Just over two weeks ago I was packing my bag for a short weekend break in Lviv, Ukraine. It was late, I was tired and the weather forecast wasn’t inspiring, so I just picked some random pieces, making sure they are warm enough for cold nights I was going to spend outdoors at international jazz festival Alfa Jazz Fest, and zipped my suitcase. I didn’t think more of it. I was going to a music festival, not some glamorous party. Only I forgot that in Eastern Europe any social occasion is a glamorous party. Feeling somewhat unglamorous in my smart casual outfits, I was ready to go into my judgement mode, which happens very often when I travel to my home country. And by that I mean make comments about how tasteless the society is with their love of extreme glamour and desire to show off everything they have in one outfit. Only this time, something was different: I didn’t feel like judging. I simply wanted to observe with an open mind. Women of all shapes and sizes chose very different outfits – from dresses to jeans with blouses and stilettos – and wore them confidently. It would be very difficult to stand out in that crowd – almost everybody stood out in their own way. I quickly realised that, with some exceptions, I was among a tastefully stylish crowd. Still, it would have been easy to find women dressed in a stereotypical over the top manner – you always find what you are tuned in to see. This time, instead of focussing on the few women that stood out for wrong reasons, I decided to learn from being among all these beautiful and very visible women, all judgements against the way the society operates and chauvinism aside.
What I took away from my weekend in Lviv is something I would like to invite women across many countries to consider.
1. Eastern European women are not afraid to be visible
They wear brighter colours, trendy outfits, fitted clothes. They are not afraid of being feminine and being noticed by others. They accept their beauty and show it off instead of hiding it. But looking your best is not so much about attention seeking (contrary to what some may think), it is a mindset.
When we change our mindset, we are able to see that there is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to be noticed for the right reasons.
2. Looking stylish and feminine does not mean you are not intelligent
At the jazz festival, I met female bankers, economists and high profile advisers, all of whom wore gorgeous feminine outfits. They didn’t seem to worry people would not take them seriously or perceive them as less intelligent if they show off their femininity and beauty in a stylish way.
How often are we muting ourselves or dimming our beauty just because we are afraid we won’t be taken seriously? It is possible to be both – beautiful and intelligent.
3. They receive compliments gracefully
These women attract many compliments because they own their beauty and don’t shy away when someone notices it. They accept compliments with ease and grace, projecting natural confidence. This confidence and relaxed attitude helps conversations flow more easily and deepens connections.
4. Looking after yourself is a non-negotiable
Having lived for the past 14 years in Western Europe, I forgot that making a lot (by European standards) of effort is seen as entirely normal in Eastern Europe. A woman there would’t think twice about booking her weekly beauty appointment, nor would she show up anywhere with unmanicured nails or messy hair. My mother books my manicure and pedicure appointments even before I arrive in the country.
When we as women make self-care a non-negotiable, we show to ourselves (and to others) that we value ourselves.
Upon my return I decided to apply these lessons in my every day life. Last weekend, I had a lot of fun dressing up more than I would normally and felt amazing. Getting ready for a women’s networking meeting I felt inspired to wear some old pieces in an entirely new way and wore my “dressy” shoes instead of trying to blend in. I met incredible women who wanted to talk to me simply because they liked my outfit. This week instead of wearing a casual outfit, I wore my vintage dress to have dinner with girlfriends, inviting compliments comparing me to Audrey Hepburn. I accepted with grace. For my bank meeting this week I dressed on brand (stay tuned for my new brand and website reveal soon!) in a stylish dress and blazer and made a real effort with my hair and make up. The meeting went really well, I felt confident and in the flow at all times even when a bank manager asked me difficult (very masculine) questions about my new business.
These experiences helped me to realise that making an effort and looking stylish on whatever occasion I feel called to is not shallow or self-indulgent. It gives me energy, creates new exciting opportunities, enables me to feel confident in a relaxed way and shows that I am worthy, worthy of making an effort for, worthy of being seen and being listened to.