What's Your Power Outfit?


The first time I got mugged was in New York at knife point. I was 22. I gave the guy my $14 and ran away. The second time was in Nicaragua. There were four of them and they all had machetes. Let’s just say I was glad all they wanted was my money.

When I got mugged for the third time in my life – this time in Rwanda – I remember exclaiming my indignation at my blubbering inability to stand up for myself and fight the guy for what was rightfully mine.

But in Rwanda, the guy was easily 30 pounds lighter than I was, he didn’t have a weapon or anything, and he was clearly scared himself. The guy grabbed my phone out of my hand as I was talking on it. It dropped to the ground and the battery fell out, and he freaked out because already things weren’t going according to his plan.

And what did I do?  I stared at him stupidly. I watched as he tripped over himself trying to pick up the pieces of my phone. Then I stated, “You fucker!” and stomped off. It’s like I was a rather indignant two-year-old stomping off to the other side of preschool because someone stole my toy. And it was ME stomping away from HIM. What was my problem?!

Ok… so maybe my natural instinct to not incite battle, but rather put distance between me and my attacker, is a good self-preservation strategy. After all, I’ve been mugged three times and never been hurt (clearly I need to examine my tendency to get mugged in the first place, but that’s another issue). But I learned something else rather interesting as I shared my mugging experience with my friends.

Not all that surprisingly, ex-pat women are common targets for opportunistic mugging in Rwanda, and I found myself with several female friends with stories of their own. We talked about different strategies to avoid being a target, and what to do if the situation happened again.  It was then, that my friend Emily jumped in and said, “Oh… whenever I have to go somewhere alone, I just make sure I’m wearing my Don’t Mess With Me shoes.”

Emily went on to explain. “Last year, I was coming home from a fundraiser late at night with those shoes on, and this guy had the balls to grab my bag as he ran by. Without even thinking about it, I ran after him screaming and shouting expletives and asking him what his mom would think of him. Weirdly, he dropped the bag and kept on running.”

In Emily’s case, her Don’t Mess With Me shoes were a pair of red patent leather stiletto heels. As far as practicality goes, they’re not on the top of the list, and probably wouldn’t have helped her actually catch her mugger. But what they did for her was change the way she showed up in the world. In them, her walk was a strut, her humor was “on fleek,” she thought faster, and she stood her ground as a Fierce Leader. No one messed with her in those shoes, because in them, she was un-mess-with-able.

While doing my MBA, we spent a lot of time figuring out how we wanted to show up for an interview or internship. First impressions, after all, are 97% of the deal. What was the right suit?  Did you go funky edgy with your accessories, or did you play it safe? The nuance to all of it though – and not everyone got this – wasn’t to figure out what would be for the company you were trying to impress… it was to figure out what would put you in your power element… what would make you show up as your best self.

We’ve all heard the expressions “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” or “look good, feel good” but we don’t really believe them (at least I didn’t). I was conflicted about wanting to look good and feeling guilty about wasting time focusing on “vanity” things like clothes and makeup. But, it turns out that there’s research out there that shows that what we wear affects our behavior, mood, personality, confidence, and how we interact with others.

Check out this video. Clothes affect our behavior and mood because of what they symbolically mean to us.

For you to be a Fierce Leader, you need to know the clothes that help you show up as one.  

What’s your power outfit?  How does it make you show up?

- Stephanie Judd, Co-Founder, wolf & heron