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Dress and Stress

Vivia Chen

January 3, 2013



You know what really makes me stressed? Advice about how to rid stress from my life. The suggestions are not necessarily wrong, but they make me very anxious. They usually involve things I feel I should be doing but know I won't—like taking up yoga, breathing deeper, making a better to-do list, going easy on myself (and others), etc. 

I assiduously avoid reading anything about how to reduce stress, but I happened to come across a bit of advice on the subject recently—and it wasn't too daunting. I might even try it.

According to The Financial Times's fashion editor, Vanessa Friedman, we can make our lives a bit easier if we adopt the sartorial choices of President Barack Obama and supermodel Kate Moss. In fact, Friedman says the two share a similar coping mechanism:

Here’s what happened: in a long interview with Vanity Fair during this year’s election campaign, Obama revealed that he had decided to wear only dark blue or gray suits “so I don’t even have to think about what I put on . . . You need to focus your decision-making energy.”

Friedman then writes that Moss offered similar nuggets of wisdom in another Vanity Fair story a few months later:

Moss noted that she wore only "black jeans now. Or grey. If you do a different look every day, they’re going to be waiting for the next look, and then it’s a paparazzi shot. Whereas if you just wear the same thing, then they get bored and leave you alone."

Most lawyers I know are not plagued by the paparazzi, but Moss and Obama have a point. If we eliminate the range of choices in our lives, we'd be less stressed. (I'd go so far as to say that living in New York is particularly stressful because we have far too many choices on almost every front. I know I go into a tizzy whenever I'm under pressure to come up with a buzz-worthy new restaurant.)

"Take away the breadth of possibility and you reduce the option anxiety," writes Friedman. Of course, I think most men are already clued in on this secret, which is why Obama's admission that he favors dark and gray suits isn't really that much of a revelation (though a president talking about clothes might be). 

But for women, I think this could be a game changer. Think how much anxiety we would all save if we just stick with black/gray pants or skirts and black/gray T-shirts or sweaters. And just like men have done with designer neckties, we can accessorize our uniform with jewelry and scarves (though wearing scarves with panache could be challenging). 

Perhaps we could soar to new heights in our careers if we didn't have to fret about what to wear every day to the office.

Or am I fooling myself? 

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. 

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A friend of mine hipped me to this awhile back. She calls it having a "style uniform." Definitely makes things easier when you are short on time but still want to look good!

Love this idea. My only concern is that people may think I'm wearing the same couple of pants to work every day. But maybe nobody will really notice or care.

Another example, less draconian than Steve Jobs and President Obama, is Anna Wintour. Just pick a silhouette that works for you and stick with it. I have been trying to do this for the last six months. I know that a sheath dress or slim-cut sweater + pencil skirt works best for my shape. I only buy quality pieces in neutral colors (black, navy, gray) and play with neck accessories instead (e.g. necklace or silk scarf). Saves time AND closet space.

I always assumed this was the idea behind reducing the range of acceptable men's business-suit choices to charcoal-or-navy. Seems like a great idea, find something that works, stick to it, and spend your energy on more pressing pursuits.

Opening line - LOL.

less time spent in the morning

Best opening line ever. And good advice. But what's a girl to do when there are 15 pairs of black pants to choose from?

Absolutely agree. Steve Jobs left himself plenty of decision-making brain power by adopting a uniform of only black turtlenecks and jeans.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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