This is a concern that arises frequently with my clients. They want to step up their style quotient, but they don’t want to look too dressed up because it invites questions like, “why are you dressed up?”, “where are you going today?” or “are you going to an interview?”.

Why do people ask these questions? Why does it make my clients uncomfortable? And what can they do about it? I’ve thought about these questions a lot.

I think that the root of the issue is that human beings are very good at identifying differences and sometimes these differences make us uncomfortable. In the case of my clients, there are two main reasons that are driving people to ask about their new style:

  1. They are dressed differently to other people in their environment
  2. They are dressed differently to the way they dressed before

If you are dealing with this issue, it might help to think about which case is the most relevant to your situation.

Challenging the Environmental Norm

A typical example of the first case is the professional technical woman who would like to be more pulled together at work. But the rest of her colleagues, male and female, dress very casually (to put it politely). When she reveals her new style, she will stand out. People will notice her.

Another example is the stay at home mother who would like to look fashionable and cute. But she’s surrounded by women who wear jeans, t-shirts, hoodies and Dansko clogs. When she fetches her children from school in a casual empire cut dress, denim jacket and ballet flats, she too stands out and people notice her.

In these situations my clients have a decision to make. Should they dress down to the norm at work and on the playground, or should they be different? I would love it if everyone could dress exactly the way they pleased, but there are realities here. If dressing up too much will reduce their effectiveness then they need to think carefully about this decision. One thing to do is look at other people who have a higher style quotient than the norm. Are there role models who are effective and stylish?

Changing your Individual Norm

The second case is easier to deal with, and is actually more often than not the real reason for my client’s discomfort. People notice the new her. They see the change and they are curious, or even envious. Here it has little to do with the environmental norm, and everything to do with her metamorphosis. She is changing her individual norm.

In this case, the answer is clear. Persevere! She just has to get through a temporary period of adjustment – for her and the people around her. Most of the time, my clients persevere like troopers and I’m so proud of them as they establish a new norm for themselves. People settle into their new style, expect them to look fab and pulled together, and the questions fade away.

I’ve never been asked why I’m dressed up. I guess that’s one of the joys of being in the fashion industry. People let you off the hook when you’re “dressed up”, no matter what the occasion.

Do you deal with this issue? How have you dealt with it? Do you purposely dress down in order to fit in? Or do you stand your ground and set the stylish example?