Sam Howard on why actually it does matter what you wear even if no one is watching.
The day I turned freelance was marked by a ceremonial trip to the loft where I deposited my dry clean onlys, anything with cuffs or collars and my entire collection of 40 denier. As for the suits I gleefully deposited the lot at Oxfam with a note of apology.
On the way home I popped into M&S for several pairs of their finest tracky bottoms, (first time I have ever considered velour as a valid option) and tatty Ts. ‘That’s me.’ I thought, ‘I’m a proper freelancer now, all chill and unassuming with an elasticated waist’.
Over time this basic uniform was added to with several layers of indeterminate styling but always including leg warmers, hiking socks and sheepskin slippers as my tootsies were in a perpetual state of perma-frost. Looking back, it was about this time that Elliot said I need not pick him up from school any more.
There was also a weird side effect of looking a tad casual by day in that I possibly over compensated of an evening: rocking up to watch the match on the neighbour’s HD in full vintage;, an early evening showing of Rio sporting a doorframe-bashing bouffant; and mincing to Asda in killer heels, full make up & ‘no photos please’ sunnies. Again Elli seemed to be dawdling somewhat when it came to accompanying his mama with the trolley.I’m not sure where it might have ended, (what is the female equivalent of a wife-beater vest?) if it hadn’t have been for the very lovely Cherry Chappell, who recently gave an inspiring chat on the joys of freelance at the CIPR.
“The thing is,” she began solemnly, “One is never to wear slippers,” and I felt her eyes bore into mine, as if she knew! “It’s very, very important.” she said slowly for the slowest of us to catch up.
The reason why it was so important, she explained, was because I was very important now too. Indeed I was the CEO and the President of My Own Company. And as the CEO and President of My Own Company I should dress accordingly, affording myself the respect I deserved for being so very brave and clever. “And that starts,” she said making her hands into a steeple, “By how you chose to dress.”And the thing is I can see she has a point. One of the trickiest things I have noticed in these early months, is to stay consistent in your self-belief. You no longer have the job title, the rank and recognition that you had in the ‘real world’, nor do you have the support and sense of perspective your cronies gave you, cackling around the water cooler swapping ‘you think you’re having a bad day’ horror stories. You can only look to yourself for courage and encouragement. But if ‘yourself’ looks unemployable, then it’s not really going to give you that boost you need. Because in freelance as much as there isn’t anyone to rain on your parade, there’s no one to tell you you’re a little superstar either. That’s your job now. You need to look in the mirror and feel quietly confident – not like calling NHS Direct.
So thanks to Cherry’s fashion fix, these days I put a decent level of care into my appearance, even the flip flops are colour coordinated. Best of all, Elliot said if I keep this up he’ll let me come and watch his school play. Though part of me still hopes it’s the Rocky Horror Picture Show.