A few years ago, I called up a friend I’d known since grade school and asked her if she would go shopping with me. As the mother-of-the-groom, I needed a dress that would not embarrass my son and would fit with the colors and style of his large, formal wedding. Turns out, my friend, Claire, needed a dress for her sister’s wedding, which was in another state amongst people she had not seen in ages – or ever. Neither of us had shopped for a monumental-life-event dress in years and all I could think of was, “Perfect.” Not our situation, but the way we felt we needed to look. We were on a similar mission in dangerous territory – wedding attire – a glamorous land where most everyone is entitled to an opinion about your arms, legs, weight, height, age, muscle tone, hair color, number of ruffles or sparkly sequences and accessories.
While suffocating under layers of chiffon, beaded bodices and asymmetrical hemlines in the wedding dress section of Nordstrom, we made an important discovery: We needed help. It was in that moment that something like a fairy godmother appeared, a personal stylist named Stacey.
Stacey is a tiny, opinionated and determined woman who can carry more clothes on one petite arm than I can pack on an American Quarter Horse. She is also an absolute master at dressing women and making them feel like a million bucks. Since I’ve known Stacey, I also feel like I’ve spent a million bucks, but you know what, I no longer agonize over what to wear. Ever! And knowing that my outfit is Stacey-scrutinized and Stacey-approved goes a long way toward my peace of mind and boost of confidence, no matter the situation. And that is priceless.
I have been in Stacey’s dressing room and have witnessed her magic at work on others, too. Women of all shapes, sizes and hang-ups follow her behind the curtain and reemerge as powerful goddesses – self-assured, poised and beautiful. What goes on behind closed doors in an afternoon at Nordstrom I wouldn’t trade for any lavish empowerment retreat in Tucson’s foothills.
When Claire bounded out of her dressing room, her whole being had sprung to life. The dress that Stacey found for her popped with colors she never would have chosen for herself and the way she felt in that little number made her look years younger. Claire, a sensible mother of two with a serious job, literally skipped through the dressing area, pranced and spun in circles before the three-way mirror. To be honest, I didn’t love the dress, but I adored the way it made my friend feel. Watching her eyes light up and her smile sparkle made my heart melt. I felt like a proud mom at a princess party.
That’s about the time Claire looked at the price tag. If Claire were Cinderella, I would have sworn she had just watched her elegant coach turn into a big, rotten pumpkin. It was clear from her body language that she was suddenly jolted from her rockin’ world of dance-all-night glass slippers to some place burdened with responsibilities and expenses like braces for her kids’ teeth and a looming college education for the oldest of her quickly growing sons.
I insisted she buy the dress and eventually begged her, thinking we could certainly figure out where a few hundred dollars could come from, but my efforts were only making her stronger in her position and more annoyed at me. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t shake the memory of how Claire looked, felt and acted in that dress. If something makes you skip, isn’t that reason enough to take it home? And, if it elevates how you feel about yourself, isn’t it possible other elements in your sphere could rise, too, including your income and opportunities?
Jen Sincero, author of “You are a Badass,” describes the defining moment when she blasted through her comfort zone while shopping for a new car. Instead of choosing a sensible Honda CRV, she drove home the Audi Q5, also known as “a stick of butter on four wheels with a sunroof that takes up the entire roof of the car,” she writes, “sexy, pretentious, terrifying.” Upon making the decision to purchase the Audi, which “cost the kind of money I would only consider spending on something like mandatory heart surgery,” she also made the decision to become the kind of person who can make the kind of money to buy that kind of car.
Like Jen, who went home with the luxury car, I went home with a dazzling evening gown and the look of peace and satisfaction that comes from knowing exactly what you are going to wear to an important occasion weeks ahead of time. What I also took home from Nordstrom was an important lesson about investing in yourself.
Lydia Fenet, a long-time Christie’s auctioneer and author of “The Most Powerful Woman in the Room is You” backs me up on this. She dresses to stun and embraces the opportunity to shine. She knows this is what others expect of someone who is conducting a room of wealthy bidding philanthropists. “My job on stage on any night is to get every single dollar out of the pocket of someone who can afford it and give it to someone who needs it.”
Looking like someone who can command and encourage a crowd to action is part of her success. She recalls one night on stage in a career of thousands of such evenings when she wore a safe, nice dress. She looked fine, but not stupendous. She knew it and this bothered her enough to remember the evening and write about it. She also remembered an assistant commenting on her nice dress, but as Lydia writes, “I could tell she was disappointed.”
Better outfits help us exude confidence. Can you think of a situation in which you would rather have less confidence? And others expect you to dress the part. My mother called dressing well a way of showing respect for those you were meeting. And a fashion designer once advised me to “always dress up.”
If that’s not enough, Warren Buffet is right there in the dressing room with us on this principle, too. “Generally speaking, investing in yourself is the best thing you can do,” he says.
When we invest in ourselves, we are putting our money on us to become the best we can be. This is an act of self-love, a show of support, and a step toward future success, sustainability and resilience. We are giving ourselves the best chance for our best life when we provide the tools, education, materials, coaches and opportunities we need.
Bob Dotson is a veteran NBC network news reporter and master storyteller. I met him at the annual National Association of Broadcasters trade show at the Las Vegas Convention Center one year and sat in on his presentation. It was during the economic downturn of 2008-2012. A number of broadcasting students from the region attended as well. The audience enjoyed his folksy style and stories behind the stories. However, it was obvious, the students were concerned about their job prospects at a time when media outlets were cutting back on staff and budgets. One young woman asked what advice he had for those just entering an industry where jobs were scarce. His response was simply, “Practice your craft.”
There’s a lot of wisdom packed into those three little words. By practicing our craft, we are improving our skills, thus making ourselves more employable. By practicing our craft, we are also building our competence and confidence. Shark Tank’s Kevin Harrington says confidence is created through acting and doing, not the other way around. By practicing our craft, we are actually being the broadcaster, artist, real estate agent, manager, public speaker, educator or whatever it is we aspire to be. Being hired in that field is just a detail yet to come.
If you aren’t skipping toward your future, I have to ask, why not? Perhaps it’s time to take inventory of your stock. What’s missing? What needs to be refreshed? What can you add to your skill level, quality of life or heightened outlook? Once we know this, we can formulate a plan for how to get it.
We don’t have to figure this out on our own. Maybe it’s time to invest in a coach, consultant or stylist, because as Andie McDowell says on L’Oréal commercials, “You’re worth it.”
And as Stacey says, “Buy the dress.” QCBN
By Bonnie Stevens, QCBN
Bonnie Stevens is a public relations consultant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.