Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Long (or Mostly Short) of Flats

Contrary to popular belief I am not opposed to flat shoes. I don't prefer them, but I'm definitely not opposed. But just like other articles of clothing and accessories (ahem yoga pants and other workout attire), there is definitely a time and a place.

In April The Atlantic did a piece about how wearing a suit changes one's thought process. A direct quote from the article: “Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world” (from Abraham Rutchick, an author of the study and a professor of psychology at California State University, Northridge). I could not agree more that wearing something formal makes me feel more powerful. When I am wearing a cocktail dress I feel like I can conquer the world. Actually I feel like that all the time, so I'm pretty lethal in a cocktail dress and heels.

My wardrobe is filled with flattering dresses and high heels. If I have a meeting or a day where I'm meeting new people I feel the need to impress, there is a 100% certainty I will be wearing one of those dresses and killer shoes. I love the look of a casual dress with flats or a skinny jean and flats, but that look is inherently more casual. I think flats work better with pants or a-line skirts. But if someone shows up trying to impress me in a pencil skirt (the working woman's second most powerful weapon) and flats, I immediately take them less seriously.

I often see college aged or women newly out of college wearing flats with formal workwear. I think it makes them look like a child playing dressup. A few months ago I went to a presentation done by two University of Michigan graduate students. The room was full of lobbyists and policy makers, and these women (in their early 20s) were wearing pencil skirts, blazers and flats. I immediately thought them less influential. Woman up and put on some big girl shoes. You'd be amazed at how it feels.

There are lots of times when flats are more practical. While I'm rarely going to wear them in a formal work setting, I know it's because I'm stubborn. I think they work on a long legislative session night or when you're walking a lot. But when you're presenting or meeting new people or looking to really make an impression, you've got to be REALLY impressive to pull off flats. How you feel about yourself is part of what makes a strong impression. If the Atlantic study is any indication, women who wear more formal clothing (I would include heels in that) feel more powerful.

It's hard enough being a woman in the workplace, and in particular it's tough being a young woman. I remember being 25 and getting the feeling I was being patted on the head and placated. What helped get me through that was the confidence that I both looked and felt amazing. I felt powerful and smart. The popularity of the show What Not to Wear shows that people do judge you by how you look. Whether they should or not, they do. So swing for the fences.

I recently bought two new pairs of flats and flat sandals to wear when walking downtown from my house. My feet can handle heels for a mile walk, but I realize during casual occasions that I need to compromise. Professionally, however, I will not settle for anything less than what makes me feel the most authoritative and commanding self. That, my friends, means high heels.

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