In many industries, there's an established dress code. If you work in a creative industry, though, all that goes out the window—which makes picking out what to wear to work feel like an obstacle. It also sometimes feels like you can never wear the right thing. You’re supposed to dress well, but you look like you're trying too hard if you’re overdressed. You need to be challenging the fashion norms, but not so much that you break from the current trends. Rules are made to be broken, but if you break too many, you might get some weird stares. And that’s tough terrain to navigate when you’re just starting out.
I love comfortable clothes; my style is oversized shirts and sneakers, and I value the art of underdressing for events. I also have a lot of body insecurities, so my oversized wear is what makes me feels the best—not only because it's comfortable, but also because it makes my body look the way I want it to look. And I'm queer, so some elements of my style (like my undercut or my undying love of Doc Martens) reflect that part of my identity. My style isn't shown on magazine covers, which I now see is perfectly fine and actually preferable, because I am wearing what makes me comfortable and what reflects my authentic fashion identity.
But when I started working in media, specifically fashion-related media, I thought that it was imperative that I ditch my personal aesthetic to conform to long-standing (some would say antiquated) fashion rules, and that it was super-important that I reflect the current fashion trends with what I wore. In doing so, I abandoned not only my comfort but also my identity, turning me into someone else, an unrecognizable form of myself. In looking back, my attempt to change my outer appearance to fit into the industry I so desperately wanted to be a part of showed that I didn't think I actually belonged there, and that I thought I would need to change myself in order to fit in.
And I did a lot in order to fit in: I scrounged through my closet for hours, trying to find outfits that reflected a certain type of “fashion person.” I wore heels, fitted clothes, and even makeup that I didn't like on myself in order to achieve some form of an ideal that I had seen in magazines and on Instagram. I spent a lot of time, energy, and money trying to modify my style to cultivate a certain look that I thought I should have—and that was just for interviews. After I actually got an internship and started going to Fashion Week and rubbing elbows with big industry names, I bent over backward trying to wear what I thought I should be wearing to impress the people I thought I needed to impress.
The whole time I was doing this, I felt intensely uncomfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t me: I was a reflection of what I thought others would want from me, perceived through the visual aspects of my outfit. Focusing so much on what I thought I should be wearing clouded my ability to do the best that I could, because I was thinking too much about how other people saw my appearance, instead of my actual work. The problem wasn't only that I was worried about superficial things, it was also that I—wrongly—assumed that other people only cared about my appearance; in thinking that they were shallow in their assessment of me, I was actually the one being shallow in my assessment of them.
Only when I changed my mindset, giving credit to the people who were hiring me to look beyond my clothes, and started dressing for myself, did I finally get the jobs that I actually wanted. For my interviews with NYLON, first as a prospective intern and then a prospective staff writer, I wore what made me feel the most myself—which, by the way, was not the kind of outfit that you would find in a Google search for "how to dress for an interview." In doing so, I was able to focus more clearly on the interview itself, and not stress about whether everyone would like my outfit. I felt like myself, which made me more confident; and, it worked out for me. Now, on the other side of the table, I’m intimately aware of the fact that what you wear truly doesn’t have an effect on the hiring process. In hiring interns, I’m not looking for people who are wearing designer clothes, or professional attire, or the trends we write about. I'm looking for people who know the brand and who are good writers.
The notion that pain is beauty, or beauty is pain—or whatever the tired notion is regarding physical conformity—is not only untrue, but it’s sexist and ableist. We are told from an early age that in order to be seen as pretty, we will have to modify and mold ourselves into an uncomfortable version of ourselves to fit in, which places more value on our physical form than our personal comfort. Specifically, wearing uncomfortable clothes like tight dresses and high heels, while empowering to some, are more trouble than they’re worth in the eyes of others. But more than that, the idea that my identity wouldn't be the right fit for a creative industry reflects how one-dimensional the idea of a "creative person" really is. It's possible to wear T-shirts and sneakers and still command attention at a meeting—personal style doesn't make our ideas any less valid, and while it might be cliché to say that people should just be themselves, for people who are still figuring out exactly who that is, it can actually be a vital reminder not to worry about heel height and brand names, and focus on the internal, not the superficial.