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Everything I know about fashion I learned in the barn

Gone with the windScarlet O’Hara might have said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow,” but Aunt Toby’s readers may also recall the ‘make me a dress out of the green curtains’ scene where she also said, “I’m going to Atlanta for that three hundred dollars, and I’ve got to go looking like a queen.”

Such is the power of appearance; li’l Miz Scarlet understood that if she wanted to ask for what amounted to a huge chunk of change, she’d better look as if she did not need it. And logic means nothing under these circumstances, either – we’re talking right after the end of the ‘War between the states’ – and another one of her famous lines was ‘I’ll never be hungry again.” It’s not as if she felt she had a choice.

Hard times make for hard choices, and at times, that means making the decision to ‘keep up appearances’ can be really really important.

“The Wall Street type in suspenders, with his bulging briefcase; the woman in pearls, thumbing her BlackBerry; the builder in his work boots and tool belt — they could all be headed for the same coffee shop, or bar, for the day….
“I have a new client, a laid-off lawyer, who’s commuting in every day — to his Starbucks,” said Robert C. Chope, a professor of counseling at San Francisco State University and president of the employment division of the American Counseling Association. “He gets dressed up, meets with colleagues, networks; he calls it his Western White House. I have encouraged him to keep his routine…..“If showing pride in these kinds of situations was always maladaptive, then why would people do it so often?” said David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston. “But people do, of course, and we are finding that pride is centrally important not just for surviving physical danger but for thriving in difficult social circumstances, in ways that are not at all obvious.”
When All You Have Left Is Pride

In the case above, it’s psychological, but there is also a basis in the ‘tooth and claw’ world as well. As someone who raised livestock for a long time, I can tell you that the whole issue of ‘pecking order’ (whether you are talking about sheep, goats or chickens) is not only an issue of who gets to harass whom, but also a matter of who gets to stand at the feeder and eat…and who gets their feed stolen. Yes, it is a case of bullying in the barn. Yes, it is a case of the smaller, weaker, and less able to defend themselves being bullied by the others – and that stress showing up as greater parasite loads, generally weakened conditions, more disease issues, and sometimes death (direct and indirect).

As relatively educated human beings, we know what can develop when something terrible happens to people – whether it is a death of a spouse or a child, the loss of a job, being harassed at work or school and so on. People can become depressed, setting them many times into a spiral from which they do not recover. It becomes very easy, especially if one spends a lot of time at home in front of the computer, even while looking for a job, to frankly be doing it in sweats, flip flops and a coffee cup with three day old coffee (hopefully without cigarette butts in it). Even if you got the call for an interview that very day, would you feel energetic enough to pull yourself together, grab your things and head out to face the questioning?

Even if I have the flu and am feeling frankly like ‘death warmed over’, I usually can make myself feel 100% better if I get up, take a shower, do my hair, put on a bit of makeup and dress in good clothing. I remember once reading a piece about the morale-lifting effect of a consignment of red lipstick that was delivered to the female inmates of Bergen-Belsen about a week after the Red Cross had paid a call there. Supposedly, the women eked out that color for a very long time, using it not only as lipstick, but also as rouge to make themselves look healthier.

I know it sounds like blathering to tell you that if you are out of work, you should be devoting time and energy to making yourself look and feel good, but believe me, it works. When I was caring for my mom, who was suffering from dementia, the only thing I could do for myself (because I was also working a full time job and would race from the office back to my mom’s house to take over for the home health care aid), was to lift weights while watching my mom’s door to make sure she did not make a break for it out of the house. It gave me a feeling of empowerment that I needed to deal with my own feelings of ineptitude and lack of control under that situation. Gaining a feeling that you have some control over aspects of your life is terribly important when you have lost what for most people is the central defining activity of their lives.

So. in terms of this economy (out of work, struggling to keep your job, struggling with finances or whatever), aunt Toby wants you to make sure when you wake up every morning, that you first of all take care of YOU. If you still have your job, dress every day as if your being at the job is really important to you. If you are out of work, take the time to dress and look the best you can, perhaps not as if you were going to get the interview call that day, but at least so that if you wanted to go out and network, or go to a meeting, go to the bank or whatever, that, as Scarlet said above, you ‘look like a queen’. Best foot and shoe forward. Even sitting at the computer, you’ll feel better, you’ll have more energy and it will help. You may have to make yourself do it – but trust me on this one; it’s worth doing.

(photo above courtesy of booboogbs)

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