African Leadership University

#ALUInternDiary: Dressing the Part; Fashion as Work

When I was 14, I had an uncanny love for my mother’s weekday wardrobe. From her black skirt suits to her personalised collared shirts neatly cuffed with sterling silver cufflinks- I adored it all. Every now and then I’d nip one of her blazers and pair it with jeans to create a casual yet chic look. I envisioned myself entering the corporate world wearing such clothes about a decade later before branching out to pursue my entrepreneurial ambitions.

A few years have passed and with the priceless support of my beloved university, I am already making strides in building my fashion empire centered around liberation; particularly empowering women.
After eight months of ALU’s Leadership Core, I’m interning at one of the world’s leading consulting firms, Bain & Company.

Naturally, as my first day approached I started to deliberate on what I should wear. I thought of the classic black skirt suit that I previously adored, but I wasn’t satisfied. I didn’t want to simply tick all the professional dress code boxes, I wanted more. I wanted my dressing to embody my personal brand and my vision for the future of fashion. This desire had a lot to do with me viewing my internship not as a destination but as a stepping stone. Management consulting is a cut-throat industry which throws new joiners onto a steep learning curve as they work in results-orientated teams, in the pursuit of actionable solutions to global problems. Sounds like a mouth-full, I know. But for an aspiring young entrepreneur like myself, I could not think of a more growth-conducive environment.

Back to the fashion – how did I dress in a way that was consistent with the office norms and my ultimate aspirations? I’ll show you!

Day 1
My first day was centred on getting acquainted with the office and networking with the group of 20 new hires that I’d be training with. I was well aware that I’d meet a large number of highly competent and influential people, almost all of whom were older and more qualified than I was. If anything, that motivated rather than intimidated me. I was determined to look the part.

My outfit of choice: Red is a bold colour that many fashion magazines may encourage you to shy away from or limit to accessories in the workplace. This passion-filled, loud colour also happens to be my favourite colour. What I love most about these deep red pants is not their colour nor their ability to elongate my legs. What I love most is the brand behind them, Zara, which was founded by the richest retailer in the world. Zara’s founder Amancio Ortega is an entrepreneur I inevitably look up to. As I strode down the hallway in my carefully-chosen outfit and surprisingly modest black heels, I was ready to conquer the week.

Day 2

On the second day, we started to dive into the meat of consulting, the strategy frameworks, you name it. It was an exciting mixture of intellectually stimulating and overwhelming toolkits. We enthusiastically immersed ourselves in the minds of consultants. Despite the intellectual stimulation, appearance remained a priority.
On this day, I sported a knee-length white dress topped with a long black coat, classic black heels and my personal favourite, bright red, bag. This was definitely one of my more conservative looks, however, I relished in a sense of royalty stemming from the long coat and high-necked, pure white dress.

Day 3

On the third day, work was becoming more engineered and it was starting to all feel strangely normal, I guess I had fully settled in. But fear not, I was still experimenting with dressing for the job versus dressing like Melissa. On this day, I felt most like myself. I embraced my personal style while incorporating my professionalism. I also revealed another one of my favourites, my dainty black heels.

Day 4

Thursdays are always tricky in that it almost Friday but not quite there yet. The exhaustion and weekend anticipation that comes with the end of the week often makes it tempting to dress down.
On days like these, I like to step it up a notch. (I even took the photos one notch up!)

My fitted black and white dress with red accessories guided me through a content-filled day.

Day 5

I have taken it upon myself to rename casual Fridays to not-so-casual, dress-up-and-make-others-feel-underdressed casual Fridays. Fridays are the only days I am allowed to decide to bring out my comfy jeans. To my surprise and delight, some people seem to dress UP on Fridays (hence the renaming). While I enjoy indulging in their killer outfits, I still opt to take it easy. Not too easy though, it’s still a corporate office after all.

I opted for high-waisted white skinny jeans, a deep green top with a classic red coat.

There you have it, week one of my internship at a top consulting firm done in style!

I chose daring yet professionally customised outfits which embodied my personal brand. Needless to say that my intellectual confidence and belief in my ambitions has inherently been propelled to new heights. This tactic was full-proof because if you’re strutting around the office dressed like the Founder and CEO of a fashion empire, then you sure do start to believe it!

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