I read recently — and I believe it — that being consistent is key to stylishness. If you normally wear makeup, then on a day that you don’t, your face has a bare, medieval look unlike the face people usually see. If you generally don’t, then on the days you do, people will figure you are having an affair or at least a job interview. If you Dress for Success five days a week and throw on any old rag on the weekend — which is what I did back in my hose-and-heels days — it sends a signal about who in your life is worth dressing up for, or even who you are trying to fool. If every outfit is a costume and each event brings you out in a completely different look, you appear confused or even untrustworthy.

I thought about this as I got dressed for the trade show. It was taking place at a bank, and female bankers are 32807 002 pretty stylish, so I put on my pointy bronze shoes. Also my girliest trousers, striped shirt, and a dove gray linen jacket. I accessorized this ensemble with the earrings Mayflower made for me and this dragon:

I think that a dragon shoulder puppet is always good for those day-to-evening affairs, don’t you?

So I stood for two and a half hours making sparkling conversation with total strangers, because that is what you do at a trade show. I lured them over with the shoulder puppet and then gestured in Vanna White style at the presentation board The Empress had made and asked them about their families and promised them goodies if they came to our website and stuff like that.

Then I had to go up for the door prize giving, and I took the opportunity to check out all the other stuff at the trade show. There were puppies, and barbeque, and cookies, and massages, so obviously we were up against stiff competition.

 32807 006But look at this. Can you see the tote bags?

I was trying to be discreet about taking the picture. I had already told The Empress sotto voce that they should have run the paper through the laminator before they sewed them up, and that they cost $60.00. In U.S. money. I didn’t want it to be obvious that I was taking a picture for future reference so that I could easily make one myself and encourage other people to do so.

So maybe you cannot really see that these are tote bags made from magazine covers. They are sewn up just like any other basic grocery-bag shaped tote bag, and have grommets and a little chain handle. You could make these in 30 minutes, 40 if you laminated first, and your cost would be less than the sales tax on these ready-mades.

If you did so, you would then be worth $2 a minute. You would have an excuse never to do dishes again, because your time was so valuable.

32807 003 Doesn’t the square look good with the azaleas and all the trees blooming?

I have two little puny azaleas in my front garden with the phlox. They should probably be moved out into the sun or something instead of being left in full shade to struggle as though my garden were some kind of hospice for azaleas. The other flowers rally round and bloom lushly to make up for it, but I feel bad whenever I see a happy azalea.

Ah, yes, I was saying that being consistent is the key to stylishness.

And yet, when I do a show at a bank I put on pointy shoes, and when I do the homeschool curriculum fair I put on a skirt and sweater and take my knitting. I think that this is being appropriate, not inconsistent. If I put a bow in my hair and wore sneakers with my skirt at the curriculum fair, I would be trying to trick people. But dressing in something from my own closet that allows the visitors to feel comfortable with me seems right. I am a mom, I did homeschool my kids, they can trust me. I’m helping them know that fast enough that they will come over to my table, rather than shunning me the way they do the encyclopedia salesman.

32807 010 Research on the subject shows that we trust other people more when they seem to be like us. On Wall Street, panhandlers in suits did better, in an experiment, than other panhandlers. You would not expect that, since a panhandler in a suit would presumably evoke less sympathy than one in rags. People seemed to assume, however, that “Got any change?” from a guy dressed like themselves was a reasonable request. The guy apparently knew where his towel was.

(If you do not read Douglas Adams, you can find an explanation of the towel as it relates to grooming at my post from 12/12/06. Use the little calendar thing  at bottom left to go there.)

Appropriateness of dress is about that. At its simplest, it can be looking like one another because we are all at the opera, so we should all look like we’re going to the opera, not like we meant to end up at the boxing ring — or vice versa. But sometimes I think it makes sense to consider the audience a bit. Not so much that we are making fun of them or wearing a costume.

Back in my dancing days, it was not uncommon to hear me or a fellow dancer saying, “Oh, it’s you! I didn’t recognize you in your clothes!” It got us some funny looks from passersby, too. But we really don’t want to get that reaction in our daily lives.

So we might strive for a balance of consistent style and appropriate dress. This is not as important or worthwhile as striving for humility, but we can still do it in our spare time.