Midweek this week, a colleague came into work with fluorescent pink laces in her black trainers. She's part of the cleaning team and is required to wear a uniform, but when we got talking I commented on the flash of individuality on her feet and how little colour my work-wardrobe usually involves. Deciding what to wear the next day our conversation came to mind and I picked out a skirt I haven't worn in at least three or four years.
This one survived the great cull of 2010 - partly for sentimental reasons. It's a calf-length 'gypsy' skirt, with bright embroidery and tiny mirrors stitched right the way round at the thigh and knee. In a word, it's "pretty": not beautiful, or particularly intricate, or wildly original - it's just a full-bodied, colourful, mass-produced skirt. With a scarf, boots and bangles it's capable of being outlandish but a plain top and blazer and it's almost conservative.
I can't remember exactly how I wore it when it was new back in 2005, but I do know that I choose it as the centre-piece of my outfit for the first of a three-day Oxbridge interview. I was 18; I had never stepped foot in the University city let alone the quad of the college that was eventually to become home for 4 years, and I'd only recently made the mental transition from assuming I would do English and Music somewhere local to applying to read Law in a place so steeped in tradition.
The consensus is that first impressions are important, and I'm not going to go against the grain on that one. But I do think that to even stand a chance of coming across well, it's crucial to be comfortable - to know why you're where you are and to know who you are in that context. This skirt helped me do that. Without straying beyond the bounds of what was appropriate, it enabled me to be colourful - in my appearance, but also in my conversation and my thinking.
It's been good to get re-acquainted with it and find new ways of wearing it after all these years. It's been even better to remember that being myself is the most constructive thing I can do as I look to make progress in work and in life.
'Wardrobe Stories' are a string of posts helping me to appreciate the clothes and accessories I own in an atmosphere where it's easy to end up taking things for granted.