By: Revanche

What’s your type?

September 21, 2011

First impressions rarely survive the heat of examination

“You don’t seem to be the kind of girl/lady who [fill in the blank with any of my hobbies, interests, or responsibilities].”

Talking to @thefitlounge on Twitter about first impressions, I was amused by the idea that anyone could be offended by a wrong first impression.  They were pretty standard in my experience whether I meant to give them or not.

In college, I was described as a “Forever-21 seeming kind of girl” as someone’s confessed first impression.  As a skinny-@$$ed kid who wore tank tops and jeans on a West Coast college campus teeming with a million other lookalikes, that was not out of line as far as superficial descriptions went. I did buy tank tops at Forever 21. They were cheap, and I had other priorities. (Bills.) That’s not what he meant, of course. He meant: some variety of a spoiled Asian girl with more time and money than brains, at college because her parents made her go not because she had any goals or ambitions beyond pledging a sorority or following the trend of the month, and seeking the most fashion I could find to catch the eye of the hottest guy on campus.  We were surrounded by the like, after all.

Since then, I’ve been pegged as all kinds of other similarly superficial, very stereotypical, “female types.”  I’ve been pigeonholed professionally by bad bosses as the “bait” for vendors, clients and colleagues (ick, ugh, and laughable), I’ve been initially dismissed as “only a girl” by people who thought I couldn’t possibly deal with the pressure of X, Y, or Z because of my size or my sex, I’ve been blinked at by people who didn’t expect that I’d bleed geek or finance if you cut me.

Growing past the stereotypes 

The people who mattered got past the notion, or the outside face if it was an intentional wall I kept up not to let them in at all, that I was not just a 2-D female.  They found that I was a person with a brain and the gumption was of my determination, not dictated by size, sex, weight or anything else.  They discovered that while I could be just a simple country girl, I’m a little more complex than that.

I’ve lived a bit of life.  I’ve flown in a home-built two-seater plane with a oil tycoon to hear the story of how it was built and why it flew better than his other planes; I learned how to ride horses and practiced martial arts; I learned basic car repairs and diagnostics with mechanically savvy friends so that mechanics couldn’t just pull a fast one because gee whillikers, lil lady, this here part that doesn’t exist needs replacing.  (Though, shady mechanics will try that with anyone, male or female.)

I’ve adventured to Comic-Con in many phases: as a volunteer, as an attendee, alone, later with friends, and still later, brought friends who had never been.  And for the love of money planning, should anyone in real life accidentally ask me a finance-related question, they’ll trigger a flood of information accumulated over the years.

Then there’s all of my background and history that only lives here on my blog – none of my family or financial life is really casual conversation so on meeting me, you might assume that I had a normal family with a normal childhood and had financial support to go to college and maybe held a job or two afterward.

Working with me, you’d be really confused because I still look like some really young age but I hold an incredible amount of responsibility and I’ve got a very strict code of professionalism so I must be old, but … am I?  And I’ll never tell how old I am either.  Because where’s the fun in that?  😉

The Value of the Superficial Judgment

In all of this, I’d come to realize that while it was valuable that I didn’t actually care what certain people (the average person on the street) thought of me, the fact that in general, people tend to judge based on appearances meant that any efforts put into directing those thoughts could make a difference where it’s important.

I do care whether people think of me as a “young professional” or don’t really think about my age at all because my physical attributes are just groomed enough to walk a middle ground of dressing for success at the level I want to be at but not being casual (like our C-suite) or overly gussied up.

That’s where Shelley’s suggestion of creating a “uniform” of sorts makes sense to me. I can’t afford a fully kitted out wardrobe with a huge variety of options and I don’t need it either. But a small, carefully crafted professional set of clothing to last a week is just about right.

I rely on the first impression that my professional dress will convey: that I’m someone to take seriously because I’m well-groomed and take my job and career seriously, to offset the first impression that I know my usual lackadaisical self would have given.  And then my work speaks for me.

In everyday life, I’m a casual person so I dress accordingly so as not to give the impression that I’m anything different.  In that “version” of me, I’m not motivated to dress much more nicely on average since I like to be able to play with dogs, read, work on the computer, do household chores, cook, clean, run errands, or any number of random things.  And I’m often reserving the good stuff for work. 🙂  I might be cleaning up my act a little bit overall and eliminating some of the far-too-casual from my wardrobe as I creep toward my 30s but on the whole, comfort is the watchword for the weekends.

:: Have you been commonly stereotyped in the past or present?  Was it a stereotype that bothered you or worked for you?  
:: Are you a different version of yourself in different places? 

Related Topics:
Fabulously Broke on Does holding or wearing designer anything, automatically mean you’re a high maintenance shopaholic?
Stacking Pennies on Designer Brands

9 Responses to “What’s your type?”

  1. Oh, I’ve definitely been stereotyped! Haha. I usually get pegged as a nurse, teacher, or something else that’s quite girly. No one ever expects the petite girl in a dress and heels to be a mechanical engineer working in petroleum or heavy civil construction.

    I worked it to my advantage for a while; people would be on their toes and wouldn’t really know what to do with me, so if I asked for something they usually just did it. Some people tried hard to pigeon hole me though, which really sucked. Now I work in a group with really diverse backgrounds, so we all have different skills to bring to the mix. I haven’t had any problems at my new work location.

  2. yepp. i’m a petite female, the youngest both interms of age and experience in my department. plus i look younger than my age due to my asian genes. So i dress very professional for work to combat the impression that i’m naive and not someone to be taken seriously. while most people on my floor dress business casual, i’m in a suit 3 days a week. I think it helps a bit.

    My work and personal persona have aligned a bit. While I’m a lot more fun-loving in my leisure time, I’ve actually come to dress more professional in my everyday life too, just because i spend more on my work clothes and they do look nicer. I’d never wear a suit on my days off though 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    When I was younger, I was told that part of the reason I was hired for a receptionist job was because I would ‘look cute out there’ and make the clients ‘happy’. Also, my first post-college boss seemed absolutely shocked that I had zero interest in sleeping with him and kind of made my life miserable for the rest of the time that I was there. Just when you think that those days are long gone… -B

  4. What an extraordinarily well-written post. Kudos, Revanche.

    I get stereotyped all the time and it makes me laugh, usually. When at the mall trying to resucitate my five-year-old iPod, a saleswoman tried to sell me a cell phone cover. You know, from one of those kiosks? She took a look at me in my floral dress, pleated full skirt and all, and pulled out several glittering and bedazzled options. I bought one with a skull and crossbones on it.

    The flip side of that is my new friends who only know me from Dragon Boating. They see me in work out clothes on the water, with a couple of my tattoos showing. One man said, You’re an attorney? BUT YOU HAVE TATTOOS!

    So it goes both ways. I prefer to be underestimated in general, so that the joke can be on them.

  5. Such an interesting post. One of my best friends from college confessed to hating me for months before we finally hit it off because she took my quiet nature as self-centered arrogance. She told me, “Pretty, quiet girls are usually super stuck up,” and she was surprised once we got to know one another how untrue it was of me.

    I love that you said you’d bleed geek and finance! Made me laugh.

  6. Interesting post!

    LOL! I’ve been little-womaned so many times by so many people, I just assume that being female = being stereotyped.

    But you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet. Wait till you get old…then you’ll see some serious stereotyping, including the assumption that little old ladies are afraid of getting old and welcome patronizing reassurances that they’re NOT old. {snorfle!}

    What’s interesting, too, is how even those of us who would like not to stereotype others actually do, despite our best intentions. I still find myself not being able to get past the totally unwarranted assumption that one bovine teller at the credit union must be dumb as an ox. That’s so totally unfair, but as much as I look the woman in the eye and try to make get-to-know-you small talk, I don’t seem to be getting past it.

    LOL. O’course, the fact that she almost deposited something over $1,000 in someone else’s account may have something to do with it. Even after I caught her before she did it, she STILL couldn’t understand that the check was written on my corporation’s account. It took the branch manager to get the money deposited correctly. Maybe she was making the stereotypical assumption that a little old lady in Costco jeans couldn’t possibly own a business???

  7. mOOm says:

    People often seem to think I’m a grad student or post-doc though I’m a full professor 🙂 (and 46 years old with some grey hair) I think the former are more common so it is a safer guess.

  8. Shelley says:

    Thanks for the link…I’m glad you liked the suggestion. When I was in high school I deliberately dressed differently each day, and actually spoke to different people as well. Groups seemed to me to be so frozen – you were a hippie, a preppie, a jock or a bookworm (I graduated in 1972, so it was a different world to now, I know). My problem was that I liked aspects of all of those personas and couldn’t choose which I wanted to be. Besides, it was fun and I think I widened the experience I would have had if I’d stayed in my usual introverted solitude. Mind, it was a game for me, I wasn’t really all that brave.

    I went to work full time at 17 and it was a different world at work, too. Men were automatically the supervisors even if they were just out of high school and ‘managing’ women old enough to be their grandmothers. Job interviewers felt free to ask if I was using birth control when they learned I was going to get married (when I was 21). Being 5’3″, slender and having long blonde hair probably didn’t help me much, but I was 24 before I had my first hair cut. Truth be known, I’m not certain that the stereotype wasn’t at least partially descriptive in my case, unless it included children, housework and being financial dependent. I took a long time to grow up and I like to think I’m still doing that to some extent.

    As to work vs home wear, I’m with you – I dress for comfort at home and if I can do that with a little extra effort and make it look reasonably good, even better, but I’m not willing to be uncomfortable for vanity’s sakes. I did my best to dress appropriately for work, back in the days when the ‘Dress for Success’ book first came out. I suspect I was a bit boring. The other thing about clothes for me in the latter part of my working days was that I wanted to clearly delineate work time from home time. I didn’t take personal issues to work with me and I resisted taking work home as much as I could. I know that’s less and less possible for lots of folks these days and it’s one of the reasons I dived out early.

    Good luck with building your uniform!

  9. Revanche says:

    @diggingoutandup: Pigeonholing is REALLY annoying. It always gets the double-eyebrow from me.

    @My money: Definitely I’d never wear a suit offline 🙂 But I even outdress my boss because he’s pretty casual and it takes professional dress for me not to look like a kid so that could be awkward if he cared 😛

    @B: GR! Stuff like that is definitely still around and gets my dander up.

    @Dogfood Provider: LOL because an attorney would NEVER have tattoos? I don’t know any attorneys who don’t … but maybe that’s the subset that happen to fit your mold in this very same way 😉

    @Clare: You know, that’s what people thought of one of my girlfriends. “She must be angry all the time or stuck up.”

    Um, no. She’s actually really incredibly shy around strangers.

    @FaM: It’s totally your fault for not being a stereotypical old lady, Funny! 😉 You were throwing her off!

    Hah, well, let’s be honest. If she were completely competent, I feel like she could have dealt with such a blow.

    @mOOm: I fear for your post-docs if they’re already greying! 😉

    @Shelley: !! I still can’t get over what people felt free to ask back then. I’m not sure I would have maintained my composure.

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