Why Do You Feel the Need to Live Small?


After the post I did on What To Wear to Look Smart in a Casual Environment the other day I received some interesting comments, one of which, that I loved was from Duchesse:

Anonymous: Be your beautiful, well-dressed self! Let them look, they might learn something. As Marianne Williamson says, Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

Reject a culture of collusion that holds people down.


I heartily agree, and do wonder why so many feel pressured by their environment to subvert their own desires to look and feel great?

I have always dressed up, not down, always felt it better to raise the tone than lower it. Interestingly in one of my previous workplaces, when I started working there jeans were de rigeur, but as I only owned suits and smarter clothes (and felt that was appropriate for work) wore them and within a couple of years, everyone was dressing smarter and it became the new culture of the workplace.

When I was a new mother and with all that baby vomit and lack of sleep, my mothers group friends would all wear tracksuits and sneakers, something I’ve never felt comfortable wearing anywhere but to a gym or doing exercise, so as soon as I’d got past that early vomit stage, I started dressing better, a nicer pair of pants (they were from Target, nothing fancy) and a top with a piece of industrial jewellery that my baby couldn’t break, and ballet flats or flat boots rather than sneaker style shoes, but something that was still comfortable that I could walk around pushing a pram in. To start with I’d get comments on being dressed up, but soon afterwards other mums followed my lead, gave up the tracksuit pants for at least jeans and some more elegant shoes and a less sloppy top.

Yes it may feel a little strange at first, you will get comments, but it won’t take long for people to get used to the new you, and often then they realise that they too want to feel smarter themselves and follow your lead. Go on, shine!

What do you think? Have you had any experiences like this?


Why Do You Feel the Need to Live Small_ New

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  • One of my dear friends is always well dressed, but some times she takes it to a whole other level. She has random party dress days. When she first did it, I felt very underdressed. Now I check when we chat – party dress? It gives me a chance to show off my beautiful things and we get to feel fabulous together.

  • I so agree, though at times I've felt as though I should "tone it down" a bit to blend in. During many periods of my life, I've dressed up more than those around me, and have caught some flak for that. I'm working hard to get over it, and to relish standing out rather than blending in.

  • I'm with Pseu – I've been making more of an effort with dressing so I feel good about how I look, and it has prompted a lot of questions such as 'oh, are you meeting a client today?'. The temptation is then to go back to boring jeans and t-shirts so that nobody comments, but I'm resisting that urge …

  • I have SO had experiences like this. I started emerging from the haze of the first year with twins several months ago. With fewer naps to work around we're out and about much more than we used to be and I often get the "Wow! You're dressed up!" But even during the "exhausted and overwhelmed" phase, I would dress to make myself feel better. A denim pencil skirt, clean shirt, and necklace (that I restrung on elastic jewelry thread to withstand the pulling!) are no harder to throw on than schlumpy track suits and tennis shoes. I love that "party dress day" idea!

  • Funny I should read this just now. I work in a small country town. When I went out at lunch time today a stranger in the street said to me, "you don't belong in Mullumbimby dressed like that, you should be in Paris". I've been smiling ever since.

  • The timing of this post!

    My office is weird. The men dress business casual and the women dress casual (and most if it is not business appropriate).

    For the longest time I felt great pressure to tone it down because even my direct supervisor dresses the very casual side of business casual most of the time.

    But I decided just today that I am going to take a stand and dress the way I feel is appropriate – business casual with an emphasis on business – and the flip flop and sundress /sky high heels and sausage casing outfit wearing women in my office can go pound sand.
    I have to much work to do to let being concerned about dressing like the natives when I know it isn't right slow me down.

    I have noted (and it was pointed out to me again today when ironically the subject of inappropriate dress came up) that I get the respect and the lion's share of the billable work for a reason.

    In this case, the message was dressing appropriately also sends a message about your credibility, competence and intelligence.

    Because besides feeling good about yourself (and don't get me wrong that is major), in the business world, isn't it also about succeeding, or perhaps not failing to succeed because you didn't project the right/positive image?

    (blogger will not let me post with my id lorrwill.wordpress.com)

  • I totally agree. I grew up in Tennessee, and my Mother was a genteel southern lady who could wouk like a "field hand" in the yard but never left the house without looking nice, she rarely wore pants, never to church…shoes and bag that matched, pearls and earrings. When I was in Nursing school the dorm was connected to the classroom building, mostly girls, it got pretty sloppy. I started wearing a skirt on fridays, everybody asked me if I had a date, and they found it strange that I would dress up for myself. Others started doing it, though. Now as a nurse, I think we have lost ground by wearing "scrubs' and I strive for uniforms with some pizazz, or 'chic' my Mother would have called it. The patients and my coworkers treat me differently when I look like a professional and not like I wore my pajamas to work. Thanks for letting me vent!

  • I totally agree. I grew up in Tennessee, and my Mother was a genteel southern lady who could wouk like a "field hand" in the yard but never left the house without looking nice, she rarely wore pants, never to church…shoes and bag that matched, pearls and earrings. When I was in Nursing school the dorm was connected to the classroom building, mostly girls, it got pretty sloppy. I started wearing a skirt on fridays, everybody asked me if I had a date, and they found it strange that I would dress up for myself. Others started doing it, though. Now as a nurse, I think we have lost ground by wearing "scrubs' and I strive for uniforms with some pizazz, or 'chic' my Mother would have called it. The patients and my coworkers treat me differently when I look like a professional and not like I wore my pajamas to work. Thanks for letting me vent!

  • Oh, I love the quote of MW. It is also so true. We are here only for a short period of time, why not make/take the best of each day. I have practiced this in buying only the best I can afford. Now is the time to take out the best and use it. Actually people don´t pay so much attention to what you wear, unless you dress like a clown ; )

  • Thank you Duchesse for your uplifting comment.
    I do agree with you when I really think about it but really living it seems to be another story…

    I thought about your question Imogen, why do we feel the need to live small?
    I was surprised about how many of us feel this pressure.
    I thought about it and as for me it is about belonging somewhere.
    I have moved to where I live now from a different country where "what's normal/appropriate for a woman" was also different.
    I even think it was the complete opposite which means that it was normal for a woman to be dressed nicely. Not overly chic or revealing, just something that would fit her body and style.
    A woman wearing only jeans and sneakers all the time would have been looked at I think.

    But now that I live here I want to blend in. I want to belong to those people and I want these women to like me.
    I don't want to be "this woman who moved here from far away". I want to be one of them.

    I thought about the effect that if you dress well for a while other people will do it too.
    I like the idea of this but how do you get there?

    Two weeks ago I wore a beautifully patterned new summer dress to a social meeting. I got so much attention from both men and women, most would stare at me and say nothing. (The dress was not revealing or tight or anything. I was just the only dress as the other woman wore jeans and t-shirt.)
    I just couldn't take it.
    Even though I guess that not all the people who stared at me hated it. I guess some might have liked it or maybe would want to dress like this themselves. But I couldn't handle this kind of attention.
    I have not worn the dress again, even though I really like it.

    I seem not to be able to stick out.
    So am I a chicken?
    And how can I become braver?
    Is there anything you can do to train yourself?
    I'm not a chicken at all when it comes to giving my oppinion about something but this I seem not to be able to handle.

    Or is it just the way I am? Are some woman more shy then others when it comes to their appearance?

    I would really love to know what the brever ones of you think in those moments when people stare at you.
    I get a panic attack inside – don't you?
    How to you motivate yourself not to give up and blend in?
    Is this something one can learn or do you have to have it?

  • Anonymous, I have the same problem as you! I live in a rural part of the UK and own horses. *Everyone* around here wears jeans and those who ride practically live in their riding clothes. Not only that, but if you wear ultra matching or even new-looking Barbour jackets, for example, you are labelled as a "townie" as "real" country people sort of blend in! I love to look good, but if I wear anything other than jeans I get asked where I'm going etc! I feel as though I have two looks/personas: the riding and country one, and the the one who goes into town, shopping out with friends and can wear nicer clothes (if that makes sense!) Wearing anything at all formal does not work – I need to look casual at all times. I don't work full-time, so don't need a work wardrobe. Looking appropriately dressed for around here and wearing what I would like do not seem to go hand in hand.

  • I've never gotten negative comments in person, but I know that people can be absolutely merciless. It takes a lot of energy to stand out, and I think sometimes that wears people down. But I completely agree overall: Shine, and let others adjust to your wattage.

  • Great topic! For me when I feel over dressed in a party for instance, a shame comes from having "over worked" my look. Maybe little too much jewelry or make up. Then I realize I like wise natural beauty shining from within. Sooo, little is better, but there is the art: Knowing yourself enough and how to look and feel great, even with not much on. Cause there you always are you. In front of the clothe industry we all need little help I guess. Thanks to Imogen for sharing so generously.

  • Honestly I do a lot of "toning down." I'll come up with a great outfit but then I'll think "really, Kelly? to work?" and then I'll work to dress it down. I don't like it, but when I dress my best I am just totally out of place at work/with my friends/wherever. And I've heard some not-so-great things about it from other people. I'm still the most dressed up person at my office most days from what I can tell, and I know it makes me stand out. And I'm not sure I stand out in a good way. I still get all flustered and start grabbing for an "excuse" to look nice when someone says "oh you're dressed up today" or "I'm not used to seeing someone in a dress around here."

    I'm working on it, but it's hard.

  • Despite decades of interest in textiles and fashion history, I dressed crappily for many years.

    Now that I dress with more intent, I do find myself vulnerable to relapse when I'm in places that don't seem to care about the larger signals clothing can send and/or don't support or encourage doing more than basic self-care.

    That environmental description comes from my friend Fizz, actually, who went from being relatively stylish — in a West Coast U.S. urban casual way — to being down where I used to be.

    When I asked her how she slid, she said she found it hard to work/live in places where people either don’t use clothing for personal expression or they dial their efforts way back so they fit into the overall culture. She added:

    “I’m realizing that I have a tendency to subconsciously absorb what others are doing, then incorporate it into my style or behavior. Between my co-workers and living in a very casual city, my wardrobe went into a death spiral without my really noticing it."

    So I think it's very easy to "live small," and it's even easier when one is overwhelmed with or depressed by one's life (or certain aspects thereof).

    Whether one pushes back or goes with the norms seems to be heavily dependent on personality and overall goals…because as others have mentioned above, it can be a risk to stand out.

  • Great conversation!
    I too, take time to dress the way that makes me feel good. I sat not too long ago in a beautiful hotel lobby and watched the people coming and going. It is amazing that people have no sense of 'self appreciation' and are basically 'slobs'. Too bad, it takes just as much effort to be sloppy as it does to pull together.

  • Wow there is some fascinating discussion going on here. I've never lived in a really rural area, so my perspective is from city living (though sometimes town living), I always feel, in the end people get used to the new you and stop commenting and staring.

    Maybe most of the staring is that they wish that they could dress up like you, rather than feeling that it's all negative?

  • I am used to being asked where I am going to which implies I am too dressed for wherever I go. I don't care anymore. I dress how I want. Life is a special occasion, best to dress as if it is.

  • What a topic!

    My mom was like many of you: dress up all the time. She tried to get me into that, too, but I am a natural/relaxed type, so it didn't work.

    I dislike standing out for 2 reasons:

    – when i talk to people, i want their attention on my words, not my look

    – it just takes too much time better spent elsewhere

    My aim is to be dressed in a flattering way that suits my personality, so that I feel comfortable … and that's all.

    Luckily I work in IT where casual is the norm. I've been interviewed and given offers at places with suits and didn't take them, in part of the suits – I'd suffocate doing that.

    – tall & slim anon

  • As I read this, I was reminded of the Jante Law:

    The Jante Law (Danish and Norwegian: Janteloven; Swedish: Jantelagen; Finnish: Janten laki; Faroese: Jantulógin) is a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities, which negatively portrays and criticizes success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate.

    There are ten different rules in the law as defined by Sandemose, but they all express variations on a single theme and are usually referred to as a homogeneous unit: Don't think you're anyone special or that you're better than us.

    The ten rules state:

    1.Don't think that you are special.
    2.Don't think that you are of the same standing as others.
    3.Don't think that you are smarter than others.
    4.Don't fancy yourself as being better than others.
    5.Don't think that you know more than others.
    6.Don't think that you are more important than others.
    7.Don't think that you are good at anything.
    8.Don't laugh at others.
    9.Don't think that any one of us cares about you.
    10.Don't think that you can teach others anything.
    A further rule recognised in the novel is: 11. Don't think that there is anything we don't know about you.

    In the book, those Janters who transgress this unwritten 'law' are regarded with suspicion and some hostility, as it goes against communal desire in the town to preserve social stability and uniformity.

  • Anon@8:34: If being perceived as "one of them" is your primary value, you will dress to fit in. You will not feel comfortable standing out. Conformity is not a value of mine, but neither would I wish you to feel imperiled. But at the same time, I hope for the day when you say- perhaps when you have made some friends- to heck with fitting in.

    As for people who do not accept a person unless she dresses like they do, they do not sound like very interesting company.

  • Sometimes the "living small" can be a form of self-protection during already-stressful times. For example, when I put on a great deal of weight, I suddenly felt unsure about what styles and shapes were flattering to my new figure and which were now dreadful. It was easier to "dress down" and fit in than "dress up" in a way which would draw attention to me and perhaps cause others to notice the fact that I was wearing clothes that might look wrong on me. Or, when i was grieving, I just wanted to fade away, and wearing schleppy clothes helped me feel invisible for a while… in a way that I found comforting and safe.

  • I work in a factory and the prevailing attitude is that "its just work clothes" so why bother?

    My personal opinion is that I'm at work for half my waking hours most days of the week so its not "just work clothes" its the projection of who I am to the majority of the people who see me and spend time with me.

    My job does not entail anything especially dirty, it does not require crawling on my hands and knees (except, perhaps, in pursuit of an elusive electrical socket under a table), it does not require climbing ladders, nor do the more physical parts of it require contorting myself into peculiar positions. So then, why shouldn't I wear a skirt if I like skirts?

    I think skirts are more comfortable, cooler in the heat, and far more flattering to a heavy woman when viewed from behind while she's bending over a table marking fabric to sew.

    I can't say that I've personally raised the tone of the place, but I've noticed a decided increase in the number of skirts on the job — from me and two women who wear them for religious reasons to 8-10 women who wear them at least a few days a week.

    I'm far from a fashion leader, but I don't feel good when I look like a slob so I refuse to wear clothing that I associate with dirty work when I'm not actually doing dirty work. 🙂

    3KillerBs (who has forgotten her blogger account password).

  • This is a very good topic.

    I dress up at my construction office because I like to: I love pencil skirts and high heels and jackets. And I am much better dressed (even on Fridays with my dark wash jeans) then most women who come in on any day of the week. And definitely the office manager before me!

    As I am the only lady in our office right now there isn't any "competition", but I always get comments from people who come in, and if I go anywhere after work. I'm rather quiet so I use my clothes to ask respect.

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