(Guest Post by Afsha Khan, Journalist and Full-Time Writer)
It wasn’t my first interview out of college. But it was the most memorable. Mainly because my guidance counselor didn’t prepare me to rebound from the worst faux pas of all: crying in front of an interviewer.
In my interviewer’s defense, it was 2005 and times were simpler. She ran a PR sweatshop nestled in an old mill which, for some strange reason, was highly aspirational. Also yes, I was rather complacent by showing up wearing a white shirt, black formal pants and a pair of bright blue Nikes.
“If you dress like a college tramp, people will treat you like a college tramp,” she said. Cue waterworks.
Next thing I knew she was offering me a job paying 2,000 rupees less than what I was already getting at a niche magazine I was temping with and asking me to leave… “Just… go.” I never did receive an offer letter from her. I never even heard back from her.
But it’s ok. I got the next job I was interviewed for. It was for a client service role in an events company and I passed with flying colours. I had worn a crisp shirt, pencil skirt and high heels. The interviewees seemed quite interested in my accomplishments, aspirations and personal life. They were also all men.
“Dress for the job you want, not for the one you have,” one of them would say to me a few months later. I never quite understood what that meant given there weren’t many women senior management roles. Those who did hold high posts seemed to prefer function to form as well given that they spent 70% of their working day shuttling between clients spaced as far as Byculla and Malad in the black and yellow ovens known as Premier Padmini.
The way you dress says a lot about you, they say. Chipped nail paint implies that you’re contented with a job shoddily done. Worn, misshaped shoes mean that you’re uncomfortable with change. Mismatched clothes advertise your lack of aesthetics in the workplace. Dressing outside your body type infers you’re living in a fantasy world.
But I also think that ‘they’ are full of bullshit. Dressing like a college tramp isn’t a bad thing. I was really comfortable throughout college, which is why I was among the happiest, most confident students in class.
Dressing for the job you want, well, that’s good advice. But it’s highly subjective when I realised that I didn’t want to be in events and preferred the more introspective art of writing. Journalism was thus a good starting point because not only did it give me access to wonderful editors who ruthlessly improved my work, but also didn’t care if I showed up in pajamas, so long as I produced clean, error free copy. Looking back at all the people I have met in and outside journalism I’ve also learned many things about work wear. The most important lesson though, is not a lesson at all. But a realization that often comes only after a decade of highs and lows: A college tramp can still break barriers and go a long way so long as she has the drive, passion and a proclivity for improvement. But dressing for the job you want can only take you so far if you’re fulfilling chores rather than your dreams.
Seen Here Wearing: Amazing Grace Earrings from Art Skool Collection.
Afsha Khan Jayapal is an ex-journalist who has written for The Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Bangalore Mirror and Conde Nast India. Now, she’s a full-time writer who loves to tell stories. Many of them are true, but some are made up inside her head.)