“That’s not appropriate,” I remember a teacher saying once about a dress my friend was wearing. It wasn’t particularly revealing, but had spaghetti straps which went against our public school’s rules. While that was well over a decade ago, students are still struggling to figure out what “appropriate” really means when it comes to clothes, and who should really be the person to determine it. When I was a teen, I was constantly trying to balance my personal style with my small town’s expectations.
What is “appropriate” to wear doesn’t become clearer when you get older.
Fast forward to my first “real” job interview after college, when I was googling what was appropriate to wear to a job interview in the video/film industry. The answers spanned a huge spectrum. Some website claimed that a suit was absolutely necessary no matter what your industry, while others said you shouldn’t dress too formally if you’re going for a creative position. Even people I knew from school and internships disagreed: a mentor at my internship said she’d never be caught dead in anything less than a suit at an interview, while an owner of a company in my field said he’d hesitate before hiring anyone with bad enough judgement to wear something formal when everyone in the office wore jeans.
Compound those differences with expectations on modesty, and I can see how somebody new to the creative workforce can feel overwhelmed and under-informed. As a feminist, I felt like it was unfair for these extra expectations applied to me but not the mean around me. After all, if it’s hot shouldn’t I be able to feel comfortable enough to get my job down? It took me years before I realized that, at least in the creative industry, the most important thing about my clothes is that they were appropriate to me.
When it comes to creative jobs, you decide what is appropriate to wear.
I know, I know, this sounds like a cop out. But it’s true! The creative industry is all about coming up with creative solutions, and so your biggest selling point is your personality. Does this mean you should wear whatever you’re compelled to by any given whim? No, or else I’d have been in a full Wonder Woman costume the first five years of my (very nerdy) career. Instead, I think it’s important to think about your work outfits in terms of how they fit your personality. Dress for the persona you’re trying to convey to coworkers and clients.
For me, I like to present myself as laid-back yet professional. I also find it important to be comfortable, since I’m constantly running around the office. As a result, I wear a lot of what I call “coordinated casual” outfits: jeans paired with a nice top, t-shirts dressed up with a blazer, and comfy knit dresses with leggings so I don’t have to feel uncomfortable every time I climb under the desk to rewire cables.
Modesty isn’t as important in the creative industry.
I also am less concerned with modesty simply because it’s not an important value to me. Granted, my style is pretty naturally modest – comic book t-shirts aren’t exactly head-turning – but in general I find that if you dress to your own comfort level, you’ll probably be fine in most creative jobs. For example, a ballet dancer feels perfectly fine in a form-fitting leotard at practice, but might opt for a cocktail dress at her next gala or slacks and a blouse for meetings with the business side of her dance company. Similarly, an art model will feel perfectly comfortable nude when she’s posing, but might like to hang out in sportswear with her clients after class.
And part of being comfortable is probably feeling like you’re making those around you feel comfortable too. A musician who usually wears strappy, clingy dresses to her club gigs will probably wear something less flashy when she’s giving piano lessons to the old lady down the street. At the end of the day, it’s about what makes you feel like you’re presenting yourself as confident and competent to your clients and co-workers, not what’s prescribed by the people around you.
So don’t be afraid to show off your tats with a cami at your next client luncheon if you know your clients rock, and don’t feel bad about covering up if you feel like that short skirt is out of place at a corporate meeting. Just dress thoughtfully and true to your personality, and you’re always be “appropriate” for you.