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?

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