Blogger’s Note: A friend noticed I share a significant amount of encouraging posts on social media. She challenged me to write an empowering post for my blog. She’s reading my copy of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. She thinks I should incorporate Sandberg’s ideas into my blog. Challenge accepted. Game on.

The-Mirror-ExerciseI rarely dress to impress. I may impress inadvertently and accidentally, but it’s not my goal in the morning while I’m staring at my closet. I don’t dress for my husband (nor do I dress my husband unless asked). I don’t dress for my coworkers. I study the latest trends, but I could care less if my closet follows those trends.

I dress for myself. I wear what I like. I do mind the occasion and appropriateness of the situation, but I don’t obsess over rules.

And it’s empowering.

I love Doug’s observation in The Devil Wears Prada. “Fashion is not about utility. An accessory is merely a piece of iconography to used to express individual identity.” Yes, fashion serves a purpose. It is also a form of art.

Somewhere down the road, fashion became a means to label others. A vice to submit to in order to win other people’s approval. An excuse to rationalize mean girl behavior. A trophy in the survival-of-the-fittest-woman-eats-woman competition.

When I started a fashion blog, women hurled insults and value judgments my way. I must think I’m better than everyone else in how I dress. I must be vain or superficial. I must secretly judge others for how they dress. Nothing is further than the truth. If you are confident in sweat pants, then rock it, girl. I don’t always dress up myself. I dress according to how I feel on any given day. Maybe someone is ill. Maybe they are chasing young children. Maybe they are unemployed. Maybe they are in a rough season in their life.

Where did this idea that an interest in clothing equals cattiness and superficiality? When did fashion transform from art to competition? It’s fabric. Sure, it can represent many things such as financial stability, body image issues, sexuality, and low self-esteem. People wear clothes for a number of reasons sans the obvious need for coverage. Some women abhor fashion and dress down to show the world that they hold opposite values. Unfortunately, both sides lend themselves to mean girl behavior — behavior that persists long after high school.

I work with many educated women. I understand their argument that women should not be judged for their beauty or what they wear. I agree. Feminism says that  can tightline my eye liner and wear designer heels, and yet analyze Plato’s writings with my colleagues, both male and female, with universal acceptance for my intelligence. Feminism doesn’t limit me to an opposing ideal that focuses only on the mind and not the body.

When I see a woman in Louboutins, I desire to emulate the powerful woman who can afford such shoes. My first thought doesn’t stray to hatred or envy.

When I dress for myself, I eliminate the need to please other people. It says I am confident in my body, abilities, and the intangibles I bring to the table. It allows me to looks favorably on other women, who also are not their body or their budget. I can embrace their wit, intelligence, resourcefulness, kindness, and energy without obsessing how they are not like me.

We spend so much time obsessing over trends in an unhealthy manner to gain acceptance. I am a victim too. I dressed according to how other people told me to dress for a few years. Eshewing specific colors during a job interview because a website tells me so didn’t score more jobs for me. Wearing purple under a suit jacket — not to show off my creativity but because the color shows off eyes — didn’t cost me jobs either. In fact, I consistently break conventional rules to my favor. My best color is confidence. It’s universal. it looks good on everyone. If I fear the interviewer’s response to my outfit, I will convey anxiety, not confidence.

It’s only fabric. It does not define me or others. Dress for yourself.

It builds confidence. That’s empowering for me.

It builds up other women. That’s empowering for us all.

Did I nail the challenge, Mary Beth?