I’m very driven by what I do. I am certainly very competitive. I like people who represent the best at what they do, and if that turns you into a perfectionist, then maybe I am. —Anna Wintour
Imagine getting up every morning knowing that what you choose to wear could affect your income for the day. What would you choose? Stylish dress with heels that can’t be ignored? Colorful separates with the new ballet flats that are all the rage? Perhaps a dress suit for that meeting this afternoon.
Among the list of characteristics that one might give Americans, casual and competitive are two that would seem to be at odds with each other. How can one be competitive and any portion of them still be relaxed? The answer, of course, is that we’re not competitive and casual about the same things. We’re competitive about our sports, obviously, and a lot of people are competitive about work. Some are competitive about how much stuff they have and what kind of stuff it is. At the same time, we’re very casual about things such as how we dress, what we wear when we go to the store, and how people perceive us when we’re “off duty.”
Many of our workplaces have dress codes, some of which are driven by safety requirements or a need for uniformity and visual recognition. However, what if you were graded based on how stylish you are? Perhaps even more frightening, what would life be like if your compensation and eligibility for advancement were connected to how on trend you are in your choice of clothing? How would that change your life?
Dressing To Be Seen
There is an interesting article in this past Wednesday’s New York Times that is titled The Situation With Street Style. Coming at the end of a month’s worth of fashion shows, the article focuses on an aspect of fashion that has not only changed dramatically but become rather competitive. Before the advent of social media and hordes of street style photographers lingering outside every runway venue, most editors and buyers dressed for anonymity. Part of doing their job was to report on the fashion, not be the fashion. So, they dressed in monochrome outfits that were stylishly boring and reasonably comfortable. Those 14- to 16-hour days can be grueling, so best to dress for the long haul.
However, now there are a number of editors and buyers whose Instagram accounts are followed by hundreds of thousands of people. Being anonymous is no longer an option. Everyone who enters a fashion show, especially those in Europe, is photographed multiple times. Pictures are uploaded to Instagram and other social media almost immediately and those who are recognizable are tagged. For those who once enjoyed anonymity, how they dress has become a liability.
Street style among those who attend Europe’s fashion shows is now competitive. Anna Dello Russo, an editor at large for Vogue Japan, changes her clothes as many as six times a day during fashion weeks so that she’s not continually photographed wearing the same thing as she moves from show to show. For many, dressing stylishly enough to capture the attention of street style photographers isn’t a bonus, but a requirement for the job. They must dress to attract attention which, in turn, drives sales for advertisers.
Taking Competition To The Next Level
Would being competitive about how we dress really be all that bad? In some ways, we are already there. The whole reason many schools have switched to requiring uniforms is because, allegedly, individual style had become so competitive that it was giving rise to theft and bullying. Teenagers can take anything and make it hyper-competitive and sometimes that isn’t a good thing. We also see the same competitiveness in urban cultures where the amount and kind of “bling” one wears is a status symbol. The concept of competitive styling really isn’t that foreign to us.
We tend to push off a lot of the competitiveness as we get older. We’re told to work more as a team and to do that we have to set aside at least a certain portion of our competitive drive. We start dressing similarly to those around us, careful to not dress higher than our status. For example, if one’s immediate supervisor dresses in khaki and cotton button-down shirts, wearing a suit and tie might be seen as an aggressively competitive move. Americans are much more comfortable taking a casual approach to clothing in large part because it feels more friendly.
Competitive dressing could potentially be a good thing, though. Taking our appearance more seriously encourages us to take other things more seriously, especially the work we do. When we put more effort into how we dress, our attitude changes. We tend to act more determined, more focused, and more driven. Women who dress stylishly not only command more attention but also give more attention to their peers. Men who are more attentive to how they dress are generally seen as being more reliable and trustworthy. Being competitive in our everyday style could be a good thing for all of us.
How We Score
Of course, if we’re creating a competition, then we need a scoring system that reflects current trends but doesn’t punish those who can’t afford designer labels. Being able to pull together different pieces to create a unique and attractive look needs to have greater value than merely copying what was on the runway. Taking something simple and turning it into something fabulous would earn bonus points. Companies could have a special employee Instagram account with rewards given for those whose style generates the most likes.
Extreme fashion makes assessing penalties difficult, though. It’s not like one could be dinged for wearing pajamas to work when we’ve seen multiple instances of pajamas on the runway mixed with things like suit jackets and button-down shirts. Then, there’s the question of how to address the inherent sensuality of some designs. Sheer was huge on the runway this season as was wearing bras outside one’s clothing. Addressing what is appropriate without being unnecessarily inhibitive could be challenging.
Ultimately, though, I think putting more emphasis on how we dress, on styling ourselves to attract attention rather than avoid it, might be just the attitude adjustment we’ve been needing. We need to think more of ourselves rather than trying to hide. Our society and culture shouldn’t be dominated by a handful who happen to dress better than everyone else. Going to the effort of looking good, and let’s face it, looking good takes some serious effort, should be rewarded, not discouraged. Perhaps being compensated for making an effort might encourage more people to make an effort. I see that as being a positive thing.
Competitive street styling, your time has come.