When you skirt around the edges of the fashion world like I do, it is good to have a contrarian streak. Fashion People are really good at telling you what you’re supposed to wear. Some of their pitches are more convincing than others – I personally don’t think they are succeeding with the “culottes are the best” trend that they trying to push right now, but they’re really going for it. My first reaction to most things is an immediate NO, followed by a grudging I’ll Think About It (if it is really something I should think about). Anyway, the point is this: as a 29-year-old single woman who works in a male-dominated field, there are assumptions and suggestions and outright commands that the fashion industry feeds me all the time. I am supposed to be asserting myself, being (hashtag) Fierce, commanding attention, being unafraid of my own sexiness (like Beyoncé), and generally being (hashtag) Like A Boss. That’s a whole lot for a woman to impose on a woman who just wants to do good work and get along with people.
Day 1: Punchy Professional
I started off the day with a pretty simple outfit – professional, but with some eye-catching color. Red isn’t easily ignored – definitely not a color that you wear if you want to be ignored. The high heels also helped with making my presence known. Those heels make me look people in the eye that I’m not usually at eye-level with. They are also loud. I prefer flats, so I can run silent and run deep, like a submarine.
The most time-consuming part of this week was the hair and makeup, because I think that an aspect of fierceness is looking like you are in control and exercising an intimidating amount of control over your own look – like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. So I put on more makeup than I usually do and tried to look flawless and sharp and defined. I don’t know how to do makeup, so my execution let me down a bit, but effort counts, right? Doing hair is even more problematic than putting on makeup. In the end, I straightened my hair, because straightening isn’t too hard. It definitely gave me some mean girl in an early 2000s high school movie vibes. But I guess that works, because who is in more control of her image and appearance than an apparently flawless high school mean girl?
The good thing about this ensemble is that it helped jump-start my Monday morning. It felt business-like and kind of powerful. Ready to go, ready to dive in. The extra time spent getting ready also translated into being a little more awake by the time I got to work and I looked even more awake than I felt. The overall outfit didn’t look that different to other people, except that people complimented me on my makeup, but it felt very different to me, because it was more calculated and more controlled than my usual look.
Day 2: Bigger and Wider
Another aspect of fierceness that I’m fascinated by is fierceness as a defense mechanism. It’s like moths – not the ones who blend in to protect themselves, but the ones whose patterns mimic eyes, so birds think it is a larger animal and stay away. I felt a little like those moths this week. I shall make myself taller. I shall make myself appear confident. Do I look like I have all the answers? Because I really don’t, but maybe if I look like I do, people will assume that I know all the right things to say. Even if I look fierce, I don’t feel that fierce, but the high heels definitely make me feel more confident. I think it mostly has to do with the improved posture and the additional height that comes from the improved posture, plus however many extra inches the heels give me.
I pulled out my wide-leg black pants for this outfit, because they look so businessy that I usually don’t wear them. I work in an informal office, so I sometimes shy away from really professional clothes. A suit definitely isn’t on my list of clothes that I should own. So after beginning with the wide-leg trousers, I added a horizontal stripe shirt and a slightly oversized white moto jacket. Basically all the things that make you appear bigger. It was an overwhelming outfit, but I wanted to make it work. First thing I did was tuck in the shirt (something I don’t like doing) and wore a skinny black belt. That lessened the stripe factor and made my legs look longer, because the trousers hit slightly lower than my natural waist. The pink high heels were multi-taskers for making this outfit work – they continued the long legs illusion and added some color to an otherwise neutral look.
It was raining that day and I knew that my hair wouldn’t stay straight, so I curled it and tried to make it big. I love big hair. I just don’t know quite how to make my hair look big or how to make it stay big. My hunch is that it would involve hairspray, which always seems like a big deal to me. Hairspray reminds me of ballet recitals and plays, not real life. Red lipstick also reminds me of recitals and plays, but I’m trying it more in real life these days. The pink shoes were providing some color, but they weren’t near my face, so I added some red lipstick. ALL THE THINGS.
I enjoyed this outfit. Since it was neutral, the drama came from the volume and the proportions. The outfit that doesn’t seem like it should work and then unexpectedly works is a happy thing. I live for tiny victories.
Day 3: Drama on Drama
I was given this dress and I LOVE IT. It gives a nod to the 1940s with the fit and flare silhouette and the sleeve length. It reminds me of Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday – she’s a force of nature, speaks more words in one minute than most people can speak in 15, and stands up to anyone and everyone.
Usually I’d dress down something this bold and pair it with a jean jacket or a navy cardigan, maybe wear flats with it. But dressing things down wasn’t part of this week’s agenda, so I wore this red cardigan with it. I don’t think this was my most successful outfit this week. A little too Hildy Goes Fox Hunting or something, but great fun.
One thing that felt strange about dressing fiercely was the timing, because my family was in town this week and I was happily surrounded by nieces and nephews. My heart melts around babies and I just go into Auntie Ashley mode, which usually involves monster voices and this kind of thing:
It’s hard to be intimidating with such a furry hat on and it feels funny to wear nice clothes and then be wandering around in the fuzzy ear hat. Fierceness is about having some hard edges and when I’m around my family, I don’t have them. A baby smiles at me and I melt into a puddle. Hard on the outside and soft on the inside – the clothing becomes unnecessary armor.
It’s a similar situation with work. I don’t have to compete. I know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. I don’t have to defend myself and I don’t work with jerks. I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not. I trust the people I work with and they trust me. I don’t need armor there either.
Day 4: Time to Rock and Roll
After a few days of drama, I wanted to take it down a notch. There were a lot of different plans on Thursday and since I was going to be going from place to place, I just wanted something simple. Truth be told, I love a little rock and roll in an outfit. If I had a band t-shirt, this would be the kind of styling I would do – skinny jeans, boots, jacket. I love this jacket, because it has structure through the shoulders and has the classic tilted moto zippers going on, but it’s also super soft and drapey. The combination doesn’t scream rock and roll, but all together, it just feels cool.
I wore more eyeliner than usual and straightened my hair again. That also felt cool. It wasn’t a ton of eyeliner, it was just more than I’m used to. (Story of this week: I felt different, but didn’t LOOK all that different. A possible moral is that I should probably do my hair more.)
Day 5: Is this like Beyoncé?
The last day, I opened up my closet and thought, “What would Beyoncé pick out of this closet?” I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think of Fierce and Beyoncé as fairly synonymous. Whatever she wears is hailed as the New Fierce Thing. It’s hard to keep up, because her styling changes constantly, but the two common factors are Sexiness and Drama.
It’s not that I can’t do the sexiness one, but I’d probably get an email from the human resources department and my baby nieces would be very confused. So I went for the drama option – something that is a lot of look and needs attitude to pull off. I have this tiered maxi dress with a beautiful and tons of volume. I own it, but I’m a little scared of it, just because it’s big. But Friday is go big or go home day, so it had to be that dress. To cover up the spaghetti straps and make it more work friendly, I layered and knotted a black t-shirt over it.
High ponytail, black eyeliner, light lips. Still more makeup than I’m used to, but not enough to worry other people.
This week was a lot of work. It felt labor intensive, because I for the most part, I don’t worry about looking like I’m in control or looking perfect. Defensive dressing is putting on armor, but wearing unnecessary armor just weighs you down. I’m confident without it. I don’t need to force fierce. I don’t need to make people respect me, because I’m already respected. I thank God for that, because I know that isn’t always the case. So all the single ladies (all the single ladies), you don’t have to be fierce if you don’t want to be. It’s okay to just do good work and get along with people. Hashtag LikeANormalPerson.