7 Fundamentals For Owning Your Work Style

by Katie Hoffman

At every job — especially office jobs — you’ll come across at least one woman whose "superior" sense of style reduces you to the nervous, new employee who makes ill-timed puns that fall flat during meetings. I’m talking about Pencilskirtus Sophisticatus — commonly known as the Seriously Stylish Coworker. She might be a normal human being outside of work who gets lipstick on her teeth and wears her old t-shirts on laundry day, but in the office she’s part Khaleesi, part Ivanka Trump, and part Michelle Obama. Coexisting in the same space as this business casual goddess can make even the most senior-ranking employee doubt her career and/or footwear choices every time the Seriously Stylish Coworker passes by her desk, leaving the lingering aroma of confidence and wool crepe in her wake.

No woman wants to admit that another woman might be a little intimidating or jealousy-inducing, and this is especially true in a professional setting, because we’re already working hard to be taken seriously by everyone. Yet, there’s something about a sharply dressed coworker, boss or direct report that can give us doubts about our work and/or our appearances.

Even more troubling is the fact that the ethos we assign to the Seriously Stylish Coworker is one that we’ve created entirely ourselves. The assumptions that we make about her work ethic, her success, her style and even her life outside work are based on little more than the vast assortment of blazers and tailored blouses she wears. We stop seeing her as a peer and view her instead as our competition, putting us at personal risk for job sabotage if we aren’t careful. It’s a horrible habit, but sometimes we project our small insecurities — work related and personal — onto this one ferociously fabulous coworker, and the scrutiny and self-doubt that follows is unfair to everyone involved.

There was one such Seriously Stylish Coworker at my first “real” job. She sat around the corner from me. Every day her hair looked like she came to work straight from the salon. I was convinced she had a live-in makeup artist and her fashion sense made my pathetic attempts at dressing like a professional young adult who should be taken seriously look like a six-year-old who got into mommy’s good clothes in the closet. Worst of all: She was nice. Before getting to know her, I constructed this narrative about her perfect life. I imagined she lived in the trendy area of Chicago’s North Side. I assumed she had a perfect relationship with some down to earth business magnate, an adorable Scottish terrier named something semi-unexpected like Claude and an Etsy shop where she sells her paintings because she’s worldly and maximizes her free time. Most importantly, she definitely didn't poop at the office. All these things I’d deduced solely from the professional attire she wore to the office. In reality, I was new and nervous about doing a good job, and I used that coworker as an excuse to doubt my performance and my pants.

The workplace isn’t the only place where women can create these baseless stories about other women solely based on how they look, but it’s definitely one of the most stressful because it’s about so much more than great clothes. We attribute success, promotion potential and even higher earnings to these Seriously Stylish Coworkers, but it shouldn’t be that way. Instead of focusing in on all the ways an Seriously Stylish Coworker is trying to ruin our career one outfit at a time, we should concentrate on all the things we do have to offer that we might be overlooking. Here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time the power of a Seriously Stylish Coworker shakes your confidence:

1. It’s Never Too Late To Switch Up Your Style

Sometimes when you see someone whose style you admire, you begin to realize it might be time to change up your look. Maybe, just maybe, the Seriously Stylish Coworker isn’t actually trying to ruin your life at work one outfit at a time. Perhaps her cool black tights or trendy nails are just making you consider that it’s been a while since you took some risks with your wardrobe. There’s nothing shameful about being inspired by another lady’s look.

2. Worry About Lunch, Not How Your Coworkers Look

Of all the things you could worry about at work, stressing about how on point your Seriously Stylish Coworker looks should be last on your list. Do not even go there in your head. When you convince yourself that someone else is making you look like runway road kill, how can you expect to feel confident in every other aspect of your job? How much harder will it be to lead a meeting when you think you don’t look good? It might seem like silly high school girl stuff, but these bad vibes can get inside your head. You should never let that awful, insecure part of your brain convince you that someone else is more successful or more competent than you are because they have certain clothes, makeup or hair. You have just as much to offer as Seriously Stylish Coworker, and if you think anything different, you’re selling yourself short.

3. Your Style Is Better Than You Think (Seriously)

When we compare ourselves to others — especially at work — we have a tendency to diminish all the amazing things we have going for ourselves and that includes what’s in our wardrobes. Every woman has a unique sense of style and there’s no reason we all can’t be insanely stylish while working together. The work day is stressful enough without treating the office like eight hours of "Who wore it best?" It’s always easier to see the style strengths of others even when your own insecurities are staring right at you in the mirror, but don’t forget that those cool sweaters or unexpected lipstick shades are what makes your look special, not inferior.

4. There’s Nothing Inherently Wrong With How You Look

Unless you’re showing up to a business casual job wearing boyfriend jeans, a tiny crop top and Crocs, chances are you’re doing something right with how you look at work. After all, you worked hard during your interview to score this job, and you got it, right? Working with a Seriously Stylish Coworker can brainwash you into thinking there's something wrong with you — whether it's your boots, your neutral eyeshadow or your hairstyle — and that isn't true at all. Just because you don't wear Oxfords or incorporate tweed into your wardrobe doesn't mean you're missing anything. Everyone at work is using fashion in different ways to survive at the office. Do you.

5. Remember That Your Work Speaks For Itself

We've all heard some variation of the phrase, "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." Well, I think everyone has had at least one day where a coworker came in wearing an outfit that said, "I deserve every high-paying job and miscellaneous perk this company has to offer." Meanwhile, you looked down at your old socks and felt like the only job you're qualified for is taking money from people crossing a bridge. How you look at work can speak volumes, and it's key when making a good first impression, but don't forget that your actual work is the most important thing at work, not your favorite pair of old socks.

6. Make Friends, Not Nonexistent Office Rivalries

I know the prospect of befriending the Seriously Stylish Coworker at your office seems unthinkable, but it's actually one of the best things you can do. When you actually get to know someone that you envy or feel a little threatened by and you find out that they're every bit as human and flawed as you are, it's a huge relief. You're entitled to climb up and join the people you put on a pedestal. More importantly, you probably have enough going on at work that adding a nonexistent office rivalry that's mostly in your head is probably not the healthiest thing for you right At best, you gain a new work BFF; at worst, maybe you'll learn a secret eyeliner tip over coffee.

7. You Could Be Someone’s Seriously Stylish Coworker, Too

There’s nothing remotely official about the title of Seriously Stylish Coworker, so even though you might think a woman at your job was sworn in by a committee, it’s all in your head. Did you ever think that maybe you are someone’s designated Seriously Stylish Coworker? Don’t laugh; it’s not that impossible to believe. You look professional and put-together, too, and you should never measure your style or your appearance of success to someone else’s.

Images: Fotolia; Giphy