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Chef Laura: Project Jet way -- a fashion experiment

School Pictures Day:  The morning when fashion battle lines are drawn.

One of my daughters happily wears her prettiest dress and Mary Janes.  She insists that I weave not one, but two French braids in her hair.  She twirls around the kitchen asking “How do I look, Mommy?”  Totes adorbs.  Perhaps I’m biased.  

Girl #2 rolls out of bed and throws on sweatpants a la George Costanza; a telltale sign one’s given up on life, according to Seinfeld.  She tops those with an Angry Birds t-shirt selected from the boys department of Kohl’s and slides her feet into a pair of Chucks.

Weighing my parenting options, I gently ask, “Um, Sweetie, do you know it’s a special day?”

“Yeah, I know” she replies, clearly not understanding where we’re about to go with this debate…er…discussion.

After a little friendly fire, she boards the bus in Outfit 2.0 and is free to change into her comfy clothes post Glamour Shots.

Aside from getting a mug shot for the mandatory employee ID badge, what if work had its own version of School Picture Day?  Even though a sheet of wallet-sized pics aren’t in your future, every day at work is School Picture Day. 

Jeans and polos, once exclusive to farms and golf courses, have snuck into boardrooms.  And suddenly it’s appropriate to wear flip-flops 365 days a year…in Colorado, of all places.

On the one hand, as long as we do our job, who cares what we look like? 

On the other hand, uber casual fashion faux pas may be inhibiting our ability to climb the corporate ladder.  Have you been in a promotional rut lately?  Maybe you forgot to heed  Mama’s advice: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

I didn’t intend to do a scientific experiment of “Does your attire affect how you’re treated?”  But over the course of several business trips, the results unfolded before my eyes.  With the airport as my laboratory, and the jet way as my fashion runway, here’s just one day in the life:

Flight #1 – Denver to Philly.  Once wheels touch down, I must go directly to a meeting.  So I look like “Business Barbie” in a conservative dress, heels, fresh makeup and coiffed ‘do.

Flight #2 – Philly to DC.  With zero time to change after a culinary event, I’m sporting my (mostly) spotless chef uniform of: black pants, shiny clogs, monogrammed/logo’ed chef coat, neckerchief, hair pulled back, and minimal Clinique.

Flight #3 – DC to Denver.  During a layover, I pull a reverse Clark Kent and change into mufti.  With a bathroom stall as my phone booth, the cape-less superhero that emerges is Average Jane:  jeans, cardigan, and…flip-flops. 

Any scientific experiment worth its salt eliminates variables for clean data.  The controls are: 1) It’s me every time.  2) Same roller bag. 

The variables are everything else: time of day, city, people, weather, etc.  Pavlov would be appalled with my scientific method, but you get the idea.

Quiz time:  On each leg of the journey, rank the travel treatment from Non-existent to Rock Star.  And by “treatment”, it was the experience with everyone: service employees, fellow passengers, on lookers, and so forth.

Last place – flight #3.  I didn’t bother anyone and they didn’t bother me.  I flew not only to DIA, but also under everyone’s radar.

Runner up – flight #1.  Men offered to help me with my luggage, flight attendants gave me false smiles, and weary moms dragging strollers and diaper bags looked at me longingly. 

First Place – flight  #2.  Food Network celebrity treatment.  Upgraded to first class (coincidence?).  Pilots joked with me.  Passengers were chatty and intrigued.  Truth be told, it was almost a little too much.  Except for being bumped to first class – that was awesome.

Hypothesis: You are treated differently based on how you look

Conclusion: You are treated differently based on how you look

In honor of the final day of NYC’s Fashion Week, today’s experiment is: “Could a refreshed wardrobe this fall help advance your career?” I await your Nobel prize-worthy findings.  

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Laura Cook Newman

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

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