Thursday, March 28, 2013

Looking the Part..

I get a lot of comments about how put together I am most of the time (these people are usually not the ones seeing me roll out of bed, throwing on workout clothes and a hair band and running out the door to put Fox makeup on). In a city like Seattle, where casual dress rules, and black polar fleece is your "dressy" coat, it doesn't take much effort to be the most dressed-up person in the room.

When it would be perfectly acceptable to go to all but the dressiest of occasions (weddings, etc) in jeans, why do I choose to dress up most of the time?

I'm sure it's a combination of factors: Partly, because I went to college in the South, where for most of four years I was the most casual woman on campus, and the only one without makeup. Partly because I spent a year out of college touring with a theater company, so makeup went on in the evenings after a day setting up for the show. I also spent 7 months in Cambodia, where any makeup I put on would sweat off within minutes. So, while I'm comfortable going around with a naked face if I have to, I prefer dressing up when I get a chance.

Another reason is the "What Not To Wear" philosophy, which I had discovered for myself when I was on tour. For the duration of my time with the dinner theater, I was the Kitchen Manager, and part of my duties included leading my own crew plus a team of volunteers to break down our travelling kitchen and pack it back into the trailers at the end of each night. At the time, for convenience's sake, I generally wore patched jeans, my uniform polo, and a headscarf, with my stage makeup have been recently removed. After overhearing several older male volunteers refer to me as "the little girl in the headscarf," I filed the idea away that, without makeup, at 5'2", to most older people, and especially older men, I could be mistaken for a teenager. I repeated this experience one day at the Thrift Store I managed. While managing the Costumes for the professional Opera in my college town, I'd noticed the same reaction from the older Tenor in the show. He treated me very differently as I ran around in my work clothes than he did at the cast party, when I had on a red dress and lipstick.

Upon moving to Seattle to begin forging a career as an Actress and Costume Designer, it was natural to dress up for auditions. How to dress for Costume Design Gigs took some thought. I chose to go into my first interview dressed to the nines. I had a very small collection of photos of my past costuming work, and no design degree. But what I did have was the ability to look professional, and to do research ahead of time to present. I got the first gig. I got another gig in film after that. A few films later, I was dressing an older Equity actor, and he told me that I was "The best-dressed costumer in Seattle." He treated me well, and gave me no problems.

From that point on I've made a personal decision to always look well when presenting myself as a designer. It inclines the women in the cast to trust that I'll dress them well if I dress myself well. The men I work with (either as production team, or in the cast) are more inclined to take direction from me. The parents of the children I'm costuming know from my appearance (they've told me) that I look like someone they want to have teaching their children how to wear clothes. So all in all, win-win.

Now, a lot of people I speak with say they don't have time to dress up. I've found this to be a cop-out. Dressing well doesn't actually take more time. if you go about it in the right way. The fastest clothes you can throw on your body is a dress and shoes (two pieces). It only takes me about 5 minutes longer to "dress up" than to walk out of my door with undone hair and a naked face. My full "ready to go" routine takes 40 minutes, including time for a bowl of cereal and a cup of tea.

Here are a few tips I've found that facilitate looking good, without taking more time.

1. Have a few flattering knit dresses. They're fast to put on. They can dress up with heels, or down with tights and boots. It's quick and easy and looks great.

2. Invest in a few Pashminas. They quickly finish off an "outfit" without any work picking out jewelry. They coordinate a slightly mismatched look, they can be a shawl if you end up in a cold restaurant or workspace, they can quickly cover your hair if it starts raining, and they look perfectly fine over a jacket, too.

3. Wear tights. I can cut 2-3 minutes off a shower if I'm running behind by not shaving my legs. For casual looks, footless tights and ballet flats look great.

4. Purchase hot rollers. That allows you to set your hair and put on makeup in the same 5 minutes, and generally, hot roller curls last longer than curling iron styling.

5. Minimize your makeup/hair routine. It shouldn't take an hour to put on evening out makeup, and less time for day wear. My day face is less than five minutes. I throw on my moisturizer just before I dry my hair. That lets it set prior to makeup application. Then I roll my hair (2 minutes), put on liquid foundation and powder (less than one minute), pat on cream blush on my cheekbones (5 seconds), use a Stila liquid eyeliner brush to line my top lid (10 seconds), add Mascara (15 seconds), and throw on lipgloss (10 seconds). That's my 2-minute face. Then I pull out the rollers and hairspray. Thanks to waterproof eyeliner, the look stays all day, and the only makeup I need to carry is lipgloss in my purse.

Ladies, it's not hard to look our best. Looking well makes us carry ourselves better, increases the initial reaction from people we interact with (though that's just the first impression. What matters in the end is your personality, work ethic, talent and ability), and why not start out a few steps ahead, rather than having to work hard to make people respect us "in spite" of our appearance.

Alan and I were having a similar discussion earlier this week about prepping for an audition. A friend was asking how to prepare a headshot and resume. The question was asked, why bother? Shouldn't talent and presentation matter more than whether or not you cut off the messy edges, or format your columns into pleasing lines? Of course the talent should be the important thing. The neatest resume in the world won't get you cast in a musical if you can't sing. But do you want your first impression to be carelessness, or lack of ability to follow directions?

The same can hold true to appearance. We are taught that personal appearance shouldn't matter. That's true to a point. Personal appearance shouldn't be the only thing that matters. There are far too many women who have bought into the idea that being beautiful and holding onto youth is the driving force in life. (I should know. I worked for them in Southern California) But there are more women; talented, driven, professional, fun, lovely women; who have gone to the other extreme. We have been setting out be taken seriously, and forgotten how to be feminine. I believe there is room for both. You can be professional and stylish. You can be busy and put together. And I believe, in the end, the benefit to looking like we respect ourselves, and enjoy our appearance, can only add to the collective attractiveness of our whole selves.