Sam Wilson-Späth: My panic-buying secrets to dressing, more or less, for success

Some of us are naturally stylish dressers, capable of putting on a sauve groove that impresses everyone else in the office. And then are those of us who can only dress like ourselves, and who are all the cooler and more confident because of it.

By Sam Wilson-Späth

Last year, I was promoted. The discussion went much like this: ‘Would you like this job?’ says very nice HR person. ‘Does it mean I have to dress better and stop swearing?’ I replied.

‘No,’ she said. ‘Then I accept,’ I said. ‘Thank you very much.’ (Top career advice: it is very important to thank people who promote you.)

A lot is written regularly about the need to Dress to Impress in order to achieve in the workplace, but after 20 years of working mostly in big corporates, I have let go of this theory.

I believed it for many years. Starting out as an attorney, I traded in my tie-dyed tee shirts for tailored jackets and starchy collared shirts.

I thought these suity ensembles would make clients trust me, an important part of being a lawyer, especially when you don’t really know what you are doing yet.

‘You look very…uncomfortable,’ said a client, who was trying to sue his brother. (That is a different, much more interesting story that I will not go into here.)

‘Do I?’ I replied, looking down at myself in concern. ‘I’m never sure where to stop buttoning these shirts. It’s hard when you have big boobs, you see – there is either too much cleavage or you make the buttons gape and choke yourself with the collar, like I am doing now.’

‘I’ve never thought about that before,’ replied Male Client.

‘Well, there you go,’ I said brightly. ‘Should we get back to your dodgy brother?’

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Over time, I was to discover many other barriers to Dressing to Impress. Firstly, I shed my fluffy, unmanageable hair like a dog. Next, my face somehow repels make up and then goes all rosy and blotchy as if considering my careful morning ministrations to be a solid joke. Worst of all…I have absolutely no sense of style.

‘Oh, of course you do,’ say Fashionable People. ‘Everyone just has their own style.’

I cannot stress enough how wrong this belief is. Do you think people like me want to wear creased cargo pants and bland tops that hang funny? No. Clothing store panic and subsequent ‘grab buying’ is not a style. it’s just a sad reality for many of us.

One of the nice things about ageing, is that your physical currency erodes as you gain experience and common sense. Which leads to caring less about things you previously tried so hard to find important.

For the last decade, I have had a very clear work uniform… I wear a panic-bought t-shirt and jeans. Sometimes, if I haven’t washed the jeans for a bit, I have to add a belt. I wear slipslops in summer and sneakers in winter. I have a cardigan and two thick hoodies that I add into the mix during winter. Sorted.

Dressing like this makes me feel like me, and feeling like me makes me better at my job. I don’t have to waste any mental energy on artifice. I hope that others see that I take the work seriously and try to do it as properly as possible

More than that…well, that’s not really about me, is it?

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