“Why are you so dressed up?” What an odd question for someone who is not just new to the company but also to the country. Ah! New Yorkers are New Yorkers and so good at being blunt! I looked at myself hmmm wearing khakis and a solid pale collared shirt and yes, some tasteful jewelry, a long Topaz string, adorning my neck. “Is it the shirt’s collar or the jewelry that prompted that question?” I wondered. Perhaps I was overdressed for the night shift? Still for someone growing up in a “love to dress up” culture of Pakistan it was quite a puzzling question.
I had moved to the US barely 3 months ago and this was my first week at my first job as an FOO working for a major airline. Of course I had done well landing myself a professional career this early on but learning the culture and speaking the lingo was a whole different ball game. Backtrack three months and I see my mother in law and two sisters in law change and dress up every evening as a routine. They were not even going anywhere and here I was coming to work. Why wouldn’t I? I almost grunted in response.
With time, I learned that Americans love to dress down. In New York, my first home in the US and the city very dear to my heart, most people wear comfortable light blue jeans and a white T shirt (or at least they did in the 90s). On the rare occasion they do dress up, women wear their beloved “little cute black dress “in all its esteemed glory. Coming from a vibrant culture of color it was a hard adjustment till I realized its saving potential. Yes, I can actually save by dressing down, especially when it’s in fashion; why not!
Fast forward 15 years and the term “dress down” hits a new low when I move down South to work for another large organization. Thus far I could only wear jeans on Fridays, but here every day was Friday. In the beginning I was adamant; jeans and work just didn’t mesh. It took me 2 years and a bunch of people hinting at being overdressed when I finally took the cue and went jeans shopping for work. Starting out apprehensively, I tell you I am totally hooked now. Good bye dress pants, it’s all jeans baby! Once you get used to it, nothing feels more comfortable. In a company where senior executives aren’t shy of wearing shorts and polos and where a dress shirt is sign of an interview, I am okay being casual and relaxed. In fact I had an internal interview the other day and the recruiter was wearing short shorts. And there I was back to square one 🙂
Every now and then on vacations or seminars I get reminded of what it’s like in other countries, for example a business trip to France a few years back. Everyone was dressed up even when doing groceries on weekends. Men wore button down collared shirts, women beautiful skirts and dresses with high heels and bold accessories. I thought you could take any of them out of street and put directly on the Vogue cover without touch ups. But then France is France and my beloved US is US; No parallels warranted!
Practice makes a man perfect or in this case the much needed and welcomed imperfect. Now I have become casual, even to the Pakistani gatherings where being decked up is a norm and repeating the same outfit almost a crime.
Sometimes looking in the mirror, my old self quips “how lazy, how sloppy”. But the new me instantly shuns that notion. Yes, the New Me, The Iffat 2.0 – A happy amalgamation of two distinct cultures.