Which Is More Powerful: Being Overdressed or Underdressed?

Two Sweet editors debate.

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When More Is More: In Defense of Dressing Up

Chantal Strasburger, assistant editor, @chantagold

You know that scene in Legally Blonde where Elle Woods walks into a low-key party in a full-on bunny costume? I had a similar (though slightly less traumatizing) experience in college.

Dressing up can actually boost your sense of personal power.

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Once a month, one of my student groups conducted its weekly meeting in formal attire. In preparation for one, I shimmied into a strapless dress, threw on some lipstick and heels, and waltzed into a room full of leggings and oversized sweaters. I misread the calendar. The second I registered my mistake I could feel my face begin to flush, but instead of explaining my incompetence, I decided to own it.

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I convinced everyone that I was headed to a fancy dinner after, and as my heartbeat returned to normal, I found that my being unnecessarily gussied up produced a noticeable change in me. While my friends sat slumped around me, seduced into lounge-mode by their comfy sweatpants, I was sitting up a little straighter, paying more attention, and participating more. That's when I realized that dressing up can affect more than just your confidence in how you look—it can actually boost your sense of personal power.

I've used that realization to my advantage ever since. When I'm stressed or nervous or tired, I throw on a sequined jacket or a pair of killer boots and make an entrance. At parties, it gives people an easy excuse to talk to you ("Tell me more about this diamond-encrusted blazer"), and in the event of an unexpected run-in with someone you want to impress (a boss, a teacher, an ex), you'll always have the upper hand. Sure, you'll turn a few heads, but if you learn to embrace the attention, you may find the mini-adrenaline rush gives you the extra push you didn't even know you needed.

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When Less Is More: In Defense of Dressing Down

Caitlin Petreycik, senior fashion editor, @c_petreycik

Last summer I was driving back from the Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, New York, when my friend, who grew up nearby, had an idea; she pulled into a carpool lot and we crossed the empty road, shimmied over a chain-link fence, practically crab-walked down a steep trail, and ended up at a perfect swimming hole. I've passed by the area a few times since and can't pinpoint that fence, so it's possible we entered a portal to Narnia.

Dress like you're ready to climb a fence at any moment.

A few months ago, I was catching up with an old roommate when an idle suggestion to go to Dead Horse Bay—a creepy, abandoned stretch of beach deep in Brooklyn, littered with thousands of antique bottles from a leaking landfill—turned into, "Why don't we go right now?" So we did!

What do these stories have in common (besides suggesting that I have a trespassing problem)? They've kind of informed my fashion motto: Dress like you're ready to climb a fence at any moment. Or, wear things that can take you places but still feel like you.

When you put in the tiniest bit of extra effort, people are quick to notice.

For me, that means high-waisted denim (usually vintage and cropped) and leather belts, crew neck tees, striped sweaters, a tangle of tiny pendant necklaces, and slip dresses worn with sneakers. If I had been dressed for an Instagram opp, rather than an adventure, neither of those detours would have happened!

Dressing down does have its limits. I'd never show up to an important meeting in ripped denim, and if a friend is throwing a fancy bridal shower, you can bet I'll break out a party dress—even if I wear it with beaded slides, not heels. Which brings me to another upside of being chronically underdressed: when you put in the tiniest bit of extra effort, people are quick to notice. The next time you're feeling a little down, just wear some red lipstick with those patchwork jeans and prepare to be showered with compliments.

Thinking about changing into a totally luxe look? Going to keep it super simple? Snap @chantagold and @c_petreycik and let them know!

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