There’s always a sign that tells you it’s time to get a new job: a poor review on a project you slaved over, a memo from senior management about “streamlining” responsibilities, or a new boss who keeps forgetting your name. In my case, it was a grease stain on my pants. And the fact that I ignored it.
I looked down one morning on my way to work and there it was: a big gray, grease stain on my khakis. Not the kind of stain that comes from eating balsamic vinaigrette, but the kind of stain that comes from getting your pants caught in a bicycle chain and, from the looks of this stain, it seemed as though the chain and my pants had met some time ago. I did not run to change, even though I was not running late and could have. Instead, I thought, “Oh well, my legs will be under a desk all day and I only have one meeting and they won’t notice.”
Once upon a time, I did not wear dirty clothes to work on purpose. I shopped, laid out my work outfits at night and even developed a “uniform” of sorts: slim fitted black pants with a solid color top or twin set, flats in the summer, boots in the winter, blazer optional. I looked like a replica of the smiling women on the tent cards in the office cafeteria touting the company’s move to “business casual.” I’ve read that you are supposed to dress for the job you want, not the one you have, so in meetings, I’d make note of the women’s outfits and think about what I needed to do to get their jobs, their salaries, their shoes.
Then I got pregnant and, once I was wearing blouses that have cute little ties in the back, or inexplicably right over my stomach, I admit my corporate fashion sense started to slip. After my maternity leave, I was excited to dress in something other than yoga pants and returned to work wearing those Ann Taylor “one size up” outfits I had bought while I was still hiding my pregnancy at work. Of course I had a different routine in the mornings now and no time to put out my clothes the night before. And try as I might, it was hard to look and feel professional with tiny scraps of baby oatmeal on my blazer lapel. And I hardly noticed what my superiors were wearing anymore since I was always thinking about finishing work and making it home to see my baby.
My second maternity leave lasted longer and, with the passing of time, I felt less of an impulse to get out of my yoga pants and back into those slim-fitted black ones, and the only blazer that even still fit was the one with a cute little tie in the back. I dreaded going back to work full time and jumped on a the first opportunity to work part time that came my way, leaving my corporate business casual company to work for a local non-profit.