No More Monkey Business

I scanned the clothes in my closet and realized that I had nothing to wear. A friend had invited me to an event she organized for her new employer – one of those corporate breakfasts that purportedly allows you to enjoy the best of two worlds: network with a great group of people and absorb words of wisdom from an esteemed group of panelists, and still get to your desk job at a decent hour.

Which is all well and good when you normally wake up at the crack of dawn to go to work, but challenging when you no longer need to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to work.  Happy that my friend thought of me and grateful for the invitation, I convinced myself that the event would be good for me – you never know who might require freelance writing services. The girls were off from school and I enlisted Chloe to babysit Sophie. I rolled out of bed and hustled to get ready because I was already running late. And that’s when I opened my closet doors and froze.

Ever since quitting the corporate rat race 18 months ago, I have not worn or bought anything remotely appropriate for the corporate rat race.  And in an attempt to start taking better care of myself after I left my job, I lost a good deal of weight.  I donated the majority of my “professional” wardrobe and replaced it all with jeans. And more jeans. And a few more pairs of jeans in stylish colors, just for good measure.

I was in a rush to hit the road – the weather was abominable and the event was a good 30 minutes away on a sunny day.  I quickly glanced at the lonely black skirt, still bedecked with tags, hanging in my closet. I compulsively bought it last year after struggling to dress myself for a funeral (thinking, at the time, that I should get a black skirt ASAP so that I’d be equipped for the next funeral). I contemplated the skirt for about 30 seconds before deciding it was too nasty and cold outside to wear it.

Instead, I put on a pair of jeans, which I accessorized with a decent pair of shoes and a blouse. And honestly, I didn’t really give it another thought. Until I arrived at the venue, grabbed my name tag and walked inside the crowded ballroom.

Where I suddenly felt like an extremely self-conscious emperor in new clothes. Given the women-centric theme of the event, I had mistakenly assumed that the majority of guests would be women. And that it would be a more intimate and somewhat casual gathering.  Wrong on both counts. The audience was surprisingly heavy on the testosterone. And the large room was packed.  Everyone was wearing business attire – i.e., a suit in a shade of black or navy.

Bronx Zoo 2
Monkey’s glare = the glare I would have given myself in jeans when I was still a corporate hack

I had apparently landed on another planet. One that was once familiar to me but had since become a distant memory.  Had I bothered to pay any attention before getting behind the wheel of my car earlier that morning, there were missed clues everywhere.  The event took place at a country club. My friend’s new employer is a straight-laced regional professional services firm. Most of the speakers were a decade or two older than me.

What the hell had I been thinking? Had I really forgotten – after only 18 months – what I should wear to this kind of gathering? Or had my subconscious decided to project a big  ‘fuck you’ to the world I’d happily left behind?

I arrived late and missed the opportunity to meaningfully network. So I quickly grabbed a seat and hid my lower extremities under the tablecloth. I was able to practice my new “I’m a writer” elevator speech all of two times with a couple of women who sat down at my table. The presentation began shortly afterwards.  I left as soon as the Q&A started – the event ran long and I needed to get home.

As I drove away from the country club, I started to laugh. The thing is, I know how to navigate the corporate world. I spent years immersed in it and dressing the part. But I’ve always said that my dream job would be one where I could wear jeans every day. Now that I essentially have my dream job – writer! – my experience last week has led me to conclude that I may need to make a tiny bit of room in my closet for an outfit that will help me attract clients (not those kind of clients, people!) instead of repel them.

Have you ever felt like a fish out of water in a sea you used to know?

P.S. The monkeys are really a propos of nothing, but I took the photos at the Bronx Zoo a couple of weeks ago and I just love how damn expressive they are!



12 thoughts on “No More Monkey Business”

  1. This made me smile. Having recently attended an interview for a part-time role (which, incidentally, I didn’t get) after vowing never to return to the corporate world, imagine my delight when I learned their dress code was smart/casual. i.e., EVERYONE was wearing jeans. Choosing an outfit which would both impress and yet fit in with their casual style was more difficult than I’d have imagined. Needless to say, I was pretty gutted when I didn’t get the job. Jeans are the way forward and essential for confidence, comfort and creativity 🙂

    1. Yes, Fiona! Jeans are the way forward. And I am sure you will find that ideal job – the one that allows you to wear jeans – soon. Best of luck to you in your search. Thanks for stopping by to read my post.

  2. Thanks for your post and thrilled to see you’re back at writing! Your comments are so apropos (I’ve had more of these bfast/lunch/dinner/galas than I care to admit, and invitations ring fewer the more “off” I appear). This week I’m stepping back into the corporate world for the first time since Cleary, capping off years of small biz/nonprofit work and two years’ consulting and writing in yoga pants and not hair-styling. Daunted by the fashion question, but thankful that here on the Left Coast the trick question seems to be – which shoes appropriately dress up what office jeans? : )

    1. Hi there, Sophia. Congrats on the new gig – I wish you much success. There are days when I think I’d be much better off on the west coast – just for the jeans culture alone (and fashionable shoes – I can do that)…I hope all is well with you and your beautiful family.

  3. Sometimes at this big corporate networking events a writer in jeans is not a big “fuck you” at all, but what the corporate folks who have to wear suits all day expect – and envy/resent: an artist type who gets to do what she wants. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, if you HAD looked like them, if it wouldn’t have impinged on your credibility. 😉

    1. That’s a great point, Paula! I’ll have to keep that in mind next time – maybe I’ll even intentionally experiment in jeans and arrive early enough to network – and see what happens. At least I’ll stick out in the crowd!

  4. The monkeys drew me in. Don’t you think they’re expressive of how you felt? And it seems to me that client-types like their writer-types to express a bit of creative flair. Therefore, wear your jeans with your coolest business-casual jacket and adorn it with artsy handmade jewelry and show ’em who you are!

    1. Jann, the more I think about it the more I think you’re right – I just have to own it! And the monkeys were indeed a bit expressive of how I felt. Plus, they’re just so darn cute. Thanks for stopping by!

    2. I agree with Jann – the “artist/author” thing totally gives you a pass on casual dress. Dress it up to the point where you don’t feel as though you’re standing beneath a bright and unwelcome spotlight and you’ll be fine! 🙂

Like What You've Read? Let me know!