I always thought of a pencil skirt as one of those quintessential office staples that you absolutely needed if you worked in a business casual environment. If you, like me, were once a freshly graduated college student in search of her first “real” job, you typed “business casual outfits” or “office appropriate outfits women” into Pinterest and scrolled through thousands of images of thin, perfectly blown-out, pencil-skirted glamazons on their way to what I imagined were very exciting office jobs. I was obviously more disillusioned than most about what life inside a cubicle would look like.
When I graduated from college and started looking for a job in Washington, DC (where I moved, planless, to be with my then-boyfriend-now-husband), I was completely broke and living off my dwindling graduation money. I had never worked in a professional office environment and, as a Geology major, had never had an internship that wasn’t outdoors or in a science lab. I didn’t own one single piece of clothing appropriate for an interview or a grown-up job. I decided to do what any brand-new adult would do in this predicament: I called my mom and cried.
She took pity on me and sent me a check for some new clothes, and I marched my jersey-clad butt to H&M and bought a plain black pencil skirt. It was cheap and tight and rode up when I walked, but it made me feel like a Certified Grown Up Woman. I wore it with an equally ill-fitting blazer to my first interview and managed to land the job.
My love-hate relationship with the skirt went on for a long time. For the next three years, I chose it whenever I needed to look professional, and I felt like a human sausage stuffed into polyester casing for every minute I was wearing it. I kept it in rotation, though, because I thought it was just one of those things I was supposed to own. When I created my first capsule wardrobe and discarded 75% of my clothes, somehow, the pencil skirt made the cut.
Then I started this spreadsheet wardrobe project. I took a picture of my outfit every day and I posted in on Instagram. I realized that whenever an outfit came up that included the pencil skirt, I dreaded it and swapped it out for something else, or if I did wear it, I didn’t post the photo. Keeping my wardrobe so small really revealed how much I didn’t want to wear this piece that I thought I liked. The final straw came when I had the thought, “If I just lose some weight, I’d probably like the way this skirt looks on me so much more.”
Yes. You guys. I was letting my pencil skirt SHAME ME into thinking there was something wrong with my body. How messed up is that? I actually thought that I needed to alter my body so that it would look good in a $20 pencil skirt from H&M. I’m happy with my body. It’s not perfect, but that’s only because there’s no such thing as a perfect body. Sure, there’s such a thing as unrealistic societal standards of beauty, but that’s not the same. I reject the idea that my flaws are beautiful, because that suggests that anything that doesn’t conform to an arbitrary standard of attractiveness is a flaw in the first place. My body is awesome. It is a healthy, waterproof vessel that successfully carries my organs around and protects my brain from harm. You know what? Scratch what I said earlier. My body is perfect. That I let a poorly made, mass produced skirt make me feel otherwise is a testament to how powerful the body-shaming industry in our country really is.
So here’s an important thing to keep in mind when evaluating your wardrobe: if you think a piece of clothing looks unflattering on you, the problem is not your body. Get rid of those clothes that make you feel less-than and move on. Why keep that negativity in your life when you can so easily throw it in a trashcan and light it on fire? I mean…donate it. Or whatever. It’s your life. (Set it on fire.)
I don’t write this essay to tell you that all pencil skirts are instruments of torture, and I don’t even write this to tell you that you have to be happy with your body. If you want to rock a pencil skirt, rock it, and if you feel unhappy with your body, that is a legitimate way to feel, for whatever reason that you feel it. I write this essay to remind myself that I have the privilege to choose what I wear every day, and that it’s worth examining why I chose over and over again to wear something I hated. After literal years of letting my self-worth be determined by how attractive I felt in a stretch of cheap fabric, my pencil skirt is now firmly in the donate pile, and I do not miss it.
But I really would rather set it on fire.