. If you’ve worn jeans or pants for ages and start bringing skirts and dresses into the mix, you might get a few questions. One reason why these inquiries feel difficult to handle is that they surprise us. Just knowing that your changes may prompt a few curious questions can help you feel more prepared to react and respond.
If you’re very anxious about how you might handle potential comments and questions, have a friend or loved one do some role playing with you. You can probably imagine most of the stuff that’ll come at you: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in slacks, Jane!” “Wow, new hair. Big change.” “You look so different!” “So dressed up. Going for an interview, or something?” Jot them down, and do a quick dialogue. You’ll be amazed by how this exercise will prime your mental/emotional pump for the real deal.
Have short and long responses
Even if the role playing thing seems a bit too in-depth, consider mapping out some potential replies to questions and comments. Different questions require different levels of response. You needn’t launch into your personal style journey or decision-making process that led you to switch from heels to flats or long hair to short. Not with everyone. “Wow, new hair. Big change,” can get a simple, “Yeah, it is. I’m loving it!” On the other hand, “So dressed up. Going for an interview, or something?” might necessitate a bit more background. Something like, “Nope, just felt like it was time to mix up my personal style a bit. I’m having such fun with these changes!” Judge for yourself who merits a quick reply and who needs a deeper explanation.*
Give it two weeks
This nugget comes from the ever-wise Husband Mike. Several years ago, he decided to wear suits to his SUPER casual office. Every day. He wanted to make it his personal uniform. And, as you might expect, he got a stream of “job interview” jokes and curious comments. But they lasted for two weeks, then tapered, then stopped completely. Now, this will only help you if you’ve made a relatively drastic change and plan to stick with it consistently from here on out. If you wear the occasional adult tutu, that’s a different deal. But if you get a makeover, switch styles drastically overnight, dye or cut your hair, or do something similarly permanent, count on about two weeks of inquiries. Your peer group should acclimate by then. (Hopefully.)
I try so hard to assume the best about everyone, but I do feel that this kind of question/comment behavior requires some guardedness. If a coworker points out that you’ve changed your appearance and you shrink back in dismay or alarm, you’ve revealed a chink in your armor. If instincts kick in, your coworker may start asking more questions, or teasing, or prodding for more information. You made these changes because you wanted to, because doing so boosted your self-confidence, because you want to look and feel fabulous. Make sure to say so! If a fellow student saunters up to you and says, “Whoa. Why on EARTH are you wearing high heels to class?” say, “Because they make me feel gorgeous!” If your aunt says, “I wish you hadn’t cut off all your beautiful hair,” respond with, “Well, I did. And I think this new ‘do suits me perfectly!”
Of course, if someone is being rude to you, butting into your business, and commenting on your body, appearance, weight, or anything about your physical self, you always have the option to tell them to butt out and eff off. Your body, your business, PERIOD. However, in some ways, you’ll reclaim more of your power by acknowledging their observation, owning it, and putting your own positive spin on it. When a person offers a negative or teasing comment on your appearance, they are likely trying to get a rise out of you. It’s a classic bullying technique. Swearing, silent treatments, and rants can feel awesome. Denying a bully the satisfaction of an outraged or hurt response feels even better, in my experience.
Clothing, grooming, and appearance-related commentary is such a mixed bag. Compliments are like tiny little blessings, and can inspire unexpected joy. Comments and questions can cut both ways, and often make us feel scrutinized, judged, and targeted. But I hope that the possibility of generating curious queries won’t keep you from tweaking, finessing, or even completely changing your style or appearance. With a little bit of knowledge and foresight, you can field those questions with grace and aplomb.
*If anyone. You have no obligation to explain yourself to anyone at all. But in terms of diplomacy, it’s often more beneficial to offer truthful information than withhold everything and let people make their own assumptions.