Since graduating from college, professionalism has constituted the pinnacle of adulthood and has been accompanied by adulthood’s anxieties: Deliverables! Assets! Concrete deadlines! Performance reviews! And—feel free to eye-roll—impostor syndrome! That combination of inadequacy, self-doubt, and intellectual fraudulence has warranted hundreds of articles about what it is and how to deal with it.
Because it has affected me, I like to assume it has affected everyone. But then there are people like my friend, Amanda. After two years of separation, she was still impossible to miss on the street: a tall blonde whose stature increased even further thanks to stilettos—whose figure was both flatteringly (yet entirely appropriately), clothed in a black pencil skirt, satin shirt, and black trench coat. She exuded her undeniable high school self, only now, so grown up! So professional! If she didn’t possess it (and she does), she at least appeared to possess a high-powered job and control over every contour of her life. I stood, staring up at her in jeans fraying at the inseam, unwashed hair, and an oversized man’s button down, wondering, where had I regressed?
Both intelligent and determined, one way we’ve always differed is in our approach to appearances. She’s always recognized the value and power “investing” time in one’s looks can have. Her hair is always perfectly curled, her face is always expertly made up, her outfits are chosen with deliberate precision to suit the occasion, and her figure?—at hand. Whereas I’ve always wondered, 'What’s the point?' In 90 minutes, my curled hair will become flaccid; in a few hours, my eye makeup will instead resemble an oil spill. At the end of the night, I’ll have to change back into pajamas, anyway. For me, over-investment in appearances yields rapid depreciation. Makeup—too much of it anyway—makes me feel I’m “trying too hard.” An impostor, if you will.
Yet, professionalism is all about appearances. “Expertly-applied lipstick [is] a professional woman’s secret weapon,” Molly Young observes. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have! Or so we’ve been told. Watch any episode of Mad Men ( or stalk a social media star’s preferred platform) to witness the correlation appearance has on professional advancement.
At 22, my friend interviews experienced (a euphemism for middle-aged) C-Suite executives for her job. Sometimes, she feels like she’s ‘faking it’—but, since she appears 27 and is a formidable interviewer, who cares?
Fake it till you make it, goes the tired adage. “Fake it till you become it,” by way of power posturing, is Amy Cuddy’s advice. Both imply acting and improvisation as required to eventually “be.” Behavior aside, makeup, clothing, and appearance have long been successful tools in acting. Maybe, it’s the same for professional success. Fun Fact: Suze Orman bought $3,000 worth of clothing from Macy’s for her first job after being handed a generic “ dress for success' book after years of working as a waitress. (Talk about a return on investment.) So tell me, how do you prepare for professional success? Does your workweek beauty routine differ from your weekend routine? Any work-wear staples I should be aware of? As someone (poorly) navigating the foreign space of professional appearances, please send help.
Grace Hartzel image via Getty.