The Substance of style: How to be an Olympic Gladiator in a suit

When I was a little girl I knew I was an artist, singer, and fashion designer early on.  Cartooning, a heavy vibrato, and obsessive development of my crayon-infused design portfolio were dead giveaways.

Growing up in a family of activists in an impoverished community left little room for me to explore and embrace the depths of substantive style and artistry.

I get it now.

The way you appear can and should be not only a celebration of who you are, but of purpose, of life and the privilege of rising again, able to clothe yourself in your daily armor.  We’re used to thinking of warriors in steel head-to-toe suits.


If you’ve been watching the Olympics you’re aware some folks are gladiators in pink sparkles.  Others in speedos.  Others in catsuits, flowery leotards, shorts and tanktops with super-legs to run on.

Olympic competition is their purpose.  They gear up accordingly.

For some of us, our purpose may be being changing lives through business, community work, law, medicine, writing, leadership, health, family, art, or education.  There is no higher or lesser calling: Whatever is your unique purpose is equally important.

For all of us, that means we have to prepare and gear up daily just as an Olympian does.  During competition, every detail from hair, grooming, footwear and clothing is an intentional choice made to enhance performance, optimize competitive edge and advance toward the goal.

I caught glimpses of the open water swim this morning.  Certain my purpose doesn’t involve marathon swimming in green water.  More power to them.

It does however, involve using my voice, written and spoken words, art, style, personality, dance, and life to eradicate injustice by spreading true, Godly love.


So how the heck do I suit up for that?

For starters I (like we all do or should), make sure to look good, defined as healthy, well-groomed, appropriate, intentional, comfortable, and expressively, uniquely, you.

I also work to stay physically and spiritually fit, avoid sickness and showcase my style in whatever arena I’m privileged to work in.

Showcasing our style is our version of gearing up, the same way an Olympian would.

Here’s how you suit up:

1. How are you feeling? In pain, happy, sad, determined, excited, angry, alone, tired, hurt… This will affect your performance.  Acknowledge it and if it’s negative, think about how that can be corrected or used to your advantage.  This should show in your gear.


2. What is the event?  Whether it’s time with the family, a political meeting, housework, festival, formal dinner, performance, casual work, exercise, salsa dance, shopping, vacation, or sick time… Know what you’re gearing up to do.


3. How will it impact your body?  Carefully consider your unique needs in that moment, whether it’s a sore left ankle, particular body type, injured arm, or newly toned limbs.  Also consider if you’ll be standing or sitting for long periods, being physically active, in front of a large audience, in extreme weather, etc..


4. Who will be there?  Olympians dress and behave completely differently in practice with coach than they do at finals.  Think about who will be around.  Bankers, friends, strangers, preachers, neighbors, kids…  Practice gear is different than show uniform.


5. How do you suit up?  

  • Pick a general type:  Olympic practice, warm-up, competition, award ceremony or interview?  Start by deciding what kind of outfit you’ll need, whether casual, formal, business casual, exercise, beach, cocktail, or other.  Focus on that part of your wardrobe.  No use sifting through business suits for a beach party…  Necessarily.


  • Choose a Base:  Given your feelings, event, needs and audience, start with the base which covers you completely: Either a combo of shirt/ sweater with shorts/ pants/ skirt, a jumpsuit, or dress.  Don’t wear a short tight dress if you need to be active, and don’t feel like self-adjusting constantly.  Wear a base that accommodates how you feel, where you going, what your body needs and who will see you.
Black dress with cork wedges and tan wrap for a work presentation.


  • Choose a layer: Even in the warmest climates weather shifts.  Whether you need to adjust for increasing heat or cold, add a weather layer.  This might be a heavy coat and sweater, light cardigan or breezy wrap.  It doesn’t have to be neutral either.  High-contrast colors, especially with bright solids are fun.  Lay these out together so you can see colors and fabrics overlapping.
Layered a denim jacket and wraps over a long dress with knee-high boots for a (Cali) winter stroll.


  • Select shoes: With that in mind, select your shoes based on feelings, needs, event, and audience. Maybe you’ll be sitting all day but broke your toe.  Choose wisely.  Again, don’t be afraid to go bold.  Shoes do not have to match your belt and bag perfectly.  They just have to work with your other outfit elements.  And make you smile when you glimpse your feet. 🙂
Festive. 🙂


  • Choose a purse:  Keeping the 1-4 in mind, pick something that accents or blends with your outfit. Be mindful of the size, utility and look.  Chain link straps on hot summer days are dangerous.  Sequined bags in board meetings are distracting.  Always, choose to express yourself.
  • Accessorize: Now for the extra fun.  With your outfit so far in mind, pick jewelry and hair accessories to express how you feel.  Olympic synchronized swimmers and gymnasts accessorize with makeup to accent their face, an expressive part of performance.  Others die hair, wear unique haircuts, tattoos or jewelry.
Vibrant scarf, bold necklace and chunky earrings accent a flowy white dress for work.


  • Accessory selection:  Most important, accessories draw attention to what’s displaying them, so know what complements you.  Be risky.  Wear all black with bright, heavy layers of colorful jewelry.  Contrast colors.  Layer up rings or bracelets.  Wear a bright flower or sparkling band in your hair.  Be delicate and sweet or bold and powerful.


Other tips and encouragement:

Shopping tips

Clothing etiquette

Wardrobe basics

Lightening up the mood at work on a big deadline day.
Have a beautiful, awesome day being YOU!

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