Conducting an interview.
When I got my first internship as a journalist, I panicked about what I was going to wear. Years earlier, when I worked in a law office, I’d learned that it was unacceptable for women to dress how I chose to express myself. Or, rather, to dress in anything other than neutral pants, long skirts and blouses, with their tattoos covered and nothing pierced but their ears.
It was this version of the professional woman that I saw on television and at news conferences. Even the women reporters stuck to this uniform, so I thought that I had to as well.
For years, I’d suppressed my girly fashion tendencies. After Grade 1, I traded in pink dresses and cardigans with heart-shaped buttons for basic jeans and T-shirts. Even at a young age, I knew people would not think I was intelligent and someone to be taken seriously if I kept my girly wardrobe. In my early twenties, a couple of years before taking my first step into the industry, I’d begun filling my closet with flow-y dresses, big earrings and sparkly shoes. I was starting to dress in a way that truly expressed who I was.
But I didn’t think who I was would be welcome in an office setting. Who would take me seriously with pink lipstick and leopard print rubber boots? I headed to the thrift store and picked up black dress pants. I organized clothing swaps to collect blouses and plain cardigans. I tucked away the bright make-up, pulled out a brown eyeliner and headed off into the world of professional journalism.
I may have fit in, were I not so damned uncomfortable. I hate dress pants. I hate the constricted feeling of blouses. I hate boring shoes and bland make-up. I felt like some kind of imposter, pretending to be a grown-up. But that’s what grown-ups look like, right? What was wrong with me? I was miserable. Getting dressed weekday mornings was a chore I dreaded.
Come Saturday, I’d happily skip about town in a flower-print dress and wild shoes, so excited to finally be able to wear what I loved that I sometimes changed several times in one day. During the week, I’d toss a change of clothes in my trunk so that as soon as I punched the clock, I could shed my adult costume.
This went on for several years. I’d scour clothing swaps, thrift stores and discount racks for clothes I didn’t like, but that fit and I deemed “work appropriate.” So, basically, what other people in offices would wear, what wouldn’t make me stand out.
Before joining the workforce, I went around with the attitude that if someone didn’t accept my style, I probably wouldn’t want to work for them. I didn’t really walk-the-walk when I took the sparkly pink stud out of my lip before a job interview; it grew in and I never got the piercing redone. After a while, my loathing for those clothes led me back to my original sentiments and I quit my job to freelance full-time. Looking back, I think I would have been accepted at my old job wearing the clothes I love, but I was too afraid of having my personal appearance criticized to try.
Freedom to wear flower-printed tights and frilly plaid dresses without repercussion wasn’t the only reason I decided to head home, but it was among the reasons I gave concerned friends and family who had visions of me starving to death.
Without really thinking about it, I ditched all the clothes I hated. I dumped the black constricting pants and blouses and cardigans, replacing them with lace, sequins, and lots and lots of pink. I filled my bathroom with vibrant lipsticks and colourful eyeliner and bows for my hair.
And when I got called into an office job, I totally forgot that about my “adult” uniform. I went in wearing what I loved and what I felt comfortable in. Don’t get me wrong, I left the ripped jeans and short dresses at home, but my office outfit was infused with my personality. Even dressed in what year’s earlier I had thought were girlish clothes, I felt like a woman. A real, grown, adult woman who was ready to take on the world, with gold glittering nails and hearts on my tights.
I stand out at most news conferences. When I approach people who I’m meeting for an interview, they usually do a double-take and don’t believe at first that I’m a journalist. The consequences of this? I get a good laugh while showing the world that a femme-as-fuck lady such as myself can kill it in the professional world.
A woman in pink isn’t a woman to dismiss.