You don’t have to be a fashionista to own your personal style statement. Whether you are a Monday to Friday corporate executive—only taken seriously if you spend a good chunk of your hopefully six-or-higher-figure-salary on dress clothes and shoes—or work from a home office clad in relaxed nightwear or torn jeans, in your heart you know what looks best on you based on the subtle feedback you receive (or don’t) from people who matter. How you present yourself to the outside world the second you leave your house almost stereotypes you: A polished career person (read affluent, hence trustworthy); a disheveled, floppy, nice-hearted, poorly-dressed night-shift worker who may be making good money but is too tired or careless to bother about presentable dressing options (dubbed suspicious, maybe with a low credit rating).
It is shocking how often people base their opinions of your respectability, social status, wealth and credibility based on how you look and dress. The female co-worker who owns and flaunts more pairs of different colored heels not only gets perpetual compliments, but is sure to draw attention of senior management if she also dresses well and is somehow an average worker. Likewise for men: a better dress sense promotes confidence during those all-important meetings and presentations, sooner than later translating into lucrative promotions and leadership roles.
Now comes the question about traditional wear and how not to let your ethnicity drown in the high waters of workplace expectations and career growth. Although it’s true that you can’t possibly wear a bright sequined sari to work every day (unless you are working as a sari model!), it’s best to showcase your rich cultural background by showing up at a social gathering or year-end parties outfitted in your glamourous attire. You are sure to be the centre of attraction at the event, which is far better than getting lost in oblivion if you are eyeing a jump in your department. It’s far better to be proud of your identity in an appropriate way than to lose it while aping others who don’t identify with you, anyway.
Sometimes, trivial accessories like your choice of bracelets, sunshades, wrist watches, rings etc. become talking points. After all, who doesn’t discreetly eye your ring finger to avoid asking you the direct question about your marital status? And of course—the bigger the sparkling stone adorning it, the better! However, know your limits and don’t overdo it: if you have a genuine 22-carat gold chain with a pendant announcing your initials in a rather loud way, keep your buttons closed or avoid cleavage-flattering outfits when wearing your necklace. You don’t want attention for the wrong reasons!
Finally, if you are not comfortable sporting short skirts, steer clear of them altogether. Fewer people are likely to remark that you are overly clingy to dress pants or trousers than when you show up one fine day in a skirt that you can’t carry off well or don’t feel confident about. Always remember: we dress to convey a message about our personality, core values, choices and perception. Nothing is old-school if that’s how you are yourself.
Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for Times of India.