The 7 Emotional Stages Of Trying To Keep Your Sense Of Style In A Professional Environment

You know how it is. Unless you know how to hustle or have a real entrepreneur spirit, the bulk of us will end up working in one office or other. Some of us might strike luck and get hired into a place that uses exercise balls for chairs or has a designated yoga station for when you need breaks... but I'm willing to wager that the majority of us will be answering to the Jan Levinsons of the world and frequenting water coolers. It's alright, though! You'll still make cubicle friends and have fun happy hours to look forward to where you talk about all the staplers you've stolen. But what might not be so alright are the outfits you'll get coerced into wearing. As a twentysomething, it might be a hard pill to swallow to hear that you have to cash in your swingy American Apparel dresses and strappy sandals for sensible pantyhose and pinstripe button ups.

It could feel like a splash of cold water; like a wake up call that — hold on — are you really committing yourself to a life of this? Are you really going to become a slave to the desk? What about all those dreams you had of living in Paris and becoming a moody lounge singer or what have you? Trust me, I know just what you’re feeling.

These are the seven emotional stages of hearing you need to start dressing professionally for your grown up career, and trying to hold onto your identity through it all:

1. Receiving “The Hint”

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It usually happens in a way that you don’t see coming. It’s not exactly passive aggressive, but who are we kidding? It’s totally passive aggressive. Like instead of getting a Christmas bonus, you get a gift card to Banana Republic (true story). Or noticing Ann Taylor newsletter emails starting to come through your inbox, though you know you’ve never signed up for them. Or maybe you go to the bathroom and when you come back there’s a bright green Filene’s Basement sale flier underneath your coffee cup. Left by an anonymous tipper.

You pick it up tentatively, knowing that this is it. This is the end.

2. The “I Could Still Get Away With Jeans” Stage

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Also known as the “I’m Okay Being in Denial” stage. Those black pants now symbolize everything you’ve ever been afraid of. I mean, are you really going to do this? Are you really going to join the workforce like a bonafide adult? Images of Working Girl flash through your mind, and you quickly glance down to make sure you don’t have white walking sneakers on with your pencil skirt.

You sigh in relief. You don’t. Not yet at least. Who knows where this black slacks requirement will go, though — maybe it’ll snowball you into that. It’s like a gateway drug, right?

So you test the waters and try to find a compromise that’ll keep both parties happy: Maybe wear a smart button-up shirt with some dark wash jeans? Add in some unassuming flats to keep the whole thing clean and understated?

Well, judging by the now-aggressive amount of Filene’s Basement fliers underneath your coffee cup, that’s a no-go.

3. The “I Had Dreams Of Being A Writer” Stage

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As you’re mentally preparing yourself to step into The Limited, you start turning slightly bitter and begin heading towards dark places. God, you think, you were really supposed to be something, you know? Remember back when you were a junior in college, and you had all these plans to live in Spain and work on your first bestseller novel? You were young and full of promise. Now you’re just another spoke in the wheel, saying things like “living for the weekend” and “we’re almost halfway to Friday, guys!” Who even are you anymore? What happened? What’s next, you’ll be setting up a portfolio? Where did it all fall apart?!

You run a hand through your hair and notice some strands fall out. Sounds about right.

4. The “Dying A Little Inside The Dressing Room” Stage

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Not able to put it off any longer, you find yourself in a dimly lit dressing room with Colbie Caillat singing through the speakers. You’re trying to ignore the sales girl on the other side of the door, who’s attempting to convince you to try on a camisole with your pantsuit. You ignore her steadfastly, still holding onto what little dignity you have left. You frown as you notice all the navy you picked out. You shrug on a blazer, pull at the sleeves a bit, and find yourself getting kind of teary. Are you really going to spend grocery money on clothes you hate?

You start wondering if waitresses really make less than cubicle dwellers. Then you start wondering how much tickets to Spain cost. Is it off season right now?

Your mind starts unraveling.

5. The “There Might Be A Light” Stage

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You come out of the dressing room and hand back the bundle of clothes to the sales girl, not quite meeting her eye as you walk away empty handed. You start feeling that tell-tale slump to your shoulders that only follows a failed shopping trip, wondering which store you should hit next. You’re about to sigh heavily when something from the corner of your eye catches your attention.

A pair of high waist pants, with a ribbon bow belt. Wait, what? You walk over to it carefully, as if you might spook it away. This is actually... cute. You whip your head around, checking to see if you were still in the same store. So this is — this is considered professional clothes? Actual bonafide office wear? But this is, well, pretty. You feel something stir inside of you. Dare I say it, is it... hope?

6. The “I Might Have Been Dramatic” Stage

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After finding those pants, it’s like a new world opened up. You begin to notice pencil skirts in fun patterns, cardigans in popsicle colors, soft sweaters that were equally cozy and chic. Oh my god, you think as you happily rub your new velvet blazer all over your face, you were just being dramatic! It’s not like you had to look like an insurance salesman on the back of a pamphlet. There were so many ways you could add your own style to these office clothes. Feeling relieved and like the crisis is over, you buy yourself a travelers mug to celebrate. Because you’re profesh now!

7. The “I Need To Keep This At Bay” Stage

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You look fabulous in your blazer and booties, and you look every inch the twentysomething that you are. Wonderful! You’ve weathered the storm. Just make sure those higher ups don't get greedy and start demanding more. It's a quick fall from pretty penny loafers to pleated pinstripe pantsuits. Don’t let them push you around — at the first sign of Chico's sample sales, you put your foot down immediately.

After all, those insurance salesmen were once hip, twentysomethings, too.

Sources: Giphy (7); Getty