In New York City, my starting salary was so low, that after rent, bills, and taxes (federal, state, city), I only had about $500 a month to live on. That’s not much, when you consider a box of no-name knock-off cereal costs $7.99 on the island
Fortunately, the job in NYC did not require much of a wardrobe change; just a little sharper than college, with heels all the time. That wasn’t a problem, since I’d already amassed a vast collection of shoes.
I shopped exclusively at Forever 21, and occasionally, very rarely, at H&M, because I thought it to be a bit pricey. Never at Zara, because everything seemed truly expensive to me. Still, I lived and dressed within my means, and I was always quite stylish by the standards in my industry.
At one point, in my second job in Manhattan, I documented my outfits every day for about two months, making it a point to never wear the same clothes twice. It was a fun experiment in narcissism; though, you would be surprised at how pumped up you are for work when you spend all that time fussing over yourself.
The following year, when I moved to San Francisco, it felt painfully like reversion. “Dressed up” meant flip-flops and hoodies. I felt like a scrub, as if I’d gone back to college, or worse, as if I were living at home again. I even couldn’t wear heels, because of the CLICK-CLICK-CLACK they made on the wooden floor of our uber cool exposed brick loft office in SoMa.
Especially as the only girl in office of eleven mid-twenties boymen, it just drew too much attention every time I moved from my desk. As a result, in retrospect, it seemed harder to take my job seriously, when I didn’t take myself seriously enough to get “dressed up.”
Starting my job in Hong Kong was a big shock. From where I stand, it seems that the real reason people in finance get paid the big bucks is primarily so that they can afford clothes to wear to work with people who get paid the big(ger) bucks.
Of course, in finance, there were no jeans or shorts or hats or t-shirts or hoodies or flats. Nothing cotton what-so-ever. Even the stuff I owned that I fancied to be fancy wasn’t dressy enough to make the cut. It’s all suits and skirts and stockings, in shiny and smooth fabrics, the stodgier, the stuffier, the better.
Initially, I found it terribly hard to keep up. At the beginning, I spent thousands of dollars in vain (that I didn’t have after the expenses of moving to the other side of the world) because I was desperate to feel like I fit in. Not to mention the additional cost of tailoring, because apparently, even the clothes in Asia aren’t small enough for mini-me.
My solution, my savior, has been silk. I go to open market to buy the fabric, make my own designs or copy simple designs, and take it all to my tailor. Total cost for each piece ranges from USD$50-100. Very reasonable for completely custom clothing for which I’m constantly complimented.
This is me doing more with less.
And winning at it.