Standing out or fitting in – matters of dress and heels.


I was rushing about this morning getting ready for work and I reflected that it was much easier when I wore uniform; choices were simpler and there was less need to think.

anne 1989 on wardPutting on my blue sister’s uniform was one of the proudest things I can remember; I never tired of it along with my silver buckle that my husband bought me. If I close my eyes I can put myself back there and feel myself sit up straighter, it really was very special. I liked wearing uniform. I enjoyed the feeling of identity it gave me.

All of this led me to think about the symbolism of dress and where I find myself as a middle aged, rounded sort of person. Clothes inevitably have played an important role in my life for lots of reasons.

heelsI recall in the 1990s progressing to a non-uniformed role for the first time. I was in my mid-twenties and it was after all the 90s, where power dressing was still very much de rigueur. I had shoulder pads, tight pencil skirts, frilly blouses and heels – lots of stiletto heels. When I walked through Leeds tonight on my way home the fashions of 2014 have some of those echoes – it made me smile. It’s interesting when life places you on the second time around – I just wish I had saved some of my best clothes from back then.

[An interesting note – when I looked for pictures of me in the 1990s I can find none. My son was born in 1990 and all I can find are dozens of pictures of him. I guess something changed in my priorities then!]

Interviews have always been a time for me where I almost get superstitious about what I wear; always new clothes and silly as it may sound best underwear. I had a friend who always wore red knickers for interviews. I guess in these types of situations we all want to stack as many of the cards in our favour as we can.

New jobs too, demand a close focus on the way I dress. Who do I want them to think I am? Feisty Annie in my slightly hippy tastes or a more serious moderate Annie? What I do know it this situation also demands some new clothes although in some ways this is just like the emperor’s new clothes – I’m just waiting for someone to find me out!

Today I am lucky that I get to visit many different areas of the healthcare system and find myself moving in and out of different organisational cultures but I notice patterns. In big acute trusts it still feels like there is a sort of power dressing going on, albeit the 2014 version. Contrast this with community and mental health services where the styles feel more relaxed and individualistic. I always think, now where am I off to, and which version of Annie do I need to wear today?

Annie at 50th Birthday Bash

Annie at 50th Birthday Bash

Being on platforms and speaking raises interesting issues – mainly those of heels. My lovely ex-boss and now friend tells me that I should always wear heels. I try, I really do, but I can no longer do it. I find myself choosing more moderate heels and go for colour and class rather than the stilettos of the past. It’s also part of the lot of someone with type 1 diabetes I think that a focus on removing the risk of sore feet somehow feels more important.

Informatics is a really interesting place to work; male dominated and lots of suits and yes, mainly grey ones. We do have the occasional GP floating around who has a slightly more relaxed mode of dress. What is a girl to do in this space? I go for ‘middle of the road’ and then, sometimes, in the evenings or for events, dress up in colours and sparkles, like a peacock. I think it disconcerts them occasionally and I like that!

peapodSo what does all of this mean? Conversations of late have been making me reflect on why I always seem to choose roles that are a bit unusual. I do it because I like it. But then why do I seek to conform with my dress and shoes? I think it’s probably part of what can be referred to as cultural capital – assets that lead to social mobility. I need to fit in to be taken seriously and dress may be part of how I do this. Do I give up my identity as a result? I’m not sure. I think I express my identity in different ways – a business like suit with my tiny pea-pod necklace or a beautiful scarf.

My reflections are leading me to take a look again at how I present myself – am I expressing myself in the way I want to? Are you?

belt and badges

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5 thoughts on “Standing out or fitting in – matters of dress and heels.

  1. I really enjoyed this reflection. Makes me think back many years of when I got my Navy Blue Dress and how that was such a proud moment. As an EN for many years getting my RGN and sisters uniform was one of the best moments of my life. Better than any of my degrees.

  2. Really interesting reflections, thanks for sharing.

    I never wore uniform, as I’m a mental health nurse, but worked in an area where qualified nurses wore ties (male dominant staffing where I worked, but femal qualified nurses dressed equally smartly) and care assistants wore shirts/blouses. This served to identify different staff to the people in our care at the time.

    When I took my first non-front-line role, I similarly moved into wearing suits daily and have continued since. I have high standards for my own identity and dress, but do intentionally compromise this when in different situations, i.e. meeting with individuals/groups of public/patients and am always BBE when visiting in-patient areas!

  3. I too was immensely proud to wear my staff nurse and later sisters uniform. They were impractical particularly on ITU as it was in the days of dresses and tall starched hats. However the pride and sense of belonging to the ward/unit was immeasurable and the uniform was the outward facing manifestation of that.

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