On Monday, I arrived at work wearing head-to-toe black and then covered up my long auburn hair with a short, black bob wig.
“Are you going to wear that all day?” My coworkers asked, incredulous.
“I’m going to wear it all week!” I declared. The gauntlet had been thrown. For five days in a row, I came in to work wearing the wig and a different “identity” to go with it: Russian Badass, 90s Grunge Hacker, 60s Mod Party Girl, and Prim British Secretary all made an appearance.
My excuse for this little game of pretend was that we were in the midst of our company-wide employee engagement week. That's corporate-speak for a week of morale building activities, games and cocktail gatherings designed to coax employees out of their cubicles and promote company culture. It's like the grown up version of high school homecoming week, which I guess makes me the mascot in the silly costume.
This year's "employee engagement week" theme? James Bond. What better way to embrace the theme of the week than to assume a different spy alias every day?
But rather than be embarrassed and ashamed that people were staring at my fake hair, I was surprised to find out that I felt a little thrill. All these strangers were looking at me and wondering what my story might be. People I’ve never met and will never meet again took a few minutes out of their morning commute to figure out the strange girl in the dime store wig and sunglasses. Was she crazy? Was she bald? Was she in hiding? Was she on her way to a party at 7:45 am on a Tuesday? Their curiosity made me feel strangely… liberated.
The experience at the office was not quite as tinged with the romance of mystery. For starters, most people know who I am so the anonymity of being The Girl With the Wig and Sunglasses is more or less replaced by the awkward hilarity of being The Girl Who We Maybe Should Have Investigated Further Before Hiring.
About 50 percent of the people who saw me in my getup every day were impressed. “You’re really going for it!” They’d say. “That’s commitment!”
I even had a small cadre of fans who would come by my desk every morning to see what I was wearing. The rest were perplexed, at best, and persistently uncomfortable, at worst.
The elevators in my office building have mirrored walls, so every morning I spent the long ride to the 22nd floor watching the reflections of other people’s eyes as they took me in, arguing with themselves internally about whether or not it was advisable to shuffle a few inches away.
But this week-long experience led added up to more than just a few weird moments.
First, it turns out I don’t look too bad with short black hair. More than a few people suggested that I make the look permanent. While I don’t know if I’ll go that far, I am considering rocking a short, angled bob sometime in the near future.
Second, I can handle a lot more awkward scrutiny than I thought I could, which in turn means I have a deeper well of confidence than I was aware of.
Finally, I discovered that I got a huge rush from both the anonymity of being in disguise on the subway and the high-visibility of my experience at the office. I am not sure what that says about me, other than that my parents should probably count their blessings that I didn’t discover this sooner and start chasing a career as an actress.
This week, me and my hair are back to normal, but the effect of my Week in Disguise is still producing some ripples. Some co-workers were disappointed to see me return to normalcy. Others look relieved that they’ll once again be able to actually look me in the eye. And I've definitely begun to gain a reputation for being unpredictable, playful and possibly a little bit unhinged. At the very least, everyone at my office is wondering what I’ll do next. Now it’s just up to me to do something great.