Big hair, big earrings, big EVERYTHING: why I always show up as my authentic self at professional networking events
“OH MY GOODNESS! You are SO BRAVE!”
I didn’t even think she was talking to me at first.
The networking event was crowded, and we were both waiting for our wine from the bartender.
But then she said it AGAIN, this time
“YOU ARE SO BRAVE!!!”
I turned and looked at her, smiling politely.
“Yes!” she said as she reached her hand out and touched my earrings. (Note: Don’t do this! Ever!)
“These earrings- I mean, they are really pretty, but I could never wear them to a PROFESSIONAL event! They are so big! So many colors. And your HAIR!” she said
(Don’t do this either! Ever!)
It’s just SO big! You are so brave!”
Now, before I say how I responded. How would YOU have responded? 🤣🤣
God must have sent a text message to the bartender because he brought my wine just then, which gave me a few extra seconds to take a sip, pay for my drink, and then turn and give her my full attention- which I used to really look at her.
Her hair was curly like mine but was beginning to turn gray, so she had it cut very close.
She was wearing a black suit that was way to big, with a charcoal gray camisole underneath.
Sensible flat shoes. Probably Clarks. Black. Polished.
Oh, and HER earrings?
Her ears were not even pierced.
You can probably imagine how I wanted to respond after my “assessment” of her (which shows she was not the only one judging
But instead of being offended, I thought maybe she secretly wanted to bring more of herself to her professional life as well, but she was afraid of how she would be perceived by new contacts.
my first day at the Urban League in Springfield in 1998. I was 24! My son was 5 and I was not even engaged yet!
I remembered when I started my first “office” job at the Urban League in as an assistant to the president, my late aunt telling me that I should always wear dark clothing. And that because my hair was so wild, to always keep it pulled back neatly.
my aunt Roberta Ann- she was my mama’s younger sister.
She even went as far as my earrings, she said if I could fit the tip of my finger inside of them, they were too big. This meant only studs!
My aunt worked at Dow Jones and Baystate’s Neighborhood Health Center for more than 20 years and everyone knew her for her fashion sense. So she knew what she was talking about back then! But as we all know, things have changed since 1997.
Since then, if I don’t feel my outfit is giving me “enough” I will add a pair of colorful earrings. My choices at some of the big box plus size stores are usually limited to dark Men In Black suits or tint like dresses with colorful butterflies all over it! The more the merrier, right? (I imagine some designer sitting in his studio saying: just throw some butterflies on it, no one will be able to see that she’s plus size 🤣🤣)
I always wondered if there was a class taught back in the day about fat women and their love of butterflies.
Our conversation that evening went well and we ended up exchanging information.
Many years later I ended up meeting her again and was surprised to find that her hair had grown out, and her ears were pierced! Did she have on giant, colorful earrings like mine? No.She was wearing simple diamond studs!
Her plain, ill-fitted black suit was replaced by a cute blue wrap dress that accentuated her curves (but did not make her look like she was headed to the night club.)
And her curly gray hair that was once cut close, now reached her shoulders. Still gray. But free.
I am excited to see what future networking events will look like. I believe people will show up as themselves more now than ever. And I am here for it!
Were you ever given advice about what to wear to work like my aunt did for me?
Did you take it? and if so, has that advice evolved over the years?
Crystal Senter-Brown thinks everyone should write a book. And she should know, since she has already written seven, including a novel that was turned into a movie. She is the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher/funeral home Director and painter and first stepped on stage at the age of six. She lives in New England with her husband and a dog who steals her coffee when she is not looking.