I've read stories in the past about fashion for introverts, and frankly, they usually piss me off. The articles often contain tips about wearing large sunglasses and layers of dark clothing to help an introvert blend in and hide in a crowd. These tips perpetuate popular myths about introverts, that we’re all anti-social and always want to be left alone.
Luckily, the understanding of what it means to be an introvert is changing, thanks in large part to folks like Susan Cain, whose TED Talk and bestselling book Quiet challenge many classic concepts about being an introvert. Susan make a strong case that being an introvert is totally healthy, that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all categorization of introverts, and that all of us have aspects of the introvert and extrovert within us. She also makes a powerful argument for the unique strengths an introvert can bring to a professional team, a friendship or a romantic relationship.
Still, it isn’t always easy being “quiet.” I describe myself as an extroverted introvert (this insightful article by Jenn Granneman, the founder of IntrovertDear.com, captures my experience just about perfectly). For instance, I tend to shine in small groups, where I can truly connect with people and enjoy meaningful conversations. Yet if it’s a brand new group where I’m meeting most of the people for the first time, it usually takes me a little while to fully warm up – I’m often a bit quieter until I have a chance to observe the dynamics of the group. If I walk into a large networking event or a house party solo, on the other hand, I’m immediately filled with anxiety.
This wasn’t always the case for me. When I was a small child, I was fearless. In fifth grade, I campaigned for and won the title of school president. My friends and I even sang our school song over the PA system before the announcements every morning. Over the course of middle school, however, something changed. Perhaps with puberty came an over-awareness of myself that I just couldn’t get over, because soon I stopped raising my hand in class. And by the seventh grade I dropped out of varsity choir, because I could no longer stand to sing in front of my peers. Fast forward to my senior year of high school, and I was voted “class quiet.”
For better or worse, none of my teachers pushed too hard on this issue. I appeased them by listening attentively in class, taking copious notes and kicking ass on my assignments. When it came to my classmates, my primary fear was that my being quiet would be misinterpreted as my being unfriendly, or stuck-up. To combat this, I smiled. A lot. Not that I was walking down the hallways with a maniacal grin – I just mastered the art of “resting nice face,” a near-constant slight upward turn at the corners of my mouth that could easily blossom into a full-fledged smile while in conversation.
And it worked. This was when I realized that the appearance I project to the outside world could actually help with some of the downsides that come with being an introvert.
If you follow Faux Fancy, you've probably picked up on my fondness for bright colors, bold prints, and mixing the two together whenever possible. A benefit of these fashion choices is that they – along with that still-present smile from high school – invite conversation. In fact, this style is the sartorial equivalent of a friendly grin. This is very helpful at events where being an introvert can feel like a burden, such as the aforementioned networking event or party full of strangers, or even the first day at a new job. The outfit/smile does a bit of the hard work for me – I look friendly and approachable, so people approach me and are friendly. Additionally, because I feel good in these clothes, I'm able to project a confidence that I don't always feel.
This latter bit is also key for me in a business environment. If I feel that I look the part, that, along with massive amounts of preparation – more on that later – can help me play the role of Confident, Competent Brilliant Badass until I fully believe it.
This isn’t to say that you can fake preparation by looking nice. And this doesn’t mean that you have to run out and buy a new wardrobe of bright, loud clothes to do the talking for you. But the image you present to the world does impact others’ perception of you, and the confidence that you bring to the table. It’s about figuring out the pieces that make you feel your strongest, and help you project on the outside what you truly feel capable of on the inside.
Perhaps there is a dress in your closet that makes you feel like a boss whenever you slip it on. Or there’s a specific pair of Warby Parker frames that make you feel a bit more authoritative. Or there’s a certain lip color that makes you feel a little bit bolder whenever you wear it. Figure out what those items are, and what about them gives you that extra feeling of confidence. And the next time you’re doing a little shopping, keep an eye out for more items like them.
Now, because I’ve learned a few things over the years in my journey as an introvert, I thought I’d share a bit of advice that has nothing to do with fashion.
A Few Tips for Succeeding as an Introvert in an Extrovert-Worshipping World:
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. In my early days of working at a tech PR agency, I would marvel at the seemingly spontaneous brilliance of some of my superiors during meetings with clients, who always appeared to come up with the perfect idea right on the spot. I later learned that these concepts were rarely off the cuff – they did their research and brainstormed ahead of time so that they always had a few gems up their sleeves. I also learned that this is helpful not just for big presentations, but even weekly client status meetings. Additionally, the extra preparation builds confidence, so if you are struck by a spontaneously brilliant idea in the moment, you feel better about sharing it.
Commit it to Memory. When it comes to a big presentation, I memorize the hell out of it. I build a timeline for the project that provides me with as much time to practice the finished presentation as possible, and then I recite it out loud over and over again in my apartment until it’s fully committed to memory. I recite it in the mirror. I recite it before bed. And I recite it in the shower the morning of the presentation. When I know the material backward and forward, I actually come across as more comfortable and natural, because I’m not busy worrying about my next line. This also means I’m more likely to say something spontaneously brilliant, because I have the brainspace to do so.
Asking Questions Counts as Participating. During one of our weekly one-on-ones, a former supervisor who noticed my tendency to be quiet in client meetings pointed out my habit of asking thoughtful questions in internal touchbases with my co-workers, questions that would often help us reach our desired solution. She told me that asking the right questions can be one of the most valuable contributions to a client conversation – or any conversation, really. And as usual, she was right (thanks Leah!).
Say One Thing. Being in a large meeting with several folks who are more senior and experienced than you can be incredibly intimidating. But it’s important to remind yourself that you were invited to sit at the table for a reason (see chapter two of Lean In). It’s also important to remember that unless you are actually leading the meeting, no one is expecting you to swoop in and win the thing. It was also my former supervisor, Leah, who suggested earlier in my career that I give myself the goal of saying one thing in every client meeting – perhaps something that I researched and prepared ahead of said meeting (see Prepare, Prepare, Prepare above). The funny thing is, when you say one thing, you’re more comfortable saying another thing, and so on.
Rescue the Other Quiet Person in the Room. I can’t recall where I initially read this tip, but I’ve put it to use on numerous occasions, and it works every time. When I walk into a large gathering where I don’t know anyone, I’m instantly awash with anxiety. My skin is hot, and my pulse is racing, and all I see is a blur of people who seem to all know one another. However, that’s rarely the case. There’s pretty much always some other poor soul standing off on their own, nervously sipping their cocktail. I march over to him or her, give them my most confident smile and introduce myself. The brilliant thing is, groups often attract groups, and frequently others will join to build upon our conversations.
Fellow introverts – what tips have you learned along the way? What fashion or beauty items make you feel most confident?