Self-respect and Dressing with Care

style quote nina garcia

If you wish to earn the respect of others, your best bet is to broadcast respect for yourself. After all, it’s harder for other people to admire, trust, and esteem you if you don’t feel confident in your abilities, proud of your accomplishments, and capable of handling life’s surprises. Since feeling respected by others builds self-confidence, and appearing confident garners respect, all you’ve got to do is kick start the process and it’ll just keep feeding itself.

If you wish to broadcast respect for yourself, one of the easiest ways to do so is to dress with care. Comportment, demeanor, dress, grooming, and overall appearance constitute the first levels of information about ourselves that we offer to the observing world. They may not be the most important, but they are the first, which makes them worthy of effort and attention. You cannot control eye or skin color, but you can control behavior, cleanliness, and personal style. And while many of us already consider those channels for self-expression, they can also be used as channels for broadcasting self-respect.

Dressing with care does not mean suits or heels or flat-ironed hair. Not to everyone. Dressing with care does not mean skirts instead of jeans, slicked-back hair instead of loose waves, or designer clothes instead of thrift finds. Not to everyone. Dressing with care means finding clothing that fits and suits your unique figure, giving thought to the day’s activities and participants before choosing your ensemble, selecting garments that make you feel comfortable, powerful, proud, and truly yourself. Dressing with care will look different on every single one of us, and that is a marvelous good thing. But dressing with care also means the same thing to us all; Making sartorial choices that showcase our best selves.

Although it’s dangerous to assume too much about a person based on  appearance, it cannot be denied that  exterior expressions reflect interior preferences. We dress to express our personalities, emotions, needs, and a few carefully-chosen bits of our inner lives. And when we dress to show respect for ourselves – when we dress with care – people around us cannot help but sense our confidence.

If you want others to respect you, it helps to respect yourself first. And show it.

Image source

Originally posted 2011-06-02 06:25:57.

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61 Responses to “Self-respect and Dressing with Care”

  1. Bamidele Omolola-Ojo

    Read it all…i will to say you are absolutely right–Spot on.

  2. Stacy aka Stacybeads

    Great post, Sal. I see so many people walking around who like they’ve put no thought whatsoever into how they look. Like it or not, appearances do matter!

  3. Pam @over50feeling40

    Excellent post…the last line says it all!! I find that if I look in the mirror and have doubts about what I am wearing then I literally wear and portray those doubts all day. I attempt to not leave the house until I look in the mirror and say in my head…YOU LOOK INCREDIBLE!! YOU GO GIRL!

  4. Elizabeth

    I’ve been following your blog for maybe two months and I have to say: You are totally revolutionizing the way I dress myself. I used to think that I couldn’t “do fashion” because I was too smart and I shouldn’t waste my time, but you’ve showed me that I CAN be smart AND pretty AND look good.

    I’m wearing LIPSTICK today for crying out loud. 😀

  5. Courteney @ Not a "diet" blog

    I know that I feel more confident and beautiful when I take care in what I am wearing. If I am dressed well in my favorite outfit and favorite colors I feel brighter and more confident. There is definitely something to say about being comfortable in your own skin by wearing what makes you feel beautiful in confident.

  6. Sheila

    I would like to send that anonymously to about 10 people I know…

    Awesome article, Sal!

  7. pomomama

    So true. Even on days when I’m slobbing round the house, I feel much better if I put some effort into what I’m wearing.The temptation to work from home in sweats and yoga gear is strong but I’m so much more productive and fulfilled getting out of that rut, says she dressed in comfy and stretchy yoga gear for chiropractic appointment this morning 🙂

  8. Charlie, Feminine Bravery

    Great post Sally! I agree 100 %, because what I wear affects how I feel about myself and that will translate to others in how I behave and carry myself that day.

  9. ally bean

    I dress with care in a way that pleases me. I do my best with the funds that I have, but I don’t worry about how others will perceive me. If I did that would I not be giving my power away to the opinions of others? Allowing them to judge my self-worth based on their pre-conceived idea of who I should be?

    I respect myself too much to play those sorts of games, so I dress for me. And if others don’t like it, then tough [beautifully painted in a dark shade of red] toenails.

    • Sal

      In my opinion, projecting your best self is the most important action. But I don’t think that caring about how you are perceived is some great surrender, or crime against the self. No person is an island, and the perceptions of others shape our realities whether we like it or not. They influence our careers, our social and love lives, our daily interactions.

      Problems arise when the opinions and perceptions of others begin to rule our feelings about ourselves, when what others think erodes our self-worth and self-confidence. Anything in extreme will eventually become unhealthy.

      But I believe that any person who participates in society DOES care about how she is perceived. There are levels, of course, but we all do it. And it’s not bad or wrong unless it begins to unduly influence emotions and behaviors.

    • Trystan (the CorpGoth)

      There’s a difference between “worrying how others will perceive me” & “caring how others will perceive me.” Worry leads to bending backwards to meet arbitrary standards, like buying designer clothes or trying to be painfully thin.

      Caring is the acknowledgement that you are participating in society & want to be seen as a worthy of respect.

    • hellotampon

      People judge you whether you allow them to or not. But no one is saying you have to relinquish your power in order for this to happen. Dressing for yourself and dressing for other people aren’t usually mutually exclusive. Half the fun of getting dressed, to me at least, is knowing other people are going to see it. Just like half the fun of cooking a delicious meal (again, for me at least) is being able to share it with others.

      • ally bean

        Interesting. When it comes to clothes, I have a simple style and a modest budget. I always look presentable– tailored, casual, with great jewelry, leather handbags. But I’m not fashionable or trendy.

        And it is this reality that I find is used to judge me. Which is why I say that I don’t care how I’m perceived. I am who I am. Isn’t that good enough?

        • alice

          I don’t think I consider myself fashionable or trendy either, but I definitely care about what I wear and have my own sense of style that happens to be rather pared down. It sounds like you do too. The point Sal is making has nothing to do with fashionable or trendy I think, it has to do with presenting yourself outwardly in a manner that is consistent with how you feel inside. For example, if you show up for an interview dressed in a t-shirt and gym clothes, it will be very difficult for you to demonstrate that you do in fact care very much about getting the job. Everyone uses these superficial ways to make initial judgments, so if you can’t escape them, it seems reasonable to keep them in mind so they don’t cost you opportunities. Clothes will never be enough by themselves to get you through life, but they shouldn’t hinder you.

          • ally bean

            alice, what you say makes sense to me and is what I was trying to get at in the first place– but didn’t say very well. Thx for putting my thoughts into your perfect words.

  10. Motherkitty

    What a fabulous post, and so right on! You absolutely nailed it. I can’t tell you how often I have winced when out and about and seeing some women who obviously just threw on whatever was close at hand, and looking less than what they probably truly are. I don’t think they realize what they are broadcasting to those around them, and that’s sad. I’m sure they would feel much better about themselves — and probably be better received by others — of they had taken a moment to put themselves together in the manner you suggest. Keep encouraging all women with your lovely blog!

  11. alice

    I couldn’t agree more! I’m in the sciences and the basic uniform is 100 year old baggy t-shirts + jeans + athletic sneakers. I sported the hipster variation of this uniform (graphic t’s, skinny jeans, converse sneakers) until I reached my 30 year milestone, which had me reconsidering how I presented myself to the world. And since then I’ve found that it’s just as easy to throw on non-gym clothes in the morning and be comfortable all day, but look great on top of it. It’s a bit of a balancing act though because I am trying to make an academic career in a male-dominated field so I keep my “dressiness” in the realm of well-fitting/minimalist instead of girly/too-feminine. I absolutely think this makes a difference in how people perceive me and at the least, knowing I look nice gives me a little boost all day long.

    (The first time I realized that I could be obviously female and still be a good scientist was when I worked in the lab of a female investigator Our lab space was next to the space of another spectacular investigator, who was in her late 60s and had broken barriers for subsequent generations of women. Anyway, one thing I noticed was they always always always had their nails done. It was a small thing, but nail polish is so female-specific that this gesture kind of reconciled a couple of conflicting thoughts in my head at the time. I hardly ever wear makeup, but since then I’ve never been without nail polish…)

  12. Michelle

    Thank you, thank you for this post.

    I don’t know whether you’ve heard of the modesty teaching that is popular in some churches today–it’s usually taught only to girls and women. The focus of the teaching is for girls and women to control the mind of boys and men through the clothing they choose to wear. Okay, that’s not how it’s worded, but basically, lust is understood to be bad, and girls’ and women’s bodies cause lust, so girls and women must be careful about how they dress, so as not to tempt boys and men.

    I would much prefer something like what you wrote here* be taught to males and females than that “modesty” stuff that causes females guilt and shame.

    *Or, to be honest, *exactly* what you wrote here. Very context-sensitive handling of the topic, in terms of varying standards of appropriateness of grooming and dress, and in terms of handling judging people by their exterior.

  13. PepperToast

    Lovely post – in theory. However, there is a segment of the population who are self respecting women/men, who have a healthy self esteem and are tremendous contributors to society (think stay at home mommies) who literally don’t have the time/money/ability/body (that is temporarily different) to go out and get the clothes that reflect that mindset to the world.

    In many instances it’s physically impossible to meet real needs of tiny people and then try to dress for other people’s perceptions. Sure some women do that, it is a huge priority for them but other things suffer or… they have help.

    Now that my kids are all in school, I have the time and energy to dress my outside to reflect my inside. But there was a time when I prioritized my children over my exterior. I have GREAT kids to show for it and I found that people didn’t look down on me or disrespect me, in fact, I got much respect for how they saw me treating my kids and how my kids conducted themselves.

    I am sure it was not your intention, but this type of post can make women who are doing the most important job on the planet (raising responsible contributors to society) feel inadequate, ashamed and downright lazy. Especially at a time when they are, out of necessity, neglecting their own needs a large portion of the time.

    • Sal

      As I stated in the text, “Dressing with care means finding clothing that fits and suits your unique figure, giving thought to the day’s activities and participants before choosing your ensemble, selecting garments that make you feel comfortable, powerful, proud, and truly yourself.” There is room in that definition of dressing with care for everyone, including stay-at-home moms. Nowhere in here have I insisted on specific clothing items or grooming standards, nowhere have I insisted on loads of time or money being spent in the name of appearances, and more importantly nowhere in this post have I called anyone lazy or inadequate.

    • Colleen

      Some food for thought:

      Implying that parents who maintain their appearance are either neglecting other aspects of their life or they must have help doesn’t seem fair. I also disagree that regularly neglecting one’s own needs is a requirement of parenthood – it may be a reality at times, but like they say on airplanes, you need to put on your oxygen mask first before you help anyone else.

      I also take issue with calling parenting the “most important job on the planet.” What about researchers working 16 hour days trying to cure cancer? What about people who are unable or uninterested in having children – their achievements will never match those of their peers who are parents?

      I am sad if you feel “inadequate, ashamed, and downright lazy” because of this post. I find Sal’s message empowering and inclusive of a variety of lifestyles, including active parents. She’s posted about fashion that is easy to find/wear/wash (leggings/jeggings, ponte, jersey knit). Her blog is about empowerment through personal style so of course you’re not going to see posts advocating neglecting personal appearance.

      • hellotampon

        I am not a mom, but I take care of elderly people with dementia. I bathe, dress, spoon-feed, change diapers. I strain my back lifting people in and out of bed about 20 times a day. When someone dies, I am in the room holding their hand and trying to keep them comfortable. The work is grueling, due the high patient load, I am always on my feet, it’s hot, and extremely stressful. I often don’t even have the time to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom because that would take time from one of my patients. Wiping poopy butts all day is pretty much the opposite of glamorous, but I still wear mascara and earrings to work along with nice uniforms in bright colors and pretty patterns. On days when I need to do laundry and end up wearing a shapeless scrub set in a drab color, I definitely feel a difference.

        I also take issue with the assertion that parenting trumps all other kinds of work. I don’t plan on having any children and the all-important parent comments get pretty tiresome because people manage to make everything about parenting, no matter what the subject/website/news story is.

  14. PepperToast

    Thanks for your reply. I am trying to point out that what you say in your reply to me above is too much for some moms, especially those with infants and young children. In the first few weeks or months after you have a baby, you are most often wearing the same clothes for a week, not because you don’t care, but because you don’t literally don’t have a choice. NOTHING is clean and nothing else fits and to be truthful, you don’t feel like yourself, you feel like someone’s slave!

    I want to make it clear that I am not accusing you of any of the things that you mention. I did not get that sense at all. I am merely presenting a counter point that, while I would have LOVED LOVED LOVED to have the time to address the issue that your original post had. I just did not have it, period. Had I read the post a few years ago, I would have felt misunderstood. I wanted to make the new moms or mothers of young children feel ok about their lack of attention to themselves because, what they are doing, in the end is important and worth a temporary leave of absence from self presentation. A respectful counterpoint if you will. Because I truly believe and have much respect for what you are doing on your blog.

    • Sal

      Thanks for clarifying. I think we still fundamentally disagree, but I always appreciate honest counterpoint.

      Anyone with a newborn, anyone battling illness, really anyone dealing with challenges that make CHOICES concerning personal style an impossibility can hardly be expected to control the finer details of physical appearance. When you can’t choose, you can’t control. But many people can choose, including some who believe they can’t. And my goal is to encourage those folks to do their utmost to dress with care as a means of broadcasting self-respect.

    • anna

      i just want to add one more voice to peppertoast’s – i read this blog because i’m interested in fashion and because i believe that in most circumstances, sal’s advice applies very well. but i am currently eight months pregnant and think it is generally not understood how difficult it truly is to dress yourself at this time. it’s my first, so i don’t yet have the experience of trying to look nice as a mother of a newborn, but already things have become extremely difficult. not least because of expense – when your body completely changes, it requires a completely new wardrobe, which costs. because of financial constraints my current fitting wardrobe is extremely limited and not of particularly high quality. not to mention the ever-changing lingerie issue (what fit well last week does not fit well this week, which of course can throw off a whole outfit). i can’t imagine that the image i am presenting to the world is very impressive right now, nor do I anticipate it becoming any better any time soon. even after delivery the body is so unpredictable – i hope to get back into my cuter clothes sooner than later, but who knows what will happen? and of course newborns are so time consuming, shopping for fitting clothes will take a low priority.

      i guess what i’m trying to explain is that i think your advice is great for most people, and we all ought to apply it to ourselves. but i think the danger is in our smug application of it to others (as i feel is evidenced in some of these comments) and the judgments that follow. there are circumstances where dressing in an impressive way is just not possible. should we assume those people don’t respect themselves, and thus don’t deserve our respect (i know you weren’t saying this sal, but it seems some of the commenters have)? maybe they just have other priorities, and that deserves respect too.

      • Marsha Calhoun

        It’s always fun for me to reminisce about my time as a pregnant woman and then (surprise!) mother of an infant. All I can say is that I was always proud of myself when I could say that I had combed my hair that day, and I recall the distinct feeling of relief when I discovered that the foreign substance in my hair and on my shirt was “only” scrambled egg. To everything there is a season, and every season passes . . . A woman with a rapidly changing pregnant body has to make unexpected adjustments, and every mother of a baby eventually finds the style that suits her energy and abilities, even if it’s sweats and bare feet. Sometimes what you look like is not the most important thing, for all of us – but it never hurts to do whatever makes you feel best so you can do what you want to do. That’s what I got from Sal’s post, and it’s true.

        • anna

          well put, marsha. and thanks for the encouragement – maybe it’s just a matter of patience, and someday i will learn to navigate this crazy body again! i used to know it so well. in the meantime i will just have to learn to not care what others are thinking on days i know i don’t look good, but don’t know what i could have done otherwise.

  15. Helen

    As a mom of a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy, I totally understand what PepperToast is saying, but I would respectfully disagree. I stayed home for about a year after the birth of each of my kids and I can honestly say that when I made an effort to have a shower and dress decently (meaning clean clothes that fit my post-baby body), even just to go out for a walk in the neighborhood with the stroller and pick up a coffee or run errands, I felt a million times better about myself.

    It’s way too easy for new moms to get caught up in the mindset that the worse they look, the better a mom they must be because they are being so selfless and focusing on their kids and nothing else. But you’re not doing yourself any favors. The more you take care of yourself, respect yourself and feel confident in your appearance, the better a mom you’ll be.

    I also think it’s really important to set a good example for my daughter that it’s OK to take care of yourself. respect yourself and feel good about yourself. Just my two cents.

  16. Shayne

    Loved this article. YOu said it so very very well. For me, a WAHM, who runs a small baking business, in a small farming community in the middle of nowhere, it would be so easy for me to simply throw on a tracksuit everyday.But i don’t. I dress to make sure that I FEEL GOOD eachand every day. So that if i catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror i don’t get a shock and think ‘ who is that woman’.

    And you know what? It works. You feeling good in what you are wearing radiates from the inside out. I receive so many compliments on the way I dress. And then I feel even better.

    And it is so not about spending a ton of cash or wearing the latest gear. It’s about find a style that works for you and working it baby!

    Thanks for a fabulous blog Sal x

  17. Anon

    Sal, I’m so glad to read this post. I’m struggling at the moment with finding balance between what I like to wear, what feels good/interesting/attractive to me, and being mindful of how other people will read my outfit.

    Recently I attended a bunch of open houses (for college grads) and had people pay what felt like a disproportionate amount of attention to my shoes (ok, they were studded platform sandals with an open toe – so kinda daring – but not outrageous.) Then I had one of my students tell me she described me to another student as “the one with all the crazy shoes” and the other young woman knew who I was based on that description.

    That one-two combo was disconcerting enough that I had a long talk about it with my colleague, asking basically whether I am often/ever unprofessionally dressed. He said a. go ask a woman and b. your shoes seem consistently to elicit the response, wow, now that’s a pair of shoes.

    I’m finding that series of things really painful to mull over, as I don’t want to bring to my workplace an image of someone who needs attention or who dresses outside the boundaries in order to get attention. My clothes are never sexy or tight or too short, but I show my tattoos and wear very tall heels sometimes and wear a lot of color. I’m wondering whether I need to seriously revise my teaching wardrobe, and am feeling generally sad and uncertain.

    So thank you for the post… it’s helpful!

    • Sal

      That is such a hard position to be in, lady. I’m especially empathetic as I’m also “the one with all the crazy shoes” at my workplace …

      This older post may be helpful, too:

      And the ladies at Academichic discuss fashion in academia consistently and articulately:

      Maybe you’re already reading these …

      Glad today’s post was helpful and supportive during a rough patch.

      • Anon

        Sal, thanks again. 🙂 Scholar Style Guide is new to me, although I follow both Academic Chic and In Professorial Fashion. Super, super helpful, and making me feel less like an outlier.

    • alice

      To Anon: I’m sorry you’re going through a rough spot. Based on what you’ve said though, I think you probably DO need to revise your work wardrobe a little, so that your clothing choices are not distracting others from your abilities. There is still room for personal expression, but the comments you are getting don’t seem strictly positive. I’ve noticed in my field, that the few women who have made it to the top are freer to make dramatic statements with their clothes, most likely because they are so firmly established professionally. Anyway, that’s just my two cents, don’t be sad!

      • Katie

        To Anon: In my experience (sharing in case it is helpful), I have to make hard choices about how much of my personal style comes into the classroom. My students are primarily college freshmen, so they get hung up and distracted by boobs, thighs, tattoos and crazy jewelry. Oddly, they’re not so obviously bothered by “crazy” shoes – I’ve taught in corset backed, ruffled ankle, bright blue leather pumps with not a stray glance at my feet.

        A large part of figuring all this out has been from wearing what I and my female colleagues considered modest clothes only to find the young men in my classroom unable to concentrate. Something about the pattern and the neckline combined to give the illusion of cleavage where none was – a high necked dress. So, despite loving that dress, I had to pair it with a cardigan or a scarf – problem solved. I can’t wear my peacock feather earrings – got too many comments. But, my bright silver dangly leaf earrings, despite catching the sun at all angles, were not distracting at all! Student catches a glimpse of my back piece, I’ve got questions about that after class rather than the course material. Wear a belt, or higher pants or a longer shirt – no one inquires about my body anymore!

        You may only find that you have to make small revisions. A 3 inch heel might prove unremarkable to your students, where a 4 inch one sends them into gossipy titters. An espadrille may be “normal” but a cork wedge might be “crazy.” Perhaps you can do an experiment: keep track of your students’ (or the general reaction if you’re not in summer school) reactions to varieties of pairs of shoes. If it’s the studs getting the reactions, then studded shoes become for after work. If it’s the height, maybe a small modification can help.

        Like Alice said, don’t be sad! You probably don’t have to throw out your personal style all together – a few minor tweaks will probably get the job done!

        good luck!

  18. candice

    Feeling my best and respecting myself at this point in my life means dressing very casually. I wear black cotton pants, over-sized tshirts, fleece jackets and beat-up Sketchers on a day-to-day basis. Currently, I am investing all of my money into a second science degree and my number one priority right now is succeeding in my lecture and lab-based courses. I spend half of my life in a lab coat and I am thankful for those casual, worn-out clothes when I spill malachite green or, worse yet, a potentially pathogenic E.coli strain on my coat or shoes and have to throw them in the autoclave.

    Of course, I still keep my socks and underwear clean, trim my hair on a regular basis, wear a swipe of mascara and use sunscreen and soap daily to keep my face clean and fresh. I think about how the people I work and learn with see me in terms of how clean I am each day.

    Still, dressing for self respect currently means dressing for daily safety and my financial situation. This is in no way a refute of the ideas in this post, it is just my own personal elaboration on the concept of what it means to dress for respect and positive external impression-making.

    • Sal

      I think your situation is a PERFECT example of how dressing with care can encompass an enormous variety of looks, styles, garments, and priorities!

  19. Katrina

    “finding clothing that fits and suits your unique figure”
    And that’s where my trouble begins, I can’t seem to find clothing that looks good on me at all, I have no waist (and let’s throw in the quite overweight part to it as well) nothing seems to fit properly or look good, I have had this problem for 16 years now (been very ill after birth of two children that just stacked on the weight) and I now can’t even seem to find a style or something that I like because nothing fits anyway.
    I don’t know if part of the problem is living in country south australia so that clothing choices is limited or it’s just that I have no taste as what I like just doesn’t suit me.
    I love reading your blog, looking at the photos and admiring your clothing and of course drooling over your shoes.
    Not really sure where to start for myself, how does one find a style that suits your body (the last time I attempted something at the start of this year to wear to a school reunion, I thought I had found an outfit, it looked good in the shop, the girls told me I looked good, but when I saw the photos afterwards I decided I just looked like a black and white blimp)

  20. MJ

    Love it! I teach K which apparently means I’m suppose to be lost in a sea of denim jumper dresses & seasonal sweaters. Neither fit my style at all. I’ve become known, for better or worse, as the teacher who dresses up. I struggle a bit with social anxiety & dressing in a manner I consider professional makes it easier for me to talk to parents as I feel more like ‘The Teacher’.

    AFA parents of young children dressing, I teach at a very poor school. Many of my students are on free lunches. I can tell you that I very easily recognize the parents who are doing the best they can to dress themselves appropriately(for lack of a better word) & those who just don’t care. I have an almost visceral reaction to PJ bottoms worn as pants & tops that don’t cover what they should (up top or in the middle) but I would never look down at my parents who come to school in a clean tee & jeans because I know that may be all they have.

  21. anna

    see, though, that is what bothers me…why do you care what those parents are wearing? in my first trimester i wore pajama pants almost every day because #1 they fit when nothing else did (normal clothes too small, maternity clothes too big) and #2 i felt far too ill to think about clothes. it was a miracle to get out of bed. i love sal’s uplifting message about respecting ourselves and dressing to feel good (and it does feel better to dress well, i know that), but when we let that mean we can judge people who don’t dress in a way we respect, it can become dangerously superficial.

    • MJ

      I don’t care but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice. And I give pregnant women a TON of slack. I wore a shapeless denim jumper dress & black Capri pregnancy leggings with various oversized tops because that’s what fit.
      I just think it’s wrong to assume that our physical appearance is unnoticed by the masses. We ‘teach’ people how to treat us in various ways & one of those ways is through how we dress.
      I’m sorry anyone has had a bad experience with school uniforms. My daughters school has them & it’s been positive overall.
      I’m backing away now. I feel I’m being misunderstood & I’m taking it far too personally.

      • Sal

        MJ, please feel free to drop me an e-mail if you want to chat. I feel it’s important to keep comment dialogue as open as possible, but hate to think of you feeling misunderstood.

      • alice

        I think I understand what you are trying to say MJ and I agree; we are all in the same boat. We’re human beings and there are a whole lot of judgments that are made just at first glance. That’s sort of the point of this article, that people make these judgments whether you want them to or not. In an ideal world, we would all be above it, but alas…
        When I meet people for the first time or observe them on the street, I have an initial impression of socioeconomic status, interests (sporty, punkish), etc. These impressions can be completely wrong and are of course adjusted if I get to know them better (they also tell me nothing about whether a person is kind or worth knowing). But clothes and the care you put into your appearance still has an important impact; if we take the case of the pregnant woman (only using this example because it kept on coming up), sure her “bad” outfits might reflect her changing body and how ill she’s feeling, but that might not matter to her employer or her clients and she could lose important opportunities. They might look at how she is presenting herself, conclude that she’s too ill to undertake projects and pass them to someone else because her appearance doesn’t inspire confidence. I know I bring up work examples a lot, but that’s the place where I think your clothes really do matter. I mean, who cares what the average joe on the street thinks about you or if the cashier is a little nicer to you – it might lift your mood, but has no other serious impact. It definitely matters though, if you are passed up for a promotion or what have you because of something as ‘trivial’ as clothes.

      • anna

        slack extended to pregnant women GREATLY appreciated MJ 🙂 you are of course correct that, whatever the ideal would be, people do judge us by our appearance. it’s a delicate balance to advocate acceptance of that fact without condoning indulgence in it, and i think sal finds it. for the record, i don’t think you are particularly judgmental, i just seized on your comment because the language was somewhat stronger than others (the visceral part). but i’m sure you’re no worse than any of us, myself included.

  22. anna

    i think i am having my own ‘visceral’ response to this topic because i went to a religious school with a very strict dress code, and i often faced censure because my body and my style didn’t quite conform to what was expected. while the justification for the dress code was framed in similar language to this post (dressing nicely shows confidence and self-respect), the reality on the ground was increased judgment between peers, sniping about tiny differences in wardrobe, and competition to see how far boundaries could be pushed in order to dress ‘appropriately’ (and reactionary opposition and more judgment of people who engaged in those contests).

    ironically, i think this is the opposite situation sal is arguing for – while she does say that dressing well can increase our confidence, she thankfully declines to define ‘dressing well’ – a key point. dressing well is doing what you can under your circumstances. and for some folks in some situations, pj pants may be dressing well. can’t we take sal’s point to heart and, rather than extending judgment on those whose clothing choices are different from our own, be aware that their choices may fit their circumstances in ways we don’t understand?

    • Sal

      Seems like this post hit more than one nerve for more than one reason! Which makes sense as any time you link fashion with emotion, things get charged. Even more so when judgment enters the picture.

      As always, my aim here was to encourage people to focus on themselves: Dress YOUR body in a way that feels fabulous and helps YOU project confidence. But inevitably the conversation turns to how other people “fail” to do so.

      I’m so sorry to hear your school experience was so oppressive and frustrating. I remember writing a post about uniforms ages ago, and finding that readers felt that dress codes and uniforms could be incredibly beneficial or unbearably awful depending upon the groups involved.

  23. Claudia Tang

    This is a good post, very well written. I think it’s interesting the opinions it brought up (like the moms- the moms with different viewpoints!) and those opinions were still expressed with diction, clarity, and respect. I’m not a mother and I don’t plan to be (not any time soon!) but I can see where all the opinions are coming from. I like that you took the time to point out, though, that dressing well and respectfully doesn’t have to mean a skirt or heels, or jeans, or whatever. I think that just standing up straight, having clothes you move confidently in and looking like you put SOME effort into what you put on that morning is key. One of my jobs is at a restaurant, so all the staff wear the same black pants, black clunky slip-resistant shoes, black shirt and apron, but all the staff look professional and put together. This means no stains, hair out of our faces, clean hands, shirt tucked in, etc.

    My mom worked long hours and rode the bus home for a while when I was young and in school. We got free lunch, lived in crummy apartments, hardly spent money on unnecessary clothes. But she always was put together and exuded confidence went she went out. Sure, she’d bum it up and be comfortable at home, but even if we were just going to the grocery store, she’d put on “real” clothes and fix her hair out of her face. I think she just tried to prioritize when to look right.

  24. Claudia T

    Just wondering- why did you choose this picture? Because you think it’s a good example of people dressing well, or looking confident?

    • Sal

      I chose it because the two women in the photo look happy, confident, and full of joy.

  25. L

    THANK YOU! I was having a very bad day and then read your post. It was just what I needed. THANK YOU.

  26. S. of Narrowly Tailored

    This is on the list of “life lessons I’m so glad my mum taught me.” I’ve become something of an evangelist for this approach, and I’m so glad you’ve expressed it so eloquently here!