I was a late bloomer, style-wise. This is quite a confession coming from a woman who makes her living editing a fashion and beauty magazine. I'm only willing to put it out there because I wish I'd woken up earlier to the importance of having a confident look. And maybe reading this will help some other woman get there faster.
I was the girl who, on her wedding day, neglected to get a manicure. Full disclosure: I also forgot to get the proper underthings and had to go bra-less under my mom's white dress. I didn't wear mascara until my mid-thirties and am still ambivalent about foundation. Turns out, none of that mattered, but do you know what did? Not buying the right clothes for job interviews. Wearing schlubby maternity duds borrowed from a friend while I worked right up to my due date (who cares what a pregnant woman looks like? was my thinking). Waking up on big-meeting mornings and finding I had nothing big-meeting-ish to wear. Do I believe that you should follow every trend and obsess over your hair? No! Do I think every woman needs an expensive, fancy wardrobe? Not at all. But what I've learned along the way is that getting your fashion and beauty ducks in row lets you obsess less and accomplish more.
My first up-close look at empowered style came with my first job. It was at Cosmopolitan magazine, where I worked for the book and fiction editor, Betty Kelly, and above her, the legendary Helen Gurley Brown. Betty was charming, smart and ran a tight ship. She was also a spectacular blonde beauty who wore pencil-skirted suits and spectator pumps and fabulous gold jewelry. I never once saw her without freshly-glossed lips. Helen wore outrageous Pucci dresses and lots of animal print. Her mini-skirts were neither workplace nor age-appropriate (she was nearly 70 then), but they were part of her persona and her power. Helen's unorthodox uniform helped her build a publishing empire and start a sexual firestorm. You had to love it.
Meanwhile, I dressed neatly, conservatively and, by necessity, cheaply. But even as my salary increased, my style limped along. On days when I managed to pull together a polished outfit, I felt great -- capable, energized and grown up. But we're talking once a week. On weekends, I lived in cozy basics; on vacations I wore, essentially, dirt while backpacking with my husband. I struggled to square that Jill with the Jill who needed to dress chic-ly for work. Later, when I had a baby, style seemed like an impractical indulgence I had no time for. Asking my husband to watch our little one so that I could go shopping? Wouldn't that be vain, silly, selfish?
Nope, it would have been smart. I figured that out in my late thirties, when two pregnancies had changed my body enough to require a complete closet overhaul. With each strategic purchase (a good coat for every season, pants tailored to fit, handbags that did more than just haul stuff), I felt more able to deal with what my days threw at me.
Three years ago, Hearst called me in to discuss the editor-in-chief job at Redbook. Of course I labored over my ideas, but for the first time, I also poured hours and cash into assembling the exact right interview outfits. This was so much more than a shopping spree; I was putting money behind my conviction that I could run something big. I finally realized that if I wasn't willing to bet on myself, no one else would bet on me.
It's a bet every woman should make, but you don't have to wager the family farm. Increasingly, great style is gettable at reasonable prices and in a wide range of sizes from retailers like Target, Kohl's, JCP, Loft, J. Crew and many more. I did get that job at Redbook, and now I work with a fashion department devoted to finding confidence clothes for every reader. In fact, we've redesigned the entire magazine to support that mission, upping our fashion and beauty content by 20 percent.
Don't take as long as I did to figure out that investing time, energy and a little bit of money in your look can make you more focused, more effective, more powerful. Also -- and this is no small thing -- it's good fun.