A NOTE by Mandy Lehto: Amongst all the amazing women I meet, two stand out. My friend, Christine Livingston, is one of the most stylish people I know. She’s intelligent, talented and (as you’ll see) beautiful. In her coaching work, workshops and writings, she helps people to connect with their inner dialogues. Antonina Mamzenko is inspiring, creative and lovely too! She also helps people with their dialogues – she tells their story in photographs. I had a lightbulb moment to bring these two ladies together to create the following guest post….Let me know what you think.
Words: Christine Livingston
Photography: Antonina Mamzenko
There’s a question I’ve been kicking around since I launched A Different Kind of Work, and began reinventing my own career a year ago.
Can you live a values-driven life and still care about what clothes you wear?
Until then, I’d run my own executive coaching and consultancy business. Working with big players in some of the world’s most prestigious companies merited my looking the part. Not difficult as I loved clothes. And, if I say so myself, had cracked the style code for my City Chic look.
But, as much as I loved working for myself, something about how I was doing it began to feel inauthentic.
Last summer I discovered the world of social media and set up a blog. At first, it was just an experiment, a game. Nothing at all prepared me for the kick I’d get from writing and creating and daring to say out loud what I really believe about work and the meaning it gives to people’s lives.
A path began to open up that I had to follow. To cut a long story short, I gradually withdrew from my former way of working and developed a more personally oriented coaching business, helping people to realise their own worklife balance dreams. In tandem, my partner Steve and I decided to move from London to the Buckinghamshire countryside. Close enough to town if work demanded it, but far enough away to give me more impetus to make my new, more phone and Skype-based business, really come alive.
The whole self-reinvention process is thrilling – but what to wear?
That’s when the style questions began.
Could I really be a coach who inspired others to set themselves free, and wear stylish clothes? Weren’t clothes just a uniform; part of the lifestyle I had left behind? Wasn’t image an outer value, when I was now giving more overt credence to my own and other people’s deep, personal, inner values?
It was so confusing that for the first few months of living in the country I lived in either sweat pants and hoodies, or a pair of Jimmy Choo for H&M skinnies and a Uniqlo tunic top.
I could hardly wear MaxMara to sit and blog all day. And anyway the wardrobe that had once served me so well began to feel as distant as my former work.
But neither could I logic out what I should wear now, and go shop for it.
Who was I becoming?
I had long Skype and email discussions about all of this with Mandy. Reassuringly, having been through a not dissimilar process when she quit banking, she knew the place well. She offered me some amazing words that I’ve carried around with me for months:
“If you, as a blogger extraordinaire are pushing boundaries, encouraging people to stretch themselves and to reflect, how is the message about your creativity and ability to be part of that dynamic, cutting-edge, wow-what-a-fabulous-rush-of-an-experience being reflected in how you look? Your image, along with your voice, is the first thing that hits people between the eyes. In real life. Okay, it’s different on a blog, but there is also a synergy there in the way you feel about what you write. And if you feel like someone evolving, someone creative, someone pushing boundaries, that manifests itself in what you write.”
And how might that actually translate into how to begin figuring out what to wear?
“Clear out your old wardrobe. Chuck stuff away you already know you’ll never wear again. Keep key pieces and use them as part of your marinading process. Which of them can you reinvent by dressing them with completely different accessories?
“What hot words would you use to describe yourself? How do you bring them alive through clothes?
“Creative? Mix up colours and combinations differently from the past.
“Boundary-pusher? Find things that suit you but are style-breaking in terms of what you might normally have seen yourself wearing in the past.”
“Edgy? Put fabrics together you wouldn’t normally mix. Leather, lace, sequins – really, it’s all up for grabs.”
Still, for months I walked round shops just looking, not buying. It didn’t help that I’d left behind the fabulous range of shops I could once walk to in Wimbledon. My local towns of Princes Risborough and Aylesbury are hardly fashion hubs. I struggled to recognise myself in any of what I saw.
The congruence of what you look like and who you are
A key breakthrough came when I mused that other bloggers probably spent most of their time in denims. I’ve never been a fan, but that gave me the idea of turning my dislike on its head, and, with quality being a key value of mine, buying a couple of pairs of well-cut, upmarket designer jeans.
A whole string of outfits then began to be possible as I played with working them into some of my existing wardrobe and additionally buying a few key new season pieces too.
If there’s a look emerging, I guess Mandy would call it Rock Chic. I’ve discovered funky little Chanelesque jackets, and vintage look cardigans with lots of pearls.
Another take on all of this is more arty, with asymmetrical tee shirts and bohemian coloured scarves.
Another more elegant biker with sequined tee shirt, soft neutral leather jacket and fringed scarf.
This is currently my workday wardrobe. Putting these things on in the morning ahead of driving to Costa for a coffee and a review of my to do list sets me up to work well. I can equally wear these clothes for coaching sessions I’m running in London, for hosting my workshops, and indeed for having that important social glass of wine with friends.
These are clothes in which I feel alive, integrated and, well, me. There’s no doubt that the work that comes from me in that place is more powerful than ever before.
The bigger lesson?
The whole process of reinvention is one with which lots of people are currently grappling. Style needs not just to be some end point consideration, but a vital component piece of the journey. I certainly found it to be a really valuable litmus test of where I was in my whole metamorphosis, sign-posting how far I’d come on the one hand, and to what I was aspiring on the other.
Even when clothes didn’t resonate, I could allow it to be okay, that that was just where I was and live with the discordance.
Rather than a uniform, or a shallow frivolity, what I’ve learned is that what we wear enables us to be fully congruent both inside and out.
It outwardly reflects and inwardly endorses our uniqueness; our brand; what it is about us that’s truly different.
The power of this is immense.
Photography: Antonina Mamzenko