Thinking about Self-Image… Should I Care What I Look Like?



nan before
nan after

On so many levels, I would say yes, I care what I look like. My self-image is important to me. 

About a month ago, a client sent me a photo of a woman by her pink Cadillac. She was with her husband, and they were taking down a political sign! Oy!

This has nothing to do with the clothing they were wearing, but it brings out my point. People pay attention to others around them, and what people do makes an impact. How we dress is also noteworthy. 

Lisa Danforth, business coach, and strategist loaned me the book “Known” by Mark Schaefer. He wrote about a Youtube star and author who said: 

I grew up in a dusty trailer park in West Texas and didn’t have much as a kid. I joined the Marines when I was a young man and became an officer. When I first put on the Marines uniform, I felt different. It changed the way I thought about myself. I had never experienced this feeling before. A marine always looks sharp. It was amazing how my appearance changed my attitude and my confidence.

This says volumes. How we feel projects far beyond just appearance. When you feel confident and proud, you project a winning aura. Who doesn’t want that?

In the “olden days”, that’s what we called it when we were kids, I listened to tapes and CDs while driving in my car… Mary Kay tapes and CDs, that is. A very successful sales director, whose name I don’t recall, was talking about her college days. Her professor came into the classroom on the first day and said,

“Ladies and gentlemen.” (Addressing the class as ladies and gentlemen is a much different tone than “hey guys”) He continued and said, 

I don’t care what you wear to my class during the year, but on exam days, I want to see you in shirt and ties for the men and skirts and dresses for the women.

Why you might ask? He found that when his students dressed for exams, they got higher grades. Interesting! Maybe there’s a deeper reason why I care what I look like…

Years ago, I was asked to speak to executives from Eileen Fisher. It was the 80’s and bright colors were the rage. I remember wearing a bright blue wool gabardine pants suit. I made a big mistake and knew it as soon as I entered the store. All of their color choices were neutrals and muted tones. Rule of thumb for NYC? You can’t go wrong when wearing black. Being the olive-skinned woman that I am, black is even my color. It was a big miss to wear blue.woman in three outfits with shared clothing components

Based on my experiences and the effort I make to show that I care what I look like, I have some bits of advice for readers who wonder if their appearance and self-image matter. 

Know your audience and plan accordingly. For instance, If I am going to address a group of college-aged women, I won’t be formal, but I also won’t be wearing sweats, even though half of them will be in sweats. I find that a neutral color is key. I am not overpowering the soft pink that Mary Kay typically uses on most of their products.

When I work with a group of stockbrokers, I won’t wear a floating “art to wear” look. The days of women in skirts and pantyhose are gone, and on top of that, I do live in Burlington Vermont. It’s casual here. The more successful the person is, typically, no matter how casual, the quality of her clothes is visibly apparent. It goes back to the way the young man felt when he put on his Marine uniform. Dress for where you want to be, not where you are now.

In the corporate world, how you dress is far more confusing for women. Men put on a suit and tie and they are done. Especially today, women can look dated while donning the same thing, a suit. Just a note to the men… the better the suit, the better the fit, the better you feel, and it matters. If you feel confident, chances are? You will act confident. Women? Your choices are broader and more confusing, but the same concept applies… the better the quality, the better the fit, the better you feel.

three women wearing makeup and smilingI had a conversation with the Mary Kay department which deals with business apparel. Time has moved on and the norm is not to wear pantyhose. I do have mixed opinions on that subject. Bare legs are sexier. Is that really what we want to bring to the table in a business setting? As we age, bare legs look less appealing. When I see pantyhose today? (I am not talking about cute tights in the colder months, I am talking about nude pantyhose) it looks dated. What is a woman to do? Look old fashioned or look sexy, or even worse, look old? Thank goodness for moisturizer and foundation. Yes! On your legs… It works, and this is a trick I’ve come to love. 

Mary Kay is staunchly in the “wear a skirt or dress” camp. I am a sales director with the company and I am well aware of the fact that the women in my sales unit are not my employees. They are independent contractors and they are smart, fabulous women. I have no desire to tell them they have to do this or that. My role is to give guidance. When we go to larger meetings, I explain that the culture in Mary Kay is skirts and dresses. You literally see no woman in pants. It is important to see how long-term members of a group present themselves.  

While at a Mary Kay convention, I do enjoy how almost all of the women make an extra effort with their appearance. Makeup and hair look great. The first day is a free day and it is a visual delight. What a fashion show! After that, on the meeting days, half of the attendees are in Mary Kay business apparel. It’s truly a sight to behold. It’s impressive.

Every industry has its culture. Mary Kay is very prize oriented. Jewelry is often the chosen option. I have lovely diamond rings, bracelets, and earrings from my personal sales. At a Mary Kay convention, it is common to see “over the top” glitz. It’s fun, and the people-watching is beyond fun! I have lost count of the tiaras I have been given for being top in sales. Although I may get that tiara at an awards show at night, I do not choose to wear it the next day. Many do… especially if a woman has never won anything, she wears her sash or tiara with pride, and women congratulate her all day for her accomplishments.

5 women in formal dresses and award sashesDo I recommend this garb when we leave to go home? Oh please…no! Again, know your audience.

I can wear my tasteful diamond ring to my next appointment and women may comment. It is nice to say, I was given this as a gift from Mary Kay. However, do I wear my director suit at home? Rarely. When are women wearing suits? Since I care what I look like, I pay attention to fashion trends and what people are actually wearing.

I was in the women’s clothing business from 1977-2004. Nan Patrick, the store’s name, was the place for suits. I dressed every woman in Vermont who needed to look good. If I had the store today, I doubt I would have a suit in there. Jackets… yes, skirts… yes, dresses… yes, but not suits. This is what I shared with Mary Kay’s apparel department. Options. Keep the suit option for the traditional sales director, but have other pieces that would appeal to younger women. The director suit was developed to attract people to the position. Is a suit an attraction to a hip 30-year-old?

What do you think… does self-image matter? It is outdated for me to care about what I look like? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. 

Self-Image... Should I Care What I Look Like?

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Nan Patrick
Nan grew up in Glens Falls, New York, and attended Boston University. She thought of herself as ”very urban” until she realized she enjoyed being a big fish in a small pond. At the very “mature” age of 23, she moved to Burlington, Vermont to open an eponymous women’s clothing store. That was a 27-year run and a wonderful experience. Her store was a place where women felt like they mattered. During that time, she married her husband, Ken, became a stepmom, became a mom, and started a second business with Mary Kay Cosmetics. Now her kids are grown, and she has a 16-year-old granddaughter… what? How did THAT happen so quickly? She was promoted to a sales director with Mary Kay. Life is good. She figured out how to make money, save money, and enjoy what she earned. She loves to travel, spend time with her friends and family, take ballet and yoga, go on fun walks with my dog, and is an avid skier who loves to ski the bumps!


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