I’ve been doing closet consults and personal shopping for more than six years now, and it is one of the best parts of my extremely varied work life. It’s where my style-focused side and my body image-focused side meet: By illustrating style concepts and helping clients better understand their figures and wardrobes, I help them gain confidence. I have gotten a hug from every single client I’ve ever worked with. It is quite literally THE BEST.
As we’re approaching the holidays, I’m starting to get a few requests for gift consults, which I’m always happy to do. But I’ve had to turn away a few folks because they were hoping to hire me to work with the men in their lives, and I only do consults for women. Men struggle to feel stylish, men grapple with body image issues, and men can definitely gain confidence from working with stylists. I certainly don’t think that stylist services should be offered exclusively to women, and when people ask I happily refer them to colleagues who work with both men and women. (Carly loves working with male clients!) But I’ve chosen to focus on women for two reasons.
Depth of knowledge
It has taken me years and years to accumulate a body of knowledge that covers shopping resources, repair options, figure flattery, and fit issues that are specific to women. I am able to reel off helpful websites and tidbits of advice to just about any female audience that plies me with questions. I have never been interested in men’s fashion, so I haven’t studied it in the same way and know virtually nothing about it. I don’t know where stylish men shop, or which proportions work best on which male figures, or which fit issues are the most challenging. In order to become expert enough to tackle a consult with a guy, I’d want to spend a looooong time learning about men’s style. And at this point in my career, I’m focusing on cultivating other skills and reaching other goals.
Men can grapple with style and body image issues similar to those that plague women, and many do. But here’s the key difference: In the vast majority of cases, men don’t let their worries about clothes and figure flattery and weight prevent them from doing … well, anything they want. Men don’t get hung up on style the way women sometimes do, and men don’t get scrutinized for their style choices the way women do. When powerful men are discussed in newspapers and magazines, reporters seldom spend entire introductory paragraphs describing their hair, makeup, shoes, and clothing. Men don’t worry that being overweight might impede their chances at landing leadership positions, and men are seldom censured for dressing “too young” or “too sexy.” Men know that being stylish is an asset, but in many cases being unstylish isn’t a substantial detriment.* The rules are different for men. In fact, there are far fewer rules for men to begin with.
And since my mission is to empower women, and since I know that appearance-related confidence empowers women, that’s where I focus my time and energy. I work with women on style in part because it’s fun and expressive, but also because I want them to stop worrying about how they look. I want them to redirect the energy they’ve put into obsessing about wrinkles and fretting about muffintop, and focus on their dreams and goals and happiness. I want them to understand their bodies and build versatile wardrobes so that they can dress well, forget all about how they look, and get on with the work of their lives. Of course, not all women feel held back by their style or bodies – plenty move into leadership or chase their dreams regardless. But I have friends and clients and relatives and colleagues and readers who have told me outright that they wish they could step into the spotlight, but don’t have the confidence and thick skin necessary to bear the image-based scrutiny they know they’d face.
I am married to a man. Two of my personal heros – my dad and Martin Luther King, Jr. – are both men. I love and respect many, many amazing men and want all men – in fact, all humans – to feel good about themselves. But the way I see it, men don’t need my help in the same ways and on the same levels as women. They’ve already got a leg up. So I intend to work on boosting woman after woman up into the next level of confidence until the playing field has leveled. And I certainly hope to see that day within my lifetime.
Image courtesy Stephanie Vacher
*This is not universally true. (In fact, in my experience very, very little is universally true.) I’m basing my assertions on my own observations and on various analyses of gender dressing differences that I’ve read over the years, with the understanding that there are exceptions.
Originally posted 2014-11-06 06:54:09.