How to Dress Self-Confidently


With a Little Help from Some Healthy Vanity!

Each of us wants to start our day – ideally –  unencumbered by difficult choices about what to wear.  And with trying to beat the clock, get breakfast, and, more often than not, heading out for a commute, it would be great if wardrobe choices could be the easiest part of the morning.  Unfortunately, routinely walking out the door, totally satisfied and upbeat that our outfits are projecting the best image of ourselves to the world, is often a very big challenge. Why is this?

Well, confidence, it appears, is not as common for women as it is for men, according to “The Confidence Gap,” a new article in The Atlantic magazine, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of the book, The Confidence Code.  Jessica Valenti, commenting on their article in The Guardian, notes wryly that there may be a good reason for a female’s lack of bold, positive energy: “Women’s lack of confidence could be just a keen understanding of just how little society values them.” She also cites a 1978 study that talks about the “imposter syndrome…a phenomenon in which high-achieving women believe they are really not bright, and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”

Thank you to authors Kay, Shipman, Valenti and others who bring awareness of this troublesome issue to the forefront, and help us to realize that there is indeed a discrepancy and gap between the genders.  While some would note, on the other hand, that women have a lot to celebrate — they are starting businesses and graduating from college at a pace higher than men — the flip side is that they must still face the unequal pay, lack of respect for motherhood choices, and a less-structured and more unbalanced dress code for work, just for starters.

Lack of Sartorial Self-Assurance = Missing Out on Life’s Offerings

Certainly the disparity in confidence is evidenced by the fact that women are held to a different standard than men when it comes to dressing, so they are more likely to feel self-conscious.

I seem to experience this at every networking event I attend.  Inevitably the response from men to my occupation (President and Owner of an image consulting firm), is “How do I look?” and “What do you think of what I am wearing?”  A woman never asks me that.  She just doesn’t.  More than likely I get to hear of her frustrations with her wardrobe, which I am glad to respond to, but men (in general) are more confident to just ask what I think of their clothing choices in a confident, almost vain manner.

And let’s face it, a man is not going to miss an event he really wants to go to because he might not have the right outfit.  When women don’t feel confident about the way they look, they are more likely to say no to an occasion that could benefit them because they worry about feeling judged or not fitting in.

Embrace Your Authentic Self and You Will Find Your Confidence

How can we as women channel our own energy to be more confident in general, which would translate into dressing with ease and self-assurance?  And furthermore, what would it look like to actually redefine the way we see confidence, and thus the way we see ourselves?

Despite Western culture’s push to the opposite, I say a confident person is not defined by their leadership roles, families, careers or hobbies.  Confidence and authenticity are simply generated  by a passion for what you believe in.  And that passion must come from a very individualized, internal place.

For example, when working with new clients, we define their personal style by using words that resonate with them.   The words emerge from an authentic, heartfelt place and they allow each client to find a connection between their clothes and themselves.  It’s an organic process that evolves as they embrace who they really are at a very deep level.

One client in particular is beginning this process, and in simply browsing thru  her own closet, she began to wear pieces she had previously thought were too bold for her, and reignited her wardrobe with some fun accessories hidden in a drawer.  With renewed confidence from reading her words, and saying to herself:  “Yes, this is me!”, she bravely wore these clothes the next day.  She writes:

The gal in the store kept staring at me in a different way while I was showing her my items, and then apologized for cutting me off to tell me how beautiful I was, and that I had the most awesome hair she has ever seen.  I was so stunned.  “I DO look good today!” I thought.  She kept going on and on.

She made me feel like a famous celebrity…and I’m not even done with the program.  It’s worth it to look and feel so good about yourself and your image.

What sprouted between the time she converted her words into new, vivid attire and lively accessories, and the noticeable presence projected on the shopping trip, was a new-found poise and panache.  This transformation can only occur after the person has taken the time to locate their individualized sense of spirit; that abstract process then gets converted into the physical self, as clothing can now become a means to tell  the world who you really are.  As you might guess, the gratifying – and empowering — end result gives new meaning to the phrase “comfortable in your own skin.”

This client, and everyone else who makes the transition from just “OK” with their wardrobe and appearance to “fantastic,” has a passion for what they believe in.  They are making a difference in the world, whether small or large, and they realize that the confidence needed for that has to stem from an identity informed by who they are (something inner), and not what they are (something outer).  Paradoxically, once that inner self is developed and nurtured, the outer self – the physical image, complete with clothing  – will often emerge naturally and organically, rather than artificially (“well, I guess the newest fashion says to wear this”).  The end result, exquisitely authentic, can be very powerful.

So, I am not talking about outer applause translating to inner applause – far from it –  but rather a mission to foster confidence as a personal force that continues to reignite, every time you remind yourself of who you are, and why you are here.   Would some say that is vanity?   If so,  I say go for it!

The point is not to take the world’s opinion as a guiding star, but to go one’s way in life and work unerringly, neither depressed by failure, nor seduced by applause.
– Gustav Mahler,19th Century German Composer

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