I was standing in the dressing room when the boutique owner handed me a dress.
An evening gown, all black, in a fabric I didn’t recognize.
It was lovely. Gorgeous, in fact.
I slipped off my clothes and tried it on.
The shoulders, arms, and neckline were made of a sheer black chiffon. The rest of the dress was shiny, and it hugged my body as I moved. I had no idea what it was made of – it looked almost space-aged – but the texture kind of reminded me of fish scales. It made me feel very grown up.
I played around in the dressing room for a few minutes, admiring the way light reflected off the skirt. I turned this way and that, waving and blowing kisses at the mirror, pretending I was the belle of the ball. I had never felt so chic before, and all because of this beautiful dress with the strange, shiny material.
Could I ever own such a gown?
I took a look at the price tag…
…and nearly fainted.
This was the early ’80s, I was in my late teens, and the most expensive garment I had ever owned up until that point cost less than $100.
I was suddenly terrified to move in that dress.
What if I ripped a seam? What if I stepped on the hem? What if, heaven forbid, I perspired in that darn thing? My parents would NOT be happy if they got stuck with a “she broke it, you buy it” kind of bill. Especially one that was nearly three times their house payment at the time.
The boutique owner asked me if I was ready just then, so I said yes and came out into the common area to model it for her. We were getting ready for a runway show and trying on different clothes to determine which model would wear what.
Except suddenly, I didn’t feel very much like a model.
I felt like the twelve year old I had been when I snuck into my mother’s party dress closet one day when I was home alone and played in her chiffon aquamarine evening gown, the one with the hem made of matching feathers. I’d walked all over the house in it, swishing the skirt to and fro, pretending I was at a party. Then I put it back in her closet, sure she’d never know. She knew. Because I’d left a trail of aquamarine feathers everywhere I went. And boy, did I get in trouble!
That’s what I was thinking of as I “modeled” (and I use the term loosely) that shiny dress for the boutique owner. I took tiny steps – like Morticia Adams kind of tiny – and was afraid to even breathe in that gown.
The showing did not go well.
In fact, I didn’t get the job.
When my modeling agent called me later to ask what happened, I said that the boutique owner was looking for someone who was older and more mature.
Which was only partly true.
The truth was, I was old enough and had the figure to pull off that gown.
What I didn’t have was the self esteem. Or the maturity.
Because I didn’t think I was good enough to wear a dress like that.
All it took was a look at the price tag.
I later learned that it was made of liquid sequins – sequins that are sewn flat against the garment – and there were about 400,000 of them on that dress. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but it did have a tendency to lose sequins here and there, much like the feathers on my mother’s aquamarine dress. Which meant that after a few wearings, the dress would have “bald” spots and no longer be chic or pristine. It was the kind of rapidly depreciating asset that only the very rich – or truly extravagant – could afford to buy.
It was completely out of my league.
Which I clearly demonstrated to the boutique owner with my timid body language. I was afraid to move in that dress – and it showed.
High fashion is all about the good life. About having enough money to wear and enjoy expensive clothes without worrying about how much they cost.
Modeling is about showcasing that good life. About tapping into peoples’ aspirations and getting them to buy what you’re selling. But if the model is afraid of the clothes? No sale.
So why am I telling you this?
Because my last article, Should You Buy Expensive Clothes? apparently brought up similar feelings for a lot of readers. Many emailed to say they would never even try on expensive clothes – let alone buy them – because they knew they couldn’t afford them, so what’s the point?
The point is: you can’t move forward staying in the same place.
If you want to make more money, advance your career, move up to next level, etc., you have to get out of your comfort zone. You have to do things that are uncomfortable to start pushing your limits.
Trying on expensive clothes does that.
Even if you can’t afford to buy them right now, you should try them on from time to time to whet your appetite and fuel your desire for finer things. Because once you try on a well made garment or a great pair of “to die for” shoes, there’s no going back. You’ll know what luxury feels like, what it smells like, and it will fuel your desire to have more.
Now I realize that sounds super-materialistic, and maybe you’re not that kind of girl. That’s fine.
But beautiful clothes are like an elegant meal: they give you a different perspective.
My mother, for all her many talents, was never much of a cook. It just didn’t interest her. She had about a dozen recipes that she served in rotation throughout my entire childhood, and since we didn’t eat out much, we ate the same dishes over and over for years. Eating was about putting fuel in the tank, not having a gastronomical experience. It wasn’t until I started dating and occasionally eating at my then-future mother-in-law’s house that I discovered there was more to food than the handful of dishes I’d grown up with. Virginia serves amazing food, and her table always looks like a magazine photo shoot. In all the times I’ve dined with her over the years, she’s never served the same thing twice.
Her interest in food sparked my own, and to this day I’m always trying new recipes. My children have eaten a wide variety of things – far more than I ever did growing up – and both of my daughters love to cook. In fact my oldest, Cassie, has even thought about becoming a professional chef. That’s how different her childhood dinner table was from my own.
That’s what I mean by a different perspective.
If you never try new things, you don’t know what you’re missing. And while ignorance may be bliss, it can also very expensive – especially when it comes to your career.
So what does trying on expensive clothes have to do with your job?
Remember that liquid sequin dress I tried on as a teen? I loved how it made me look. I was “strutting my stuff” in that dressing room, feeling like a million bucks…right up until I saw the price tag. Then I didn’t feel worthy of such an expensive gown.
I had that mental block for years. I wouldn’t even go into an expensive store because I knew I didn’t belong there. I had a certain price point and I stuck with it, never venturing beyond my comfort zone.
But that all changed one Saturday morning at the Houston Galleria mall back in 1994. That’s when, at the very beginning of my image consulting career, a mentor had me do an interesting exercise: I was to take a pen and paper and walk around the mall for two hours, writing down all the things I’d buy if money were no object. I was to go into every store that appealed to me and write down every item I wanted, along with the price. She’d meet me for lunch at noon.
So I did.
It was scary at first. I was so worried about what the store clerks thought of me, like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (1990) shopping Rodeo Drive in her hooker outfit. Except I wasn’t a hooker. Or Julia Roberts. But the Galleria was almost like Rodeo Drive. Neiman Marcus, Tiffany’s, Gucci, Barneys – you name it, this mall has it.
Some of the store clerks were nice; some were snobs. But once I really started getting going on the exercise, I really didn’t care what they thought. I was on a mission.
Clothing. Jewelry. Shoes. Jackets. I’d never had so much fun! I didn’t try on anything and I didn’t buy anything; I just made my list. By noon I had pages and pages of stuff.
At lunch, my mentor tallied it up: $350,000.
That’s how much I would have spent in two hours if money were no object. It was awesome!
So what was the purpose of the exercise?
To remind me that clients come in all shapes, sizes…and budgets.
Just because I tend to shop at a certain price point doesn’t mean everyone else does. People buy at many different price points, so staying in my comfort zone would cost me a lot of business, my mentor warned. If you want to attract high paying clients, you have to know where they shop and feel comfortable going there. Otherwise, like the boutique owner and the liquid sequin dress, they’ll hire someone who does.
It was invaluable advice.
Because some of the wealthiest people I’ve encountered over the years have never hired me as an image consultant. I’ve met them through other jobs, my kids’ school, volunteering, and the like. We haven’t shopped together, but I’ve dined in their mansions, ridden in their luxury cars, and attended meetings at their expensive offices. All activities that would have once, like the liquid sequin dress, had me feeling unworthy and looking to leave.
If you’ve ever felt like that, here’s what you need to do to fuel your dreams and get a different perspective:
1. Dress in crisp casual attire (like a shirtdress or a collared shirt and trousers) and go to an expensive clothing store in your town when it’s really busy, like a weekend, when the clerks are busy helping a lot of people. Then, try on a few expensive pieces to see how they look on you. Note the fit, the fabric, the construction. Imagine conducting a meeting in those clothes. Or attending a social event. Or going to your high school class reunion. This is was success looks like, and girl, you’ll find it looks fabulous on you.
Now don’t buy anything – just try it on. The goal is to get you seeing yourself at this level, to cement a picture in your head of how a financially successful you looks. Snap some selfies while you’re at it. You can pull them out during the rough patches at work to remind yourself how good you look in nice clothes.
2. On another day, dress in crisp casual attire (see above) and go to a luxury car showroom. Look at all the beautiful cars and sit in a few. Again, imagine yourself going to work in one of those babies, or pulling up to the family reunion in one. If you’re feeling particularly brave, ask to go for a test drive. Again, you’re not buying anything; you’re just “trying it on,” so to speak, to get a feel for the luxury car market.
3. Google “open houses + your town” and you’ll get sites with homes for sale in your area that have open houses that weekend, usually on Sunday afternoon. Look for neighborhoods you wish you could live in or that have a high price point. Then, dress in crisp casual attire (see above) and go to a couple of the open houses. Imagine yourself living there. Entertaining there. Raising your kids there. Again, don’t buy anything; you’re just getting an idea of what houses at that price point look like. Thank the realtor, and take her card for future reference.
4. Fix an elegant meal for your family. Good food and big business go together, so if you want to move in more elite circles, you need to know what good food looks and tastes like. If you tend to eat out of boxes, cans, or from drive thrus, it’s time for a more sophisticated perspective.
One of my budget-friendly summertime favorites is:
Buy the London broil on sale, if you can, and figure ½ pound per person (more if you’re feeding teenagers). Any leftovers won’t last long. Get the vegetables from your garden or from a farmer’s market. The fresher, the better.
This is a low skill/high taste meal, so even if you don’t cook, you’ll be able to pull this one off like a champ. The marinade will also make your house smell divine. Cost: $25-$40, depending on whether you already have the marinade ingredients on hand. This meal will taste better and cost less than most sit down restaurants you go to.
So why go to all this trouble to flirt with “the high life?”
To expand your perspective.
We’re all told “don’t touch” a lot as kids. Don’t touch the China. Or the pretty dress. Or the chocolate.
The reasoning is sound; most children can’t appreciate – or properly handle – fine things. But that “don’t touch” mentality follows us into adulthood to the point where we believe that we’re not allowed to touch any nice things ever, that they’re somehow reserved for other people. That was my problem with the liquid sequin dress. Unfortunately, some people go their entire lives believing this – and it kills their earning potential.
So go touch “the good stuff” so you can understand why it’s considered good. Try on designer clothes. Test drive your dream car. Tour an expensive home. Eat amazing food.
Heck, even walk around the mall with a pen and paper and write down all the things you’d buy if money were no object.
Because once you realize that you are worthy, a funny thing starts to happen: it shows.
You stop feeling uncomfortable around expensive things. You start mingling easily across socio-economic levels. You stop being intimidated by wealth.
Which then typically allows you to attract more of into your life.
“What you resist persists,” said Carl Jung, “And what you accept changes,” add many of his students.
Meaning that what you focus on expands. So if you insist that you have no business walking into any store outside of your price range, you’ll be constantly drawn to things that are outside your price range, and your frustration will grow.
But if you accept that you’re drawn to things outside your price range and enjoy them in whatever way your budget allows – open houses, test drives, matinees, whatever – the universe aligns itself to bring you opportunities to expand your income to afford them. Chance meetings. Key contacts. A friend of a friend who…
It’s just how life works.
So again, go touch “the good stuff” – whatever that means to you – and enjoy it as your budget allows. You are worthy and deserving, and once you come to terms with that, you’ll be amazed how the universe aligns to prove it.
Diana Pemberton-Sikes is an image consultant and author of Executive Style Bootcamp. Ready to take your career to the next level and finally get the attention, respect, and income you deserve? Executive Style Bootcamp can help.