What Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg has to do with your personal style.

Damn, I wish I’d read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg sooner.

I’m ashamed to admit I put off reading it.

I misinterpreted Lean In to mean work harder, spend more time at the office, put in more effort, be grittier, and I am about as gritty as a silk pillowcase.

But Lean In has absolutely nothing to do with that whatsoever. Instead, it enlightened me, delighted me, inspired me, and motivated me.

What has it got to do with style? Here comes my paraphrasing again… hopefully the author will forgive me.

One of the takeaways (and there are many) was to chart our own unique course; define what dreams and goals fit our lives, values, and dreams.

The same thing goes for style.

What we define as looking good is what matters. Chart your unique fashion course. Sail under your own flag. Make it as damn colorful as you want. And since a vison of your life is like a rudder of a boat, have a vision for your closet that matches your values, dreams and goals.

Part of the reason I create unique Style Statements is every woman is different. No, really? Tell that to clothing stores that try to fit us to their mold.

Just because one woman dresses a certain way, doesn’t mean that you should. What really matters is what you feel great in and not what the rest of the world thinks, though it takes a great deal of bravery to remember that.

We need to add more female voices to all the causes that matter (and we also need for women to make a shitload more money). One way to do that is to start with looking at what you’re wearing.

It may sound facile, but how you present yourself conveys to the world how you feel about yourself, how strongly you believe in the causes you support, and the message you want to share with the world. It also tells the world the level you are playing at, and the kind of money you expect to be paid in return for your extremely valuable experience, energy and time.

But back to Lean in….

Sheryl encourages us to speak up and be bold. Wahoo! This also applies to your clothing choices. Try wearing something you’ve never worn before. Try a pattern you’re a little scared of. If your wardrobe is predominantly black, take a deep breath and add a color?

Be brave when it comes to your clothing choices and it will help you be brave in your life.

There’s a beautiful saying, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” What would you wear if you weren’t afraid of what other people would think? What would you wear if you loved your body exactly as it is? What would you wear if you knew you would look amazing in it no matter what? What would you wear if you knew that you would feel confident, empowered, and that you would just rock all of your dreams and goals?

Even Sheryl Sandberg gets impostor syndrome, which I was blown away by. This seems to be predominantly a female trait: believing we aren’t worthy of a seat at the table, and that we don’t have the necessary skills and abilities. There are centuries of reasons behind this. I will simply say it’s brainwashing and leave it at that. But please, oh precious, irreplaceable woman — don’t cannot compare your insides to other people’s outsides.

And don’t negatively compare your clothing to others, either. Instead, if you see someone whose style you admire, ask, “What is she doing that I can learn from?” Hey, why not go over to her and ask where she got her clothes from? Who helped to put them together? Where did her inspiration comes from?

Sheryl pointed out when men fail, they try to blame outside conditions, and when women fail, they tend to blame their flaws. I have heard this over and over again from my clients saying, “I have the wrong body.” No, you are wearing the wrong clothes. There is never anything wrong with your beautiful, precious body. The clothing that is being made and sold is wrong for you. You may need to tailor. It can be as simple as buying a size up in a dress, and taking it in the waist. Or buying a size up in a pair of pants, taking it in the waist, and taking it up at the legs.

If you are not dressing in a way that you feel celebrates your incredible body, it is not you. The world you are shopping in is not providing you with the clothes that you need. And you need somebody to help you find the ones that will.

Here’s a quote from the book: “show me a woman without any guilt, and I will show you a man.” I’ve seen it attributed to Marie Wilson, and a version of it to Erica Jong. Guilt is what we feel for when we do something wrong, and shame is what we feel when we feel we are wrong. If you look in the mirror and feel you are wrong, that is misplaced shame.

Sheryl (note the first name terms….) says sometimes self-doubt is self-defense. I’ve seen this again and again with clients who wore large, baggy clothes as a way to protect themselves from the world. The hid themselves behind large handbags as well, or carry folders, files, papers, and laptops, in order to create a physical barricade between them and possibly rejection, abuse or even being seen.

I’ve also seen women hide via clothes that are drab and fade into the background as a way to avoid being noticed and visible. Be bold. Be brave. Your message is important. We need what you have to offer to the world.

Sheryl wrote women are taught to be caring. This is a beautiful thing. Just turn that attention and care into yourself and your own style. Care about what you wear simply because it will help you get you closer to your goals and your dreams and because you deserve it. You deserve the time and attention.

It’s very hard for a woman to not automatically be nice — well, for me, anyway, in a situation I feel I have to “manage” to avoid repercussions. When it comes to your style, don’t automatically go for the safe bet. Don’t always go for something you think other people will think is appropriate.

The author said a mentor advised her to be feminine but relentless. It was a strategy and it worked for her, it could work for you as well. The society you live in defines feminine — I encourage you to create your own definition. How you define feminine in your style is completely up to you. Other advice reminded me of Wonder Woman — in business (or when saving the world), be pleasant, but keep making your point. Let your clothing give the same message.

“Relentlessly pleasant.” Love it. Be solution focused, but smile.

Same goes for your clothing. It needs to be solution focused, but still make you smile. Another tip with coping in today’s corporate environment was to show concern for the common good as opposed to your individual needs. I’m going to say, dress as an individual, but have an impact on the common good.

The author notes you can’t please everyone if you want to make change.

This applies directly to your style. The only person your style needs to please is yourself. If you are in a career, a relationship, a life where you can’t wear what you want to wear, then it’s definitely time to make a change.

Dress in a way you feel is attractive — I know attractive is a loaded word, define how it means to you. And then get on with following your dreams and goals.

Sheryl says surprises are good for you. I’m not sure about that, I’m easily startled and I hate surprise parties, but it is fun to create outfits that surprise my clients or the people in their lives. Combine items of clothing for the hell of it. Pick items at random and introduce them to each other. Experiment — surprise yourself.

Oh, yes, Sheryl — so true! She says men will continue to be encouraged when the going gets tough, but women will hear “it’s okay, you don’t need to do this. You can quit.”

What is up with that? I mean, really? I’ve had it happen to me, in the most loving way. It was said by someone who didn’t want me to get hurt. Please, don’t say it to any woman in your life. Instead, hand her a water bottle as she runs by and hold a parade at the finish line.

Don’t give up on your style. Do what it takes to wear clothing which makes you look and feel great. Do not give up. Do not quit. Learn, grow, get help.

Sheryl says if women don’t automatically help, it is perceived as negative.

It took me a long time to realize “no” is a complete sentence. And — one of the things that women don’t always do is reach out for help, either. I had clients tell me they thought they would never be able to afford a personal stylist or style coach, life coach, or business coach. Invest in yourself. You are your biggest asset, and you always will be. A good coach will save you years of struggle.

A genuine mentor, life coach, or business coach will provide value for what you pay them. There will be an equal exchange of energy. And a good style coach will save you money. You will recoup your investment over and over.

Sheryl also encourages women to say, “I want to do that, and you know what, I’ll learn how to do it by doing it. I won’t wait until I know how.”

Learning how to create outfits is a skill you can learn through experimentation, practice, observation. Get someone to teach you, if you’re in a hurry.

As for “truth” — oh, Sheryl, you hit the nail on the head. “Your truth isn’t their truth isn’t her truth isn’t his truth which may not be our truth.” With my clients, their truth is their truth. It’s up to them if they want to wear that truth…or change the “truth” altogether. Getting too obscure? Call me.

Oh, and on behalf of us who don’t have children or other people that depend on us for care, Sheryl says it’s still OK to leave work early… “it is just as important to go on a date, as it is to attend your kid’s soccer game.” Thank you! I admit to “I don’t have kids” guilt at times, as I go about my “hedonistic” lifestyle.

Style version? it’s just as important to have clothes you love to wear to yoga as it is to have clothes that you love to pitch to venture funding or to volunteer at a cause you believe in.

Sheryl say women excel at self-flagellation. If you find yourself looking in the mirror and saying “I look awful,” I want you to reframe that as “You know what? These clothes aren’t quite right for me and I may not know why yet, but I can find out and then create an outfit in which I will rock my dreams and my goals.”

She also called herself a pom-pom girl for feminism. I might just have to pull out a cheerleader outfit, because Sheryl, I want you on my team.

Aroha, Erin

Style coach, style trainer, wardrobe therapist.




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Erin Keam

Owner of The Happy Wardrobe, which helps women identify their unique Style Statement and impact the world via their closets, careers, businesses and life.