Sam Howard on why actually it does matter what you wear, even if no one is watching.
The day I turned freelance and knew I would be working from home forever more, was marked with an extremely cathartic wardrobe makeover.
First there was a ceremonial trip to the loft where I deposited my dry clean onlys, anything with cuffs and/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 fingerless gloves, leg warmers, hiking socks and sheepskin slippers as my extremities were in a perpetual state of perma-frost. Looking back, it was about this time that Elliot, then age 11, let me know I need not pick him up from school any more.
There was also a weird side effect of looking possibly a tad too casual by day in that I possibly over compensated of an evening: rocking up to watch the match at the neighbour’s house in full vintage; or an early evening showing of Rio sporting a doorframe-bashing bouffant; and mincing to Asda in killer heels, full make up and ‘no photos please’ sunnies. Again Elli seemed to be dawdling somewhat when it came to accompanying his mama with the trolley. No pleasing some people, I thought at the time.
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 that year 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 it slowly for the slowest of us all 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 fearless. “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 noticed in those early months, was to stay consistent in myr 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 when you ‘home office’ althoght 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 begging Gok Wan to come out of retirement.
After that talk, I began to put a decent level of care into my appearance. My making my day’s sartorial selections I found it helpful to pretend I had a mild crush on the postman this seemed to hit the right not of comfy but sassy.
Best of all, Elliot let me go and watch his school play, that it was the Rocky Horror Picture Show, had nothing to do with it.