Run, run fashion baby (there’s a pit bull behind you!)

10 05 2011

Sometimes I feel like I’m wearing a sign. “I listen to people’s problems for a living, ask me how!”

I don’t think they know that I’m a social worker, specifically. But people seem to know I’m in a helping profession. It happens all the time. A lady in the deli will start unloading to me about her struggle to stop drinking. A parent will start complaining about their out of control kid on the bus. Once, I was strong armed by a four year old into reading three different books with her while doing my laundry. (One of them was Dr. Seuss, so that was kind of cool.)

I don’t know if it’s my kind eyes, my welcoming smile, or my helpful nature that shines through in my sunny disposition. (Probably not.) For a long time, I wondered. But finally, it came to me.

Social work fashion.

I generally try not to dress like a social worker. But just as people start looking like their significant others (or their dogs) I think we start to look like our professions.

We can all spot a kindergarten teacher a mile away. Those large sweaters with bright colors and stimulating designs, often reflecting the current season, are a dead giveaway.

I had an interview a while back. A friend of mine was familiar with the agency, and asked me to describe the woman who interviewed me.

“Well, she was older. And she had long grey hair, in a ponytail. There were pictures of cats all over her office. Honestly, she looked like someone who’s been a social worker for a really long time.”

She knew exactly what I meant.

The older social workers tend to have a look. I’m not sure if it’s form following function, but it’s there. Sensible slip-on flats are ideal for the on-the-go worker who still needs to look professional. In the summer months, something along the lines of Birkenstock sandals are in order. A long skirt, preferably in a floral pattern, really ties the outfit together. And one can never have too many cardigans.

Never.

I don’t usually dress like this. I also never have cat hair on my clothes. But I still look like a social worker. How?

Maybe I’m a part of the younger, hipper generation of social work fashion. I started off in dress shoes, I honestly did, but almost two years into this job, it’s Chucks, or…Chucks. I have two pairs now, so that’s kind of professional. The kids like the purple ones. I’m always on the move, running to homes and schools, and sometimes away from drug deals. I’m not going to get caught in a bad situation simply because I thought heels would go better with this outfit.

I only own one floral skirt. Honestly. It’s been agreed upon in the office that black skinny jeans are the new dress pants.

My hair is long, as I haven’t had time to get it cut in a year or so. Whatever, I’m busy. So it’s generally constantly in a ponytail. On the occasions I’ve worn my hair down, people act like I’m getting ready for the prom.

I also always carry a comically  oversized purse, in which I can fit my notebook, water bottle, book for those long bus rides, iPod, Taser, smartphone, etc.

My work means I’m in different climates all the time. The office is always either too hot or too cold, because budget cuts mean that we can’t regulate the temperature. Then I’m walking to home visits and getting sweaty, until I sit in people’s homes and freeze. So this means layers. Which means, yes, cardigans.

In this profession, “sensible” is the name of the game. The longer name of the game is, “we don’t get paid all that much, and this was on sale.” But I think we can pull it off. There are some adorable, styling people in this profession. (Not just me…well, mostly me, but others as well.) Just because Mariah Carey was applauded for growing a mustache and dressing like she’d been attacked by the Frump Monster in order to portray a social worker, doesn’t mean that’s an accurate reflection on us all.

We’ve got a look, for sure. So I leave you with these words of wisdom: make it work.

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18 responses

10 05 2011
jontybabe

I think I may have cocked up my last comment! Lol. Suffice to say I’m in the cardigan trap too!!! Great post!

11 05 2011
socialjerk

Thanks! I have one on right now. (Just a fact…not trying to comment-sext)

10 05 2011
Esther

I prefer to wear my converse walking shoes. I also wear hand-me-down clothes from my mom’s friend (who is around my age, but an elementary school teacher. Luckily she’s a shop-a-holic and still rather young so she has “decent” clothes. Of course they weren’t purchased for me, so the hems of the pants usually are high enough to show a little sock.
I also can wear flip flops to work. And instead of a cartigan I prefer hooded zip-up sweatshirts.

11 05 2011
socialjerk

I got my current cardigan from a friend, who has given me a bunch of work clothes that no longer fit her in the past year. I hope I never get too old for hand me downs!

And I would sell my own mother to be allowed to wear flip flops to work. (Sorry, Dr. Mom, but it’s true.)

10 05 2011
Esther

Oh. Also. . . for the first time in over a year I got my hair cut (My YEARLY haircut) AND I got highlights for the first time in five years. the last time I got highlights was when I got married five years ago!

11 05 2011
Carlos

So how does that works for guys? Sharp-Italian-mafia-style suits? X]

11 05 2011
socialjerk

I’m just saying it’d be nice!

11 05 2011
Fi

Your funny.

My partner and I use the generic term “social worker sandles” to cover more brands than just Birkenstocks. It’s hot here in Australia, so they’re a year round look…. even with socks. Now THAT’s hot!!!!

I know what you mean about the “look”: I get confided to as well. Most notable was the time I was having a smoke and a labourer wanted a light…. and a chat about how his stop smoking medication was causing erectile dysfunction and what his wife was doing to cope. TMI!!!!

In fact that’s what I miss most about smoking…. THOSE chats

11 05 2011
socialjerk

Thanks 🙂 Socks and sandals is the sexiest look I can think of. I’m just barely controlling myself at the thought right now, haha.

And that sounds like a charming conversation. At what point is it acceptable to run?

11 05 2011
cb

I really recognised myself in some of what you wrote 🙂 I have one floral skirt (doesn’t come out very often though) – I used to have a lovely pair of purple DMs but switched to black shoes when they wore themselves out. Our office is quite ‘casual’ – I have the long hair/tied back thing going on.
I have been accused of ‘looking like a social worker’ though so I must be ageing into the ‘look’.. lucky me 🙂

11 05 2011
socialjerk

My floral skirt was on sale at H&M. It was a moment of, “Do I really like this? No…but I can wear it to work!”

And purple DMs? That’s pretty damn cool

14 05 2011
Weekly Social Work Links 17 « Fighting Monsters

[…] SocialJerk addresses the very real issue of ‘looking like a social worker’. […]

14 05 2011
bippidee

I loved this post. It isn’t just social workers though. There is a definite ‘mental health’ look going on, at least here in the UK. It is usually pretty easy to spot an OT for example. They like twin sets. Floral skirts are popular whether the professional is a CPN, OT or Social Worker. It’s like a uniform. One of the reasons I like my CPN is because she doesn’t dress like a mental health professional – she always looks really good and we frequently ask each other where we bought various items of clothing! I also like her because the CMHT has a no denim rule which she ignores. It shows she hasn’t been sucked into the system too much!

16 05 2011
socialjerk

Thank you for confirming what I thought–some clients appreciate a mildly “non-traditional” look. I’ve gotten a few funny looks about my piercings, but my teenagers and young moms LOVE them. It’s kind of an ice breaker. And I would never be able to follow a no denim rule!

I worked on one family’s case with a psychiatrist who draped herself head to toe in peace symbols. Earrings, necklaces, bracelets, they were even on her scrubs. I mean, I like peace, sure, but it was kind of distracting.

Thanks for commenting, it gave me a chance to check out your blog. It’s very insightful.

16 05 2011
Carolyn

So I’m downtown, in a large convention centre. I have just discovered that the conference registration (for the provincial college of social workers) is not where I thought it was. Met a group of two/three women heading towards me and I let them know what I have just found out. THEY wanted to know how I knew they were social workers…. Hope they read this blog!

16 05 2011
socialjerk

Ha! I hope they had some idea. We can almost always smell our own.

This reminds me of the time my best friend and I went to the So You Think You Can Dance live tour (and I’m proud of that) in Newark, which is a pretty rough area. This girl came up to us and asked if we were going to the show, because she couldn’t find the arena. My friend asked me, “Why would she assume that the gay Filipino and the 20 something white girl were here for the dance show, and not Newark natives?”

29 08 2011
Rebecca

“Well, she was older. And she had long grey hair, in a ponytail. There were pictures of cats all over her office. Honestly, she looked like someone who’s been a social worker for a really long time.”

Oh boy. I know this post is old, but it truly speaks to me. I’m a recreation therapy intern at a child psychiatric hospital. This describes one of our social workers exactly. She’s also British. But seriously, I woke my dog up laughing when I read this.

29 08 2011
socialjerk

Well, I apologize to your dog, but this is probably my favorite reaction:)

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