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Stop being a rule follower

One of my first real marketing jobs was an internship at a law firm in the Midwestern city where I was attending college. I was so excited to be starting something new and adding value in the real world. Having no real professional clothes at the time, I had to go shopping for a few things to wear to my new office. As you can probably guess, the thought of shopping was my favorite part. Being a formal work environment, I had to be really grown up and buy a suit. But not just any suit... a suit in certain colors. Yes, you heard me right. There were rules (albeit unspoken) about what colors to wear.

Before all you HR folks scream in outrage, you can rest assured that no one told me to buy a suit in certain colors, I just knew. After one tour of the new office, I knew what was OK and what was NOT OK.

Every single person I met looked the same. Like everyone was shopping at the same stores and intentionally not drawing attention to themselves, or showing their real personalities. "How am I ever going to fit in here, I thought?"

What was OK?

Matching suits in any neutral color: black, grey, brown, taupe, navy, white, cream ...

What was NOT OK?

Suits with color or personality

No kidding.

As ridiculous as it sounds, the thought of buying a "boring" suit in a neutral color almost killed me. Part of showing up at the job as my full self was dressing like myself. And boring neutral colors that look like everyone else was definitely NOT my authentic self.

Begrudgingly, I did it. I bought a beautiful gray skirt suit that I loved, and sucked it up. Because at the young age of 21, I wasn't looking to rock the boat by breaking dress code rules on my first real job opportunity.

But if I'm honest, I died a little inside. "I swear, I can't work at a law firm long-term if this is how it's going to be," I thought.

(Side note: Please know this is not a knock to lawyers' style or law firm dress codes. I'm sure there are plenty of progressive, wonderfully dressed lawyers out there.)

Maybe you can relate to this story?

Whether it's a work dress code or an event in your life that you had to get dressed for and you felt you had to conform. Like you had to put your personality aside to fit in. Whether we do it intentionally or unintentionally, I can bet you have been there.

In my last job, I transitioned from a semi-formal work environment to an extremely casual one. I was no longer client-facing and could wear literally anything I wanted. Yoga pants. Workout clothes. Denim. Shorts. Heck, even PJ's. Whatever you felt like wearing, was what you wore.

Some ways, this "anything goes" dress code was crazy refreshing. Being able to show up as you are, without a care or worry about a dress code. So much freedom!

But here's the catch, showing up in that uber-casual-I-just-rolled-out-of-bed way wasn't me. I literally can't bring myself to wear yoga pants to work, to this day working in my home office. Let alone PJ's. If you can, and love it, then you do YOU! But for me, it didn't feel right.

For months, I felt guilty about "dressing up" at this job - albeit, it was in jeans and nice top, blazer, and heels (gasp!). I felt guilty and awkward because I didn't fit in. But I kept it up, because the alternative (workout clothes and no makeup) would have made me feel worse, and completely unproductive or ready for my day.

Here's what these two work experiences taught me:

#1 Don't sacrifice who you are to fit in.

This isn't junior high anymore, where fitting in was essential to survival! It's about time that you fully own who you are - and how you show up. I'm not saying you have to recklessly abandon your work dress codes, or wear white to a wedding. But more often than not, you need to let your style personality show. You should absolutely find a way to show up more authentically as yourself, instead of settling and wearing what everyone else is wearing to fit a standard.

"The worst fashion faux pas is to look in the mirror and not see yourself. " - Iris Apfel

A client of mine has a fun, eclectic, bold and colorful style that breaks all the rules. And in her marketing and website, she doesn't hold back. Her style perfectly reflects her personality - which is bright and cheery and bold and fun. A prospective client once asked her to come speak to their organization but asked that she "consider wearing something more appropriate" when she comes to speak. Now, I'm telling you, what she wears is NOT inappropriate. It's just not what is considered to be "standard" business attire. As you can imagine, she was taken aback by this request. Should I cater to this request? Does my style need to change so I can secure this opportunity? Maybe I am too "out there."

Luckily, she stuck to her guns and politely declined the opportunity. Read that again. Yes, she declined the opportunity. And in doing so, she stood up for herself, and said "I am enough just how I am." Take it or leave it.

Wow, what an incredible lesson for all of us to learn, right? I'm here to tell you that showing up as less than yourself is NEVER a win, for anyone. Likewise, conforming and pretending to be somebody else is always a fail. You never know what might happen when you completely and fully embrace it.

In the wise words of Coco Chanel:

"You were born an original. Don't become a copy." - Coco Chanel

#2 Some rules are meant to be broken.

Finding your style and authentically showing up in this world as the real you sometimes means you need to break some rules. (I mean, who decided that wearing white after Labor Day wasn't allowed, anyway?) Just because jewelry is sold in matching sets doesn't mean you have to wear it that way. Just sayin.

I find that some of the best outfits involve breaking the rules. For example...

  • Moto jacket + Silk bias cut dress

  • Shorts + Blazer

  • Sequin top + Jeans

  • Heels with denim

  • Pearls with a sweatshirt

I could go on and on. The idea of "opposites attract" is something I talk about often when it comes to creating amazing outfits. Whatever you would assume would go with something, do the opposite. And it just works.

Recently in my Style Made Simple Facebook Group, a member asked for my advice about what to wear as an officiant at a friend's wedding. She told me the wedding colors and asked what was appropriate. I've style officiants for weddings before, and my best piece of advice is always: Wear what lights you up. Unless the bride specifically asks you to, you don't need to wear the wedding colors. Wear a color you love and feel radiant in! "Don't I need to go neutral, and fit in?" she asked? Nope. You do you, boo.

A few days later, she posted a photo of herself in the group wearing a beautiful bright pink dress, looking gorgeous as ever.

She confessed, "I never would have dared it without your advice!"

In many ways, I feel like part of my mission in this life is to help women break free from the chains that are holding them back and giving them permission to just be who they are. This simple story is a beautiful example of someone who felt all the rules and standards and expectations constricting her. And in so many instances like this, women cave and wear what is expected. Now let me ask you: How do you think we show up in those moments when we feel like we're fitting a mold? Not very amazing, my friends. Now imagine how much more alive and beautiful and confident she will feel standing in front of a crowd of people at her best friend's wedding wearing what she feels best in! This is the goal, ladies, and it's why I say that when you show up as yourself, everyone else will benefit from it.

Name who you are, then own it.

Can you name your style with clarity? (Find out how to define your personal style here) I find many women intuitively know, but aren’t sure how to pick out the right pieces or put it all together to make it happen every day. Or, they are a little afraid to embrace it - and show the world who they really are.

It takes courage to show up in a way that feels like you, especially when it goes against the grain. Believe me, I don't always fit in when I get dressed, but I stand out and it feels like ME. It took many years for me to fully embrace that I'm not always going to look like everyone else, and that's ok. It took being honest with myself about what I love, instead of caving to what the world wanted me to be.

"To have style, you have to know who you are." - Iris Apfel

Giving women permission to find and fully own their authentic self is what I love most about what I do. Once I help them name it, they light up and don’t hold back. There is a new fierceness and energy that radiates from them. One client told me:

"After working with [you], I feel totally confident and 100% me every time I walk out the front door. My style is unique, powerful and totally enviable." - MK

Are you ready to show the world the real you? I hope this was the kick in the pants you needed to stop holding back. To stop holding every style rule as gold. To start listening to what you want. Let's break some rules, ladies!

Let's show the world who you are

I'd love to work with you on defining your personal style, and creating a wardrobe that allows you to show up as your most authentic self. Learn about my style services, including my signature Complete Style Transformation service, one-time Mini Style Boards for when you need to look and feel your best for an event or special occasion, and Photo Shoot Styling.

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