The Armor We Wear

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I have been obsessed with fashion since I was a little girl.  I remember throwing a temper tantrum because my mom wanted to dress me in these ugly brown corduroy pants and I wanted to wear a dress with tights. To be honest, I still prefer dresses and skirts to pants.  Like most little Latinas, my ears were pierced and an early age. In middle school my fashion bit was to wear obnoxious dangly earrings. In high school I started wearing signature flowers in my hair. Right over the left ear, a different flower for each day, or pinned to my lapel for my suits.  My shoes were flashy. I also adopted an androgynous look in high school, mixed with overt femininity. A stark, structured blazer with a shirt and tie and my red high top Converse, paired with skinny jeans and an armful of bracelets and bright red lips. The red lipstick has always been a staple of mine.

In college, I wore many twinset sweaters with skirts. I went to work in the morning and school at night for most of college so I was the girl in class wearing suits.  On the campaign trail I made it clear I wasn't your typical Republican operative. Little fascinator hats, flowers, flashy dresses and the highest heels imaginable.

Fashion is my breakfast. But it's also my armor.  Rarely will you catch me leave my apartment without a fresh face of makeup, heels and a well coordinated outfit.  It makes me stand taller.  Amy Cuddy tells you to power pose, but I say dress up your power pose. It makes you confident.  It makes you bolder. Don't believe me? Get your makeup done. Get your wardrobe tailored. It changes your perception.

It's easy to fall into a trap of making fashion your armor.  A well dressed woman can be elusive and intimidating, which in a field dominated by men, is a good and bad thing.

Fashion as armor isn't a new concept, especially in the workplace.  Take Tom and Lorenzo's analysis of Mad Men's Style:

A recurring motif in this show is one where people are constantly shown putting on or taking off their armor. From Pete adjusting his tie and cufflinks approvingly in front of a mirror, to the female characters getting in or out of their restrictive undergarments, everyone goes through life hemmed in by their roles and how they manifest in their clothing. To Joan’s painful undergarment moment and what that says about her we can add Father Gill’s lengthy disrobing of his vestments.

Women have it hard in the workplace. So do men.  Women who rise to the top can sometimes be accused of being, to quote Donald Trump, just nasty women.  There are other words in the business world I've heard used to describe me and some of my female mentors.  I defend our demeanors by saying simply this, if a man said what I said, would you have a problem? I don't spend a lot of time thinking about what the hardships of being a woman in the workplace.  I try to just rise above.  I've been told to tone down my femininity or wear more conservative (meaning not flashy/brightly colored/well accessorized/high fashion) clothing to show more authority. But it's simply this. I was hired to do a job.  I can get it done in heels. I can get it done in flats, although with objection.  It doesn't matter what I wear or if my face is made up.  But it gives me a sense of confidence so I embrace it and use it as my armor.

Vulnerability is an important character trait I've only recently learned to appreciate.  I was raised by alpha matriarchs in my family.  My supervisors have been super stars, detail-oriented, aggressive, intimidating, professional and powerful. So, to me, vulnerability has always been a weakness.  It was through conversations with some of these mentors, who were willing to break down their own armor in front of me, that I learned to appreciate vulnerability.  When you let someone in, even just a layer or two, they will reciprocate.  It builds trust and mutual understanding.

Expressing vulnerability doesn't have to mean being emotional, opening old wounds or showing an lack of strength.  It gives you power.  By accepting that I can be vulnerable, I returned to the stage, I started writing more and I made stronger friendships.  Vulnerability means finally hitting send on that project you've been working nonstop on.  You could be criticized, but you might also get well deserved praise.  And if you don't find at least one thing you can improve upon, you're not doing it right.  You can always learn more, grow and improve.

Perhaps the best example of using vulnerability to achieve power is Beyonce's Lemonade film and album.  Beyonce, who expressed her anger, sadness, agony and ultimately reawakening, showed it all through powerful, honest lyrics and beautiful cinematography. If Beyonce can be vulnerable yet powerful, so can I.

Wear your armor and wear it proudly.  Trust people, but not too carefully.  Vulnerability isn't a weakness, it's an asset when used properly.