Recover from a bad first impression using only the clothes on your back – and someone else’s!

terrible first impressionWhen I get off the elevator Tuesday morning on the 6th floor, I find Dr. C talking to my boss, who looks quite overwhelmed by the white haired 10th floor phenom.

“Cymbria!” Dr. C turns and greets me with neon pink lips spread wide. “Paper’s got to roll itself for a few minutes. I’m borrowing you for an emergency.”

She doesn’t say another word as she leads me up to Blank Canvas Living’s offices, despite all my questions and panicked pleas for training, something, anything, Aaaack! We get off the elevator and she takes me down a bleak, almost institutional, hallway without giving me the tiniest hint of what to expect. Not even when she opens a green glass door, about halfway down, and guides – who are we kidding, shoves! – me through. The door clicks shut behind me and I’m in a small white office with silken green carpeting that looks suspiciously like-high end Astro Turf. There are two chairs, but their purpose is lost on the fire haired woman who, I’m assuming, is my first ‘real-time’ creative counseling client.

It’s my turn to be speechless. A faint scratching, grinding sound is coming from under the opposite chair. That’s right, under. My client, a well-dressed 30-something businesswoman, is curled up in the fetal position gnawing on a chair leg. No joke. What the hell?

I wait for an opportune lull in the gnawing. “Are you Ok?” I ask.

“Do I look Ok?!” she snarls. “I’m gnawing on a f*&^^*ing chair leg! I hate my job. I hate my life. I hate my hair. And I hate the *&^^%&*((* photocopier that jammed and made me crazy this morning!”

“I like your hair.” My voice is so meek, even I’m not sold.

“Whatever. Who the hell are you anyway?”

“I’m Cymbria. It’s my first time.”

“Dr. C had better not be charging me for this. And seriously, why would I take advice from someone wearing such an abomination of a sweater?
recovering from bad first impressionShe’s right. Dr. C may have helped me burn my ugly pants, but the sweater she met me in still haunts my closet, its ease too easy an argument on so many grey/black branded mornings. I take it off and toss it on the grassy floor between us.

“Oh sure,” she says, letting go of the chair leg, “like that ratty old tank top is any more professional.”

“Fine.” I take that off too, and let it drop like a limp white flag of surrender. But this is no resignation. I’ve got her full attention now that I’m down to my bra and jeans. It’s my turn to call her out: “And I don’t know how I can listen to someone bitching about their life when they’re wearing a fresh-pressed button-down and Christian Louboutin heels!”

“Fine.” The woman picks herself up, strips off her shirt, and kicks off her shoes. She stands her ground with arms crossed and jaw set, challenging me.

“You want professional?” I say, as I take her white oxford from the top of our laundry pile and button it over my bra. It’s a tad loose, but the more like a lab coat the better. Off go my jeans and I make an improvised matching skirt from my repurposed ‘ratty’ white tank top. Recovering from a terrible first impression demands high risk creative problem solving. “Now hand over the tights. You came here wanting to expose your brain for someone to poke around in. Hosiery sharing isn’t anywhere near as intimate and you know it.”

She gives me her tights and lets me dress her in a true tickle trunk representation of how she says she feels. I tie my sweater sleeves (so what if they stretch – t’is a noble sacrifice) behind her back for a straightjacket effect, then get her to put her feet in the wrong end of my jeans to trap her legs. She draws the line at letting me hood her with her black gabardine pencil skirt – “can’t wreck the hair,” she says, which I take as a possible sign of improving moral.

We sit facing each other, transformed. “Now,” I say, as professionally as possible, ignoring the pain of her glorious but too-tight Louboutins, “how can I help?”

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When what to wear to work becomes a military operation – A Che Guevara-ette personal style experiment

“What the hell are you wearing?” asks Doctor C, catching me in an embarrassingly macho pose in the elevator this morning.

“I don’t even know,” I say, blushing. “I was feeling kind of militant this morning so I figured I’d just go with it.”

“Nice cape. Do you think your boss is going to let you wear that hat all day?” She presses the button for her 10th floor Blank Canvas Living offices. My fate holds me on the 6th floor, rolling paper for geophysicists and dreaming about a creative future. My button’s red glow is as mocking as the smirk on Doctor C’s neon-coral lips.

“It’s actually a scarf,” I point out, ignoring her tone. “I knit it myself a few years ago, and I’m going to have to be strategic about the hat. It completes the whole Che Guevara-ette look – and the necklace adds some class.”

I see her trying to hold it in, but she breaks out laughing. “Because you’re the very picture of a classy lady right now!”

“Whatever. Life’s too short to stick to the script. I don’t care if I get in trouble. I just want to feel something when I get dressed. I can’t hide in my head anymore. I need to wear who I am, you know, honour my mood and story of the day. And you know what else? I feel like I could kick some serious ass wearing these pants. I stand differently. I walk differently. All I want to do is to climb a tree in some deep dark Bolivian forest and start scouting for a revolution- ”

“Woah there tiger,” Doctor C interrupts my tirade. “All this from wearer of the infamous ugly pants?”

We burned those bastards! Look what you started!”

She rolls her eyes and swings her long white braid from one shoulder to the other. “If you’re in the mood for war, girl, you really need to come upstairs and do a ‘tour’ in our West corner restroom.”

The 6th floor button winks out and the elevator doors open, but I’m too curious to get off. I leave the script and stay on board for whatever adventure is waiting for me on the 10th.

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