Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, possibly best known for her TED Talk “We Should All Be Feminists” sampled in Beyoncé’s song “***Flawless”, wrote an editorial in the February issue of ELLE Magazine recounting her struggle to reconcile her interest in fashion with feminism and furthering her career as a writer.
Adichie explains coming to America was a culture shock for her in the way people casually regarded fashion and dress. In college, she was frequently told she was overdressed, and came to feel women who put effort or thought into what they wore were not taken as seriously in the writing world. This was in contrast to her experience growing up in Nigeria, where her mother placed a strong emphasis on creativity and being well-dressed, which inspired a love for fashion and design in Adichie. However, as she met with publishers she noticed her colleagues condemning other women who dressed in a way they considered flamboyant and loud. Adichie describes the attitudes of the writers she worked with:
“If you spoke of fashion, it had to be either with apology or with the slightest of sneers. The further your choices were from the mainstream, the better.”
Adichie admits she began to agree with the opinions of her colleagues and started dressing down in order not to draw attention to herself. For years, she believed that interested publishers would focus more on her writing and her character if she did not “distract” them with her clothing. As she put it, being “young and female seemed to me a bad combination for being taken seriously.”
Then one day she had a fashion epiphany. Adichie recalls an event where she considered wearing high heels, but wore flats instead. A male colleague encouraged her to wear whatever she wanted because her work is what mattered at the end of the day. Gradually, she was able to believe this. Adichie says that now:
“I no longer pretend not to care about clothes. Because I do care.”
On her most recent book tour, she finally wore the clothes that made her feel the most comfortable and the most like herself. She also regularly consults with her tailors in Nigeria and shares sketches with them. She has embraced her fashion sense and in turn it has made her a more confident woman.
I think Adichie’s experience of feeling ashamed to use fashion as a tool to her express identity is an interesting phenomenon, because I personally feel pressure to use the way I dress to set me from apart from others, rather than conforming to drab shapes and colors. I’m proud of Adichie for standing up for her beliefs and realizing fashion can be incorporated into feminism. It upsets me that society seems to equate typically “feminine” activities with being unprofessional or “anti-feminist,” and it’s great to know someone who’s as good a role model as Adichie is out there advocating for fashion lovers like me.
What do you think of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s story? Is this a common experience for women in the professional world of America? Why is it so much easier for men to get away with whatever fashion choices they make than women?