I used to live by the mantra, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” I love clothes. On average, I spend a good 45 minutes a day window shopping online, picking out items for my many wishlists, dreaming about the day when I’ll be able to legitimately afford that Michael Kors purse – AND have a reason to pull it out of the closet.
Back when I worked in an office in Chicago, I tried to “dress for success,” but often fell short of the goal. It just wasn’t feasible to buy new clothes, even from the sale rack at Express, when I had a pretty hefty rent check and a major monthly student loan bill, plus tons of CC debt left over from scraping by after Hurricane Katrina. I had a dream, though. I wore cute suits, or dark jeans and fitted blazers, and patent leather heels. Nothing over the top, and a lot of it from Buffalo Exchange or Target, but still pretty cute. It wasn’t as cool as what most of the girls in the office were wearing, though – Anthropologie dresses, adorable blouses from ModCloth, handmade baubles off of Etsy, and always something fresh and fun for the season. I was floored – and inspired. I wanted more, but never could quite get there.
Today I’m making roughly half of what I was making before. Luckily, I’ve paid down a lot of my CC debt, and my student loan payments are on an income-based repayment plan, so that helps me get by. But now I’m in my early 30′s, and I’ve still never had my day as even a half-assed fashionista. It’s one of those great life disappointments for me, like knowing there’s a good chance I’ll never be thin, will never learn to salsa, will never get the chance to visit Machu Picchu. I’m learning to just be happy with what I can manage, but when it’s stretching it to even afford a minor shopping binge at Kohl’s, that’s just disheartening, you know?
The other thing that puts a major kink in my plans to dress well is that I work in a warehouse building that doesn’t have climate control. There’s no air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter, and though we do run a dehumidifier sometimes, the place still feels like a swamp much of the time. Also, the office has WAY too much stuff in it. It’s like working in a hoarder house. But I grew up in a house that was only a step down from hoarder-level, so even though it makes me anxious and unhappy, I’m able to file it away and get my mind onto other things pretty easily if I try.
What really grinds my gears is that one of the businesses in the building is tiny cafe that smokes its own pork. There’s no real way to vent the smells out of the building, so when I leave work for the day, I smell like smoked pork. Except that the smell lingers in my hair and clothing, salty and acrid, turning from a delicious scent into eau de grease pit. Not what you want to smell like after you leave the office; it even leaves a residue on my hair and skin – blech.
Now anyone who wears suits or nice coats or sweaters to the office will understand why you’d never want to wear them to an office that reeked of smoked meat. First off, if you have to leave the office during the day to speak to clients, you don’t want to arrive smelling like that. It’s an affront to common decency, or more easily said, it’s unprofessional. Secondly, nice clothes demand gentle cleaning techniques. That’s why many people are careful to get a couple (or even a few) wears out of dry clean-only clothing before taking it to the cleaners. Most of the nicest things in my wardrobe can only be dry cleaned or hand washed, and the idea of doing that every single time I wear something nice to the office is daunting.
So I just don’t dress for success anymore – and it has definitely affected my psyche. Sure, I wear some business casual things now and then – dark jean trousers and blouses that I can machine wash – but mostly I just wear jeans and t-shirts like everyone else. I feel frumpy, old, underdressed, and worst of all, unimportant and unprofessional. Sometimes I try to mix it up by at least wearing shirts that make me happy, like the “Buy Me Brunch” t-shirt I wore to work yesterday, but most of the time lately I’ve just given up wearing things I love to the office. I feel like every time I wear something nice there, it’s just one wash closer to its death. And I love the few cute things I own way too much to do that to them.
That’s that. As far as I can tell, nothing will ever change at work. I will continue to make less than I can afford to. I will continue to make comments about the smell, but nothing will be done (and why should anything be done – the restaurant is successful, and their customers love the smell). I will continue to slowly lose my mind as the pile of desks, computer parts, photo equipment, magazines, and trash grows around my desk and eventually swallows me alive. At least then no one will be able to see that I’m wearing my “I’m feeling bloated” jeans and most frumpy t-shirt to an office job.