A while back, a female colleague I am friendly with commented on the suitability to the workplace of a shiny jacket that I was wearing. Not long after that, an older, male colleague remarked on the fur-trimmed sweater I wore to work one day. The comments were meant to let me know that my clothes were not to their liking.
I laughed off their comments, but the disparagement stung because I genuinely liked these two co-workers. I enjoyed our idle chit-chat, friendly banter, and the occasional lunch, so I felt the sting of their comments. I also felt that they crossed the social more line.
At the time, I remember thinking: Why did they believed it was okay to criticize my appearance? Why would the carelessly disregard my feelings, these work friends of mine?
Did they not adhere to the social mores: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
In hindsight, I wonder why they willing left the door open for my criticism of their appearances? I could have easily pointed out their grooming/wardrobe choices: Her hair? A perpetual mess. His daily winter wardrobe gaff? A leather fedora and cross-body messenger bag that was more Indiana Jones than office worker. Perhaps they understood my personal belief that what I think about their appearances is irrelevant.
Years earlier while working in the training department of a pharmacy software company, outwardly, I demonstrated uncharacteristic grace when a co-worker dissed the shoes I was wearing.
In the morning rush, I’d forgotten to change out of my driving shoes—pricey, but well-worn, brown, leather shoes—into my indoor shoes—inexpensive, sensible, black, dress shoes. As I walked past a younger co-worker, she stared at my feet and said to me that she would NEVER, EVER wear brown shoes with black pants.
It feels good to take the high road, but saying nothing in response was my way of indicating her foolishness. I can be petty, too.
What’s more the contradiction was not lost on me. I had noticed her wardrobe, too.
I’d said nothing when she squeezed her flat ass into an aging pair of grey, dress pants one-size too small. I’d said nothing to her when she wore what appeared to be her favourite cardigan, based on its high, weekly, wardrobe rotation, pilled from one too many wash cycles and beyond ready for retirement. And I’d said nothing to her about the skirt she wore that was an unflattering cut for her body type. For sure, she oblivious to her own fashion blunders, but not mine.
Second guessing a person’s clothing choices is irrelevant to the person wearing the clothes you don’t approve of, but being vocal about mine tells me who you are as a person.
Who has not committed a fashion faux pas?
We are all guilty of crimes against fashion. Some of us are repeat (and daily) offenders, so it always surprises me when someone vocalizes their criticism.
It’s judgmental and bad-mannered, and of course, the reason for the remarks is to make the target of this criticism feel bad about her clothes (and by extension, her self; a common elementary-school tactic), but it just makes the rest of us aware of the critic’s personal insecurity.