Friday, July 22, 2011

Dressing for Work

My senior year in high school, I took AP English. It was a wonderful, mind expanding course of deep literary analysis and challenging texts. In memory, AP English ranks as the greatest class of my schooling--better even than my college literature courses, because it marked the biggest advancement in my life as someone who thinks about words and language and literature. I was in heaven. Ms Hilborn, wherever you are, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

However, AP English wasn't just an excuse for a book lover like me to wallow in Dostoevsky and Beckett. The class was meant to count as college credit, to be awarded upon passing the AP exam at the end of the year. This was the first test I ever really lost sleep over. Even the SAT was just another standardized test in my mind. But the AP exam? That was a real test. Hours' worth of questions designed to test everything I'd ever learned about a single subject.

After last-minute drills in various Shakespeare works and the particulars of Theater of the Absurd, my teacher gave us practical advice for the day of our exam. Much of it was the same advice we'd all heard for years the day before a test: Get plenty of sleep; eat a good breakfast; use the bathroom before school starts.

Her final piece of advice was new to me. She told us to dress up a bit.

Statement pieces like a great necklace really
help pull a look together.
The reasoning behind her advice was this: The clothes we wear affect our thoughts and behavior. When we put on clothes different from the ones we normally wear, it changes how we act and how we think. Comfy sweats are great for lounging in front of the tv, but they lead to sluggish thoughts. If we dress in a way that is just a wee bit uncomfortable (on account of being different from our normal mode of dress), the mind is sharper and more alert. Putting on an outfit we know flatters us helps us feel more confident, and, in turn, act more confident.

This simple bit of behavioral psychology is behind the advice for job hunters to dress their best for an interview. Not only do our wardrobe choices affect the way we are perceived by others, but they affect the way we perceive and present ourselves.

For anyone who works at home, be you self employed or a telecommuter, the ability to dress comfortably is touted as a perk. With no co-workers popping in or meetings to physically attend, why not stay in pj's all day?

Well, for me, it goes back to the psychology of dressing myself. If I wear pajamas or grubby clothes, my mind just isn't as sharp as I want it to be. It's harder for me to write fiction when my clothes are contributing to a lazy frame of mind.

For those of us who only have ourselves to rely upon for the motivation to get a job done, think about how you're dressing for work. Do the clothes you're wearing make you feel professional, or are they keeping you mentally sluggish?

I have to admit that this summer I've been less disciplined with making sure I'm dressed to get work done, and you know what? I've achieved less in my writing than I would have liked. So, this morning, I fell back on my AP English teacher's advice. I put on some makeup, slipped on a dress, and even donned some slightly uncomfortable shoes. I'm ready to tackle the day and get some serious writing done.

Whimsical footwear is advised for romance writers.

The day of the AP English exam, I followed my teacher's advice. I got sleep, ate a good breakfast, and wore clothes just a bit nicer than what I normally wore to school. My classmates did the same. In a feat unmatched by any other AP course offered at our school that year, every one of us in AP English passed that exam.


  1. Cool story and great advice! That was a fantastic teacher, right there!

    .. and those shoes!!! ::swoon::

  2. My AP English teacher gave us the same advice...strange!

    Lovely shoes, btw. <3

  3. @Carrie, my sister gave me those shoes several years ago. I heart them so much!

    @Amy, perhaps it's some secret bit of AP English teacher lore. The bio and calc kids didn't get the same advice. :D

  4. How can you NOT be inspired to write with those fabulous shoes and the gorgeous polish?! I should have clicked here before cranking out my last blog post. No wonder I suffer so... totally bare feet.

    AP English teachers win the interwebs!