7 Emotional Stages Of Wearing Something Out There For The First Time At Work

There's nothing quite like that sinking feeling of wearing the wrong clothes to work. It’s easy to fall into a routine when you work in a cubicle farm, after all. You wake up, put on something black — or if you’re feeling spunky, something navy — grab your English muffin as it pops out of your toaster, and ride sleepy-eyed on your bus to work. Once there, you shout hello to the office as you make your way to your desk, already thinking of the instant coffee you’ll make and the chocolate muffin you won’t be able to stop yourself from stealing from Janice. Then you click and clack until it’s 5 p.m. and freedom rings.

I know this firsthand, seeing how I’ve worked in one of these throughout the first half of my 20s. It was in a serious firm with serious faces and serious deadlines. Granted, I was just the assistant, but it was an office dipped in navy and beige, and for the longest time I wore more "normal" pieces so as not to rock the boat. I had sensible loafers and black pants that tapered, and had a nice selection of boatneck tops I’d alternate between.

So you can only imagine the morning I woke up and thought, "Hmmm, screw it, I'm wearing this '60s resort dress today. I don't care." Because 10 minutes in, I really did care. Below are the seven emotional stages of wearing something “out there” for the first time at work.

1. Waking Up With No Judgment

Maybe it’s all that cheesecake you ate before bedtime last night, but today you woke up loving life and feeling bold. Throwing open your closet, you couldn’t possibly put something beige and neutral on your bod. Feeling spunky, you reach for that ‘60s resort dress you scored at an estate sale. You look like Megan Draper, and the dress matches your mood perfectly (it might even give you enough confidence to actually say “hello” to that cute barista). Let’s tackle this Thursday!

2. Not Seeing Your Mistake

You’re on the bus with your cup of coffee (success! You actually smiled at Coffee Guy without breaking out in a stress rash) and feel like today might be a pretty painless day. From what you remember, your stack of paperwork isn’t that high, you treated yourself to a cheese Danish (because, why not?), and the Dwight of your office has a doctor’s appointment and won’t be in until 2 p.m. Nice. You run a hand down the playful print of your dress and look forward to the day starting. You sweet, naive girl.

3. Minor, Ah, Discomfort

You walk in through the revolving doors of your building and try not to notice the slight break in your stride. A sea of navy is coming in and out of the turnstiles with heads bowed and cell phones out. There you are, standing in a dress the color of the Ionian Sea during July like it ain't a thang. Trying not to notice other people noticing, you take out your keycard and head to the elevators.

4. The "Trapped In The Elevator" Moment

Holy hell, you nearly bite your fist to stop yourself punching the emergency stop button in the elevator. What have you done? Why in all that is sacred are you wearing this dress? What was in that cheesecake last night?! These thoughts are whirling in your head like panicked run-on sentences as you feel all the eyes on the elevator turn to you. It’s like you’re that one person who's listening to their music too loud and it happens to be an obnoxious dance song from 2009. They’re scandalized by the colorfulness of you. You look like a block party...like a popsicle on a beach day. Nobody wants to be reminded of joy during the nine-to-five life. What have you done?

5. The “I Want To Throw Up” Stage

You thought the elevator was bad? Try the big reveal when you actually walk into the office. You’re pretty sure someone is going to accidentally knock over their traveler’s mug over mortgage paperwork, and then that’ll be your fault, too. Your cheeks prickle and your palms get sweaty like Coffee Boy is in the crowd.

Taking a deep breath, you breeze in like nothing’s wrong and practically smolder beneath the surprised stares. You would think you walked up in a combo of cutoff shorts and fishnets, not your pretty floor-length maxi. Vowing to burn anything that remotely resembles color in your closet when you get home, you try to power walk to your desk with your head bowed in shame.

6. The "Plan Not To Leave Your Desk Until The Cleaning Crew Comes" Stage

The journey to your desk felt like it was only getting further and further away, which only gave everyone more time to assess what made you lose your mind this morning. You hear someone giggle (probably not at you), and it feels like the equivalent of an egg being hurled out of a car window. You then see your boss by the copier and she flicks a glance from your shoes to your head that’s meant to blast you into next Wednesday.

You pick up the pace until you dive headfirst into your cubicle and plan to camp out for the day. No bathroom breaks and this blasted cheese Danish is now your lunch. You’re not moving until the lights are out and the cleaning crew comes in with its floor waxer.

7. Not Being Entirely Sure That You Wouldn’t Do It Again

You’ve been emailing with your office squad the whole day, trying to get the dirty on what everyone’s been saying in the breakroom about you. They keep coming up with the same thing: “Nothing, you lunatic.” But you’re not buying it. You throw glances over the cubicle wall like nervous darts, and at one point you almost throw a paper plane note at your friend, begging her to get you lunch (or stop by Ann Taylor and buy you a dress).

You wait until 5 p.m. rolls by so you can blessedly escape and blend into the crowd of normals outside. Breaking out of the navy uniform is way too stressful in corporate, you think.

Or maybe…or maybe you can singlehandedly kill the dress code over here? I mean, you got away with it once, right? Maybe you should foray into forbidden territory with baby steps? Like wearing a printed top with your no-nonsense pencil skirt, or colorful tights with your beige dress? Hmmm, until next time.

But first — you think as you glance at the clock for the umpteenth time — you need this day to end.

Images: Marlen Komar