Expressing yourself in different ways naturally develops your personal brand, even if that’s not your intention. Whether it’s through your words, your actions, your work or―as is the focus of this article―your sense of style, you can give others a glimpse of who you are and what makes you different.
How you go about expressing your style can also send a strong message. To me, fashion and style are synonymous. When we meet people for the first time, we can’t help but jump to conclusions about their personality and character, based on how they’re dressed. Superficial? Yes, but we often do it unconsciously.
Instead of criticizing it, I’ve learned to embrace it.
Career In Fashion
After my 6-year career start in Japan, I returned to Chicago not sure what the next chapter would be. I decided to explore my interest in fashion by working part-time at Bachrach Clothing. It was where I bought my first suit out of college and I had fond memories of shopping there. Ten years and a full wardrobe later, I learned everything about gentlemen style guides down to the details of how to properly fold a pocket silk or how to tie the perfect knot.
Putting outfits together is an art form. There are general rules you’re supposed to follow but with practice you learn when it’s ok to break those rules. It helps to start with the basics and then build from there. Once you have essential items that can easily be mixed and matched, you move to other details such as layering and combining colors, patterns and fabric. The fun starts when you accessorize. Finishing touches such as pocket silks, cufflinks, scarves and watches can transform ordinary to extraordinary. (See my Pinterest board on men’s fashionfor more details and inspiration.)
At Bachrach, I also learned the importance of fit over fashion. We’re often drawn to things that look great on the shelf or display. But when we try them on, certain things just don’t work well with our build. We may need to go up or down in size. Sometimes alterations are needed. When available and within our budget, made-to-measure usually gives the best results. It’s important to remember that regardless of whether something looks good from a distance, unless it fits you properly, the end result won’t be as good as you expected. Forcing a fit usually leads to disappointment in the long run.
I’m grateful for these lessons learned. The time at Bachrach helped me refine my personal sense of style while I helped others do the same.
When I transitioned to work in e-commerce for Dreams Retail (before it was acquired by Fanatics), fashion took on a different definition. Acceptable dress code was very characteristic of sports fans and dot com culture (e.g. graphic t-shirts, snapback caps and even flip-flops). I enjoyed the freedom of the relaxed work environment and wore my gear my way. It was more in line with how I like to look and feel when I DJ a party, or when I’m at home. I couldn’t get totally away from suits and ties though. My closet was full of them and it felt like a waste. So every once in a while, I would break from the norm and come in dressed to the nines. As expected, I stood out like a pair of mismatched socks, but I made no apologies. I was doing it because it represented another side of me that I didn’t want to neglect. To my surprise, our President at the time, Kevin Bates, took a liking to it and declared an annual “Dashing Donn Durante Day” where everyone was encouraged to dress up (See featured image of me with Tim Glinski, our Don Draper look-alike). It was like the opposite of Casual Friday.
In retrospect, Dreams brought out a different side of me and helped me develop a healthy respect for the various shades of everyone’s style and character. When you go beyond first impressions, you’re often pleasantly surprised at the depth of character of the company you keep.
Now I’m back to wearing suits daily at Nordstrom. Many things to love about Nordstrom’s approach to business. One of the corporate values I enjoy most is the emphasis on being yourself. It’s more about expressing your personal style and not just about buying fashion. Among the many inspiring messages you’ll find on the walls of the employee hallways is the note below:
Fashion may be the form of expression, but the emphasis is on you. Fashion is one way of representing who you are and how you want people to think of you. Let the true you shine through.
As you may have already read from the news I shared, Nordstrom recently partnered with Ellen DeGeneres to launch her new line, The ED by Ellen DeGeneres shoe collection. Ellen sets a great example and she’s a champion of being yourself. How fitting!
Fitting is a great word to describe my career to date. At a glance, my path can appear haphazard and random. A closer look connects the dots between the things I love and the opportunities that presented themselves. My personal brand is about making meaningful connections in creative ways.
Personal Branding By Being Yourself
Personal branding, as a concept, sometimes gets a bad rap. I like to look at it as simply an extension of being yourself. The effort of branding yourself becomes negative only when it’s not authentic, not genuine ― when it becomes about fabricating an image that’s only designed to please others. Branding for branding’s sake is shallow. Let’s not do that.
So how do you represent your genuine self? When free to choose, what’s your signature look? And why? What does it say about you? Einstein was known to have identical outfits so he wouldn’t have to think about it in the morning. Other things were a priority. Steve Jobs wore his classic black turtleneck, blue jeans and gray New Balance. He had his reasons. How about examples from the people around you? When I was at Dreams Retail, Kevin Bates was known around the office for often wearing a black t-shirt, blue jeans and a pair of white Puma sneakers. To me this look matched his very approachable nature. For my other friends at FansEdge and Fanatics, it was common to proudly sport the jersey of one’s favorite team or alma mater. It was easy to see what they were passionate about and it often prompted conversations about their personal history and experience.
Albert’s typical head-to-toe attire consisted of an undershirt, baggy pants held up with a rope, and sandals.
His attitude was either people knew and accepted him, or they didn’t. Case closed.
Going deeper below the surface, it all starts with you and ends with how it all fits together.
What’s important to you?
For example, do you like simple or sophisticated?
Do you prefer loud or muted?
For you, is it in the details or the overall package?
I know it’s not that simple. So start with the basic questions and then dive into the more intricate details. As you build on your essence and layer in the other unique aspects of yourself, you begin to get a good sense of what makes you you. Then you can consider how this all fits with everything else. Is your current company a good fit? Maybe the company is a good fit but your role within the company could be better. How well do you gel with the team? Do they bring out your best, or do you feel you’re always at odds? Make some time and think about it.
Applying This to You and Your Career
It’s important to emphasize how unique and multifaceted each of us are. We’re different on the field and off, at work and at home, from one role to another. Our diverse nature gives us the flexibility to adapt from situation to situation, depending on what’s appropriate. You’re still being yourself. Just bringing out a different side of who you are.
There’s only one you. Like no other. Never has been. Never will be. So go ahead and express your one-of-a-kind style with confidence. Be comfortable not only with your personal style of dress, but also with your special style of speaking writing and working. Otherwise, you’re depriving the world of something only you can give. Building your personal brand will happen in due course.
“Since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable.”
― Brenda Ueland
As you navigate your career choices, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel pressured to be someone you’re not and your integrity is compromised, get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. No matter what the potential rewards, don’t sell yourself out. At the end of the day, you’ll make the most meaningful impact by staying true to yourself and finding company that brings out the best you have to offer. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my most impactful, rewarding and memorable years were at Dreams Inc where I was encouraged to be myself, manage in my own way and be creative in how I delivered results. Finding the right fit takes precedence over glamorous opportunities.
Again, fashion is just one of many ways to express yourself. You may agree it’s superficial and only a mere reflection of who you are. For your personal brand, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. Be Yourself. Don’t just try to fit in. Doesn’t matter if you’re a fashionista, old-fashioned, or if you couldn’t care less about fashion. Even when we’re buck naked, we should all be comfortable in our own skin.
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