goodbye to all that

Today I decided that I’m not going to wear any florals to work.  Or fruit.  Or animals.  (Well, the occasional bird might sneak in, because I am a human of a certain sort.)  BFD, Charlotte.  HUGE EFF-DEE, reader.  This eliminates a solid 80% of my wardrobe. Forget about my homemade clothes, they’re just dead in the water.  Thankfully, I’ve developed a taste for stripes, checks, and dots which might just save me from the navy tidal wave that’s about to hit my house.

The question is—and I’ve asked this before, and ask it constantly—what does it take to be taken seriously?  I have to be comfortable, obviously, but what else?  Because this is my first year at my job, and my first time having a job, I’m loath to try to change people’s minds, one floral fit-and-flare at a time.  Naturally, I came to this realization after having made quite a few crazy floral dresses to tame with cardigans.

What is business casual, anyway?  I ask because I went to an investment banking mixer (I’m on the back end in economic consulting, so the environment is more relaxed) which was supposed to be business casual.  I wore cropped navy trousers, a silk blouse, a cardigan, and nice flats.  One of the recruiters thought I was a member of the waitstaff (who were dressed completely differently than I was).  I’m obviously one to trust about this. So, I’ve been doing some digging, trying to come up with Charlotte’s Business Casual, That’ll Last Her for At Least the First Three Months of Employment.  I aspire to this on my first day of work: Peggy Which would require me to tone down and/or eliminate all of my Mindy Lahiri tendencies.

Mindy Project Uniform
Exactly, Mindy. Exactly.

So hearts, flora, and fauna are all getting the boot.  Instead, I’m channeling my more appropriate style icons:

Faye Dunaway Network
So, she was a little scary. But scary good, right?

Faye Dunaway and I totally have completely different but let’s say the same body type/s.  But, her camel, taupes, and grays from network are a thing to behold.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28:  Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer arrives at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama and other business leaders November 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. According to the White House, the American business executives met with Obama to discuss economic growth and deficit reduction.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 28: Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer arrives at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama and other business leaders November 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. According to the White House, the American business executives met with Obama to discuss economic growth and deficit reduction. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

So, if I’m meeting with the president, that’s totally what I’d wear.  See?  Room for fun.

I can wear tweed!  But probably shouldn't show my undergarments.
I can wear tweed! But probably shouldn’t show my undergarments.

I can wear tweed and a sweater but without the bouncy haircut and the visible underthings. Do you know who Bonnie Morrison is?  Neither do I, really.  (Fashion PR person and/or consultant, I think.)  Yet, I am ob-sessed with her style.  I follow the fashion editor of Details on Instagram (@matthew_marden), and he constantly posts photos of Morrison (@fiercegrandma) and her street style.  The first time I saw a photo of her, I thought “Yup.  That’s what I want to look like.”  This was the first image, but totally not representative.

Bonnie Morrison via @matthew_marden's Instagram account, which is totally not stalkery.
Bonnie Morrison via @matthew_marden’s Instagram account, which is totally not stalkery.

This is my favorite:

My personal favorite.  Same source.
My personal favorite. Same source.

She wears a lot of neutrals, flats, and loafers, which might be just my speed for the first few weeks of work.  Then I’ll branch out a bit, I think. So, from what I understand, one can show one’s midriff at work.  False?  Only if you’re OscarPRGirl?

OscarPRGirl Bow Skirt
via the ODLR tumblr account

In all seriousness, I am contemplating a bottle green leather pencil skirt for fall.  It seems obligatory.  But is it pushing the line?

OscarPRGirl Leather Skirt
via the ODLR tumblr account

What about stripes on stripes, like Marissa Webb?  Too creative?

Marissa Webb at J. Crew via J. Crew Aficionada
Marissa Webb at J. Crew via J. Crew Aficionada

I think that I have to leave my Vlisco in my wardrobe, because can you imagine this dress with a cardigan?  Yes you can.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie via Vogue UK
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie via Vogue UK

Cidell of Miss Celie’s Pants did an excellent post about the Halston exhibit at FIT, and mentioned how much she wanted to make some silk knit shirt dresses.  I think this might something I think about going forward.  Then again, I am making crazy M6696s that might put Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Mondrian-lite look to shame.

via Vogue UK
via Vogue UK.  God, I love this dress.

What does any of this have to do with sewing?  Well, I’ve edited myself back down to ten patterns, based on the above images: (the pencil skirt, the shell blouse, the fit and flare (old habits die hard), the full skirt, the woven wrap dress, the shirtwaist, the jacket, and three wild cards that get to rotate—right now they’re Hawthorn, the new Butterick prairie dress, and a to-be-determined coat pattern), and am trying to pare my fabrics down to things that I can comfortably wear at work, like wool and silk crepes with muted tones.  I like buying button-front shirts and trousers, so they don’t make the cut.  I figure I can make an A-line skirt out of the pencil, and add a sheath dress into the rotation, should I find the confidence to tackle the fitting. Let’s see how well this plays out, team.

47 thoughts on “goodbye to all that”

  1. My experience is in law, not finance. With that caveat, yes to suits, sheath dresses, pencil skirts (if you’re not super curvy, otherwise A-line), expensive trousers, silk blouses and closed toe pumps, mostly solids, especially the bottoms. Don’t dress like support staff, dress like someone at your supervisor’s level. No to bare skin (except face/neck/arms and maybe legs), leather, tight or cropped, bright or patterned, except for a subtle pattern in the blouse, scarf or suit fabric. Accessories will differentiate you from waitstaff (the cropped pants didn’t help). 5 years + high performance and you can loosen up a bit. HTH.

    1. I have a theory that business casual is a lie propagated by misogynists within the business community. It has to be. I was looking over the company dress code (sent over with my new hire paperwork) and it leaves so much room for everything for women, but relatively narrow standards for men, all of whom will probably show up in dress trousers, a button-front shirt, and a sweater.

      Your advice is solid. It’s so great to hear from someone else with a relatively buttoned-up job. I think I might have another trip to Brooks Brothers in my future.

      1. The simplified rule: business wear= suit. Business casual= office-appropriate dress (more formal) or separates (more casual). Think Olivia Pope at work. Nothing you wear should shout “It’s a GIRL!” and/or “I have SEX!” Always err on the side of conservative; you can revise once you see what your superiors wear. Good luck!

    2. Oh this is excellent. The ‘It’s a GIRL!’ and ‘I have SEX!’ checks are going to come in handy.

      I’ve just decided I can’t do polka dots. At all. Ever. More abstract dots, sure. (Abstract dots. What is my life) But Polka dots scream ‘rockability lite’ to me. Basically they say, to me ‘I’m a GIRL who likes to have SEX and it’s probably KINKY let me TELL YOU ABOUT IT’ which is absolutely not what I want to project, ever.

      I do work in a reasonably casual office, but definitely BUSINESS casual and it makes me feel like I don’t understand anything about how anyone dresses, anymore. For a while I was on a short term contract and I tried to dress like every day was a casual job interview. Because it pretty much was. I have been a bit slacker lately – my winter appropriate wardrobe leaves a lot to be desired – and I want to get back to dressing more deliberately, partly because I prefer that and partly because my contract is up soon so….

      1. YOU JUST DID POLKA DOTS. J’accuse!

        When I was in college (a whole four weeks ago), everyone dressed as if they were constantly on their way to their internships, and a bit of that rubbed off on me. Pencil skirts, silk blouses, cardigans, forever and ever amen. I wonder how much of it has to do with choice of color scheme, though. If your whole wardrobe is just a cohesive body of different shades of blue, then would it be perceived as more business-like or more “together” than a wardrobe of whatever-the-hell-you-want? I wonder.

      2. I DID. LE GASP! Everything I know is a lie!

        I think mostly what I meant was ‘I can’t do polka dots for clothes that are meant to be taken seriously’. They don’t read as sophisticated or fancy to me at all. So the one I made feels fine to me because it is clearly a bit silly. But then obviously I am just making this all up as I go along anyway.

        CONVENIENTLY my wardrobe basically is different shades of blue + black. So… idk. Maybe? I certainly think it makes it easier to create an outfit that looks like it was put together on purpose, that way. I need all the help I can get.

  2. I have a similar but not totally the same problem. My whole working environment is business casual. This is super easy for guys. Jeans or trousers and a button up shirt. Done. Until recently I acted like the same outfit on me was the thing to do. More recently I’m realising it is not read the same way on a woman. It’s not totally thought of as sloppy or bad, but I have made a conscious choice recently to go with still-businessy-but-feminine clothing. And of course we could go back and forth for days about the meaning of feminine. I choose to define it as “what gets sold in the women’s area of Zara/Macy’s/Saks”.

    One area that I’ve zeroed in on is fabric. Thick or noticeably expensive fabric (silk, thick sateen, wool) makes something seem more expensive, and therefore it rises in the fancy stakes. That is certainly something that we as people who sew have a huge advantage with. Taking a step up in fabric quality in RTW will often double or triple the price. My time is the most expensive part of any piece of clothing I make. The difference between a cotton shirt and a silk one is less than $20. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

    1. Women’s clothing is always read as a notch more casual than male clothing, for some strange reason. I don’t know why, quite frankly. Consistency? Kaoru Marie just wrote a post on stitching up what she thought was a business-ready dress, only to have her husband declare it the exact opposite. My life is what gets sold in the women’s area of Zara and Saks. (I write this from across the street from a Macy’s, and am fighting the urge to get in there and check things out.)

      Fabric! Because of this exactly comment, I went out and bought four pieces of four-ply silk crepe for work shells. My time is the most expensive part of my sewing, and I’m almost ashamed of myself for not realizing that sooner. Thank you for that. I think I’m going to do a post on what I sewed, what I bought, and what my queue looks like.

  3. Ugh. This has been such a struggle for me over the years. I think I’m starting to finally figure it out, but I still often find myself feeling like I’m in a style rut when it comes to office-appropriate wear.

    I’ve found the following to be helpful:
    1. Err on the side of conservatism.
    2. Look for pieces that look expensive, even if they’re not.

    I think that as long as you follow those guidelines, you can experiment a bit, including with prints and colors. You know that I’m mostly a solids/neutrals kind of gal, but if I saw someone in the office wearing a really beautiful, well-tailored, colorful and printed dress made of quality fabric, I’d be really impressed.

    *An aside about OscarPRGirl and other women who work in the fashion industry:

    Whenever I see a fashion blogger try to write about “what to wear to the office”, I always laugh wholeheartedly. They have a completely different set of rules that would be completely inappropriate for the places I’ve worked.

    I’ve actually had a hard time finding good sources of inspiration for office wear. The blogs I’ve come across either tend toward the inappropriate (i.e. fashion industry) or too colorful and preppy (i.e. southern women who work on the Hill and swear by chevron). Where is the middle ground??

    1. I think the middle ground i probably not blogged about because it’s too boring and repetitive for blogs. But boring and repetitive is how office life is, so….

      Ok that sounded depressing but what I meant was, ideally, a great, office appropriate outfit is not actually that flashy. It can be nice but if it’s too flashy then it’s probably in one or the other of your categories. So those truly appropriate things don’t get blogged because they’re really designed to not grab too much attention.

      That said, I would TOTALLY read that blog so if you find it, please do let us know.

      1. I might actually throw caution to the wind and start a middle ground diary, and perhaps occasionally share it with you guys.

        I want to look like a Vegas showgirl when I go to work. Like, every day. But that’s apparently not a thing I could do. The Man, man. This is what I get for working for the Man.

    2. So, you don’t wear crop tops to work, Soojster? Ridiculous. Whenever anyone tells me to look expensive, I automatically think of prostitutes. Automatically. But I get what you’re saying.

      Originally, when I was shopping for work clothes, I was price-conscious and going for volume. Now, I’ve returned almost all of those things, and am now quality-conscious and have maybe a quarter of the clothes I would have had had I kept on the bargain track. I think that this will pay off well, in the long run. My mother keeps telling me to buy one really good piece every month, and watch my wardrobe grow from there. Maybe it’s a post-Forever-21 mentality at play, but I just don’t know whether or not I have the patience for that.

      If I stumble upon inspiration, I’ll be sure to let you know. I used to like Mary Orton from The Classy Cubicle (I hate the word classy used that way), but then she became a professional blogger and it all went to pot. There used to be a blog called “What An Employed Adult Would Wear,” which was snarky, sparsely updated, and sometimes a bit to far casual for an assistant district attorney, but there were good pieces. My new product of analysis is: half of the stuff from the J. Crew workwear section, a quarter of the dark-colored stuff from Zara, everything at Brooks Brothers except for Red Fleece, and the occasional splash of Ann Taylor. Hugo Boss, Theory, and Eileen Fisher for higher quality accents.

  4. After all the nonprofit office gigs (dress expectation: high. Pay level: not high enough to cover dry cleaning) over the decades, I’m grateful that next week I go back to the half year job where I have to be dressed. And I should wear comfortable shoes. And if I wear something cute, I should expect to have to make one for my boss’ wife. Band tshirts? Check. Wax prints? Check. Novelty print dresses? Check. Clashing prints and colors? eh, I can’t do that yet.

    I am sooo glad I am ollllllllllddddddd!

    1. One thing I am not looking forward to: DRY CLEANING. I am itching to find a way to launder my things so that I don’t have to shell out more than $100 a month at the cleaners.

      I want to be ooolllllllllddddddd.

  5. I worked a lot of different environments, from network TV to big insurance companies. I was a manager in a creative field that had to boss a lot of tech guys around. I had to go into meetings with CEOs and celebrities. Here’s my advice…dress to the next level. Look at what the women middle managers in your field are wearing and dress at their level of “dressiness.” That way the people above you will feel comfortable inviting you to meetings with higher-ups which will help you get ahead.
    Dressing for work will get old in a hurry, so stick with separates and have lots of nice accessories to mix things up. You don’t have to be dowdy–I used to wear cute pencil skirts with button-downs from the boys’ department and fun jewelry. And trust me, no matter how much “sensitivity training” guys have, they’re still sizing you up. No midriffs, cleavage etc. You want to look youthful but sophisticated!

    1. Ugh, what do you mean no midriffs? I’m all about the crop top. (Actually, that’s not completely untrue.)

      You’ll be pleased to know that I bought the Eileen Fisher cardigan, and have been haunting her modern and youthful designs ever since. I am loving her shifts and shells.

      See, this is why your advice is my favorite. I never understood the “dress a level above yours” advice (is the fact that I’m a lowly analyst who tries to avoid dry cleaning a secret?!), but my new mindset is “look the way you need to so that people feel comfortable inviting you into meetings.” I’m reading Lean In, because I am a cliché, and sitting at the table requires preparation on several levels, including the way that we dress. So, thank you.

      I’m working on the accessories part. Outside of our beloved silk scarves, I am having trouble finding tasteful, affordable accessories. I am going to have to start fishing around vintage shops and eBay, I think.

      Thanks again, Julie!

  6. Oh man, Charlotte, my husband and I just had an argument about what is work appropriate (for me and other ladies) after I finished making the Sewaholic Davie Dress in a black ponte. Apparently we have very vastly different definitions of work appropriate.

    There are going to be so many different opinions on “work appropriate” and “business casual” depending on one’s industry and work environment. Your situation sounds similar to mine, maybe not quite as conservative. Also, I think business casual has two different meanings depending on the function being attended: work and non-work. Also, west coast tends to be way more casual than east coast.

    I hear ya about the no florals and no animals (well, cute kitties and leopard print are two different worlds, so no kitties, yes tasteful animal print). I strive to be that svelte career professional woman rocking that pencil skirt or sheath dress or trendy fit and flare (that’s why I made the Davie Dress!), but usually I’m lazy and just work the slacks, nice blouse, cardigan, and flats or pumps.

    I agree with Jet Set Sewing; base your wardrobe on what other women are wearing. They’ll definitely help define “work appropriate” and you’ll eventually hear the work gossip when someone has crossed the line and shown too much skin 🙂

    1. Our dress code leaves so much to personal preference, that you’re right. I have to observe everyone else around. I can apparently wear halter dresses, if I put a cardigan over them, which sounded so many alarms in my head. Work v. non-work functions is a key distinction. When we have an office outing to a Nats game or when the softball team is playing, that’s a completely different story. Plus, client meetings v. internal office functions remains a key distinction. There are too many layers!

      I have a really tasteful owl-print silk that is dying to be trotted out. They don’t look like owls, I insist! But, you know, the owls have to live a long and painful life in the casual queue until they start resembling a tasteful leopard print.

      For what it’s worth, I love your Davie dress and find it totally work-appropriate.

  7. Well, I know I firmly argued against graduate school in the humanities, but this is generally not a problem there. Most academics are hopelessly style-less, so they don’t look askance at anyone’s style, whether it be zany or childish. If anything, they would wonder if you’d maybe chosen the wrong path if you showed up in business casual all the time. This may be more applicable to graduate students than faculty, but the really great thing about graduate school in the humanities is that you’ll never get a job as a tenure-track faculty member, so you’ll never have to worry about a professional wardrobe!

    With that being said, when I worked in an office, I wore a lot of what I call jackets, which are a step down from a tailored blazer. I think they probably aged me 20 years, but I was at a loss for what to wear. I wore a lot of red and black, but not many more colors. This is why I sew so little red today even though I’m otherwise an explosion of color – it just seems boring to me. It seemed to me that if I’d had the money for it, Ann Taylor would be my go-to place for business casual, but I was in an office in Ohio, which I’d guess is more on the casual end of the spectrum than D.C.

    Basically, what I’m saying is that I’m the last person who should be talking about this. I’m going to wear a kitty dress while teaching this summer and I honestly can’t see why *everyone* won’t be wearing a kitty dress to do their respective jobs.

    1. I definitely think of Red as an Office colour. Like, black, white, gray, red, those are your acceptable safe colours. I love red but I tend to really shy from that bright red, and I think this is a part of it. Too boring.

      I work in research support for a uni so it’s like… people either wear nice, expensive versions of casual clothes (lots of $100 drapey jersey tops) or edgier, quirky versions of professional wear. Which is why I feel like a hot pink giraffe print shirtdress will be totally normal here. Also there is one woman who wears mostly vintage, for example, and one woman who dresses in more edgy fashion, lots of geometric accessories but because it’s clear she’s got A Style it reads as less casual.

      Also my last office, I was always the most dressed up one, and I dressed REAL casual there. So I am kind of enjoying the ability to play with it a bit without needing to commit.

    2. We have an especially stylish English department at Georgetown, I feel. Loads of cute dresses, and coordinated separates from all corners of the department. But, history? Another story entirely. So I suppose you’re right. I’m steering clear of academia and heading into business, much to the chagrin of my favorite professors, but I just cannot do it. I can’t labor under the promise of a tenure-track position, only to reach the end of the tunnel and realize that it was all a sham. All of it.

      I love jackets! I’ve been thinking of sewing the jacket that Morgan from Crab and Bee just made (the wrappy, Vogue number) in a linen or lightweight wool. I just muslined V7975, in hopes of making the much-vaunted French jacket, only with organza lining in the body, charmeuse in the sleeves, and Hong Kong seams. Oh, and machine work. Lots of sewing machine work involved, rather than the hand-stitching, which I find borders on unnecessary a lot of the time.

      The red thing is curious, isn’t it? Apparently, it is supposed to simultaneously project power, professionalism, and aggression, and can any of the above attributes into dominance depending on the wearer. Remember Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl, versus the good girl Melanie Griffith?

      Ann Taylor has gone. . .in a direction of which I do not approve. Otherwise, I’d be in all Ann Taylor, most of the time. I miss Mickey Drexler’s vision for Ann Taylor, the one that was basically aping Jackie Kennedy Onassis, down to the glasses.

      KITTY DRESS! That is everything.

  8. Would you hate me if I told you I once wore my Crazy Cat Lady top to work? Sometimes I’m envious of the girls who get to wear ‘nice things’ to work. I wear one of my many versions of style arc Elle pants, and a tee +/- cardigan if it’s cold. I have to be able to bend, roll, lunge, wrestle, stretch, dive and wash off splashed body fluids, so nothing particularly nice for me. My office is covered in cat hair and occasionally cat vomit from the clinic cat. So dress codes of the real world don’t mean much to me. But to be fair most vets are the most ridiculously unstylish demographic out there, so I do my best to add the glamour when I can.

    1. I want to just be a crazy cat lady at work, and keep a picture of the cats on my desk. Apparently, that might be frowned upon? Whatever, nerds.

      The Style Arc Elle looks fantastic. Elastic waist?! Sign me up.

      My vets are actually a little stylish. Well, they both look like hipsters, plus Dr. C who freely wears her Crazy Cat Lady t-shirt. So I guess there’s something of a balance. Crazy cat ladies, unite! So jealous of your t-shirt.

  9. Wauw, amazing how much thought goes into a female business (-casual) wardrobe… Guys have it easy, the suit without the tie (and/or the blazer)… But us girls, we have it hard… I’m glad I got rid of that part of my life… When I worked in the banking sector, I went mostly with solids and trousers…
    It sounds like you have to just bore it down.
    Business casual for me would be solids, nice trousers or a pencil skirt, flats (or round toed pumps with a broad heel, no stiletto’s), a nice blouse (maybe with a geometric prints? but definitely no animals) and a jacket… And if the mood strikes you can go a little crazy with the blouse, as long as you tone it down with the jacket. Sheath dresses (in a solid) definitely scream business, whereas fit-and-flare and shirtdresses are more casual…
    But definitely nice fabrics, wool and silk all the way…
    Good luck with your new wardrobe…

    1. Solids and trousers seems to be where I’m going. Skirts are surprisingly difficult with my waist-hip ratio. I cannot find a good skirt that fits my waist, but does not look as if my hips are struggling to bust out of them. The reverse is just as true.

      I think I might do a post on my business casual plans, and how I think they’ll pan out. I have some things made (mostly blouses), a ton of things purchased, and just the power of hope backing me up. Let’s see how it all pans out, shall we?

      Following your advice, I went to Mood and just bought a crap ton of wool and silk. New wardrobe ahead! Thanks, Wendy.

  10. I’m really really glad that I’ve always worked in an industry where the dress code is firmly business casual, emphasis on the casual. It’s expected that editors dress more professionally when outside visitors come to the office for meetings, but otherwise, we’re free to wear mostly whatever we want. There’s some rule against sundresses, but as I never wear a sundress without a cardi or jacket overtop, that rule is kind of moot (plus: how is a sundress defined these days? anything summery feeling and sleeveless? BS.) Working at a creatively focused publication allows me to wear creative clothing. On staff it’s kind of expected. I don’t know how our HR department or the execs see it, but since we mostly don’t see them anyway, I feel their opinions don’t count. I will wear my damn hand-painted silk kimono top whenever I damn well feel like it.
    I spent a lot of time trying to dress professionally: silk blouses, pencil skirts, jackets, trousers, twinsets, sheath dresses, etc., in traditional cuts and patterns. But I found it so boring. Plus, the comfort level. Blouses constantly have to be re-tucked, skirts hitch around when you walk, and I just spent so much time tugging my clothes back into place I decided it wasn’t worth it. And these were things that actually did fit. Sigh. I would love to dress like that every day, because it’s just so sharp and it rings all the right bells in others’ minds (professional, put-together, competent, etc.), but for me it’s just not sustainable. Nor is it necessary.
    That said, I suggest that you turn to the Talbots catalog for inspiration in your sewing, too. Their workwear lines are polished and sharp, but feminine without being overtly sexy. I feel it’s a waste of time to try and dress according to what the menfolk in the office will consider “appropriate” since a woman could wear a burlap sack or a muumuu and STILL most guys would find a way to objectify her.

    1. Oooohhh, Talbots. Good idea. I’ve only bought one thing from them (a silk blouse on clearance for $10), but found that I loved their separates. Their dresses, not so much. It is floral city in there, though, isn’t it?

      I am so jealous of your dress code. As in, I think there should be Bring Your Blogger to Work Day, so that I can shadow you and wear my dress-cardi combo without shame. That would totally pass muster with HR, wouldn’t it? I want to make a Marcy Tilton outfit, from head to toe, with a Pucci print, and wear it unironically to the office. Again, it would be fabulous.

      What is a sundress, anyway? People keep telling me that I can wear a dress, but not a sundress, and I still cannot figure out what that means. They also say that I can wear a dress with spaghetti straps, so long as it is covered up with a cardigan or jacket. What does any of this even mean?!

      When I was interviewing, because I insisted on wearing wool, I just had a lap full of wrinkles the entire time. The whole time. I think I looked somewhat competent, in my frizzy-haired, professorial way, but I wonder if I can’t just prove that I’m competent by being competent. I’m reading a book called Executive Presence about the merit-success gap, and a huge part of it is apparently the way that we dress (also, gravitas and communication). This is all just mind-numbing and discouraging, isn’t it?

      1. A “sundress” generally refers to a dress that is made of very lightweight, semi-sheer fabric, usually cotton, often flowy and showing a lot of bare skin (hence the “sun” part). Work dresses, on the other hand, are better in tailored structured form, substantial fabric with no see-through, and have sleeves or, if sleeveless, arms are covered by a jacket or cardigan. Do not wear spaghetti strap dresses to work, even with a topper. Just no.

        Don’t be discouraged, it’s only information and you’ve proved your capacity for absorbing and utilizing information. Some people can’t imagine learning everything necessary for a college degree, but you eat the elephant one bite at a time.

        (Sorry about the multiple posts – I’m catching up on my emails and reading things in reverse order.)

      2. Yes, a lot of Talbots’ summer catalog is flower-print-heavy and lately their dresses just read “modesty 101” to me, which also reads ‘I hate my body’–to me. The cuts have become slightly unflattering. But their work separates are awesome. Plus, I just got really re-excited about Talbots because after years of hanging out in the misses petite size 14s which KINDOF fit well, I finally went to the women’s petite size 14 which REALLY fits well. It was mindblowing. And wallet-blowing. But hey, when you need pants that fit you need pants that fit regardless of whether they’re on sale or not.
        Anyway, with the whole “prove competence through actual competence” issue, I think most of us have to prove first through our appearance that we are competent to remove the mind-block that we can’t possibly be competent because we wear owl-print blouses and kitty-print dresses. Since a certain level of competence is assumed by a certain dress code, once that mind-block is gone, we’re free to prove our actual competence through our performance. And then the wardrobe kind of becomes window-dressing or visual reinforcement of said competence. Once that’s proven, mixing in some more creative accessories or garment choices occasionally may become more permissible.
        I would LOVE a Bring Your Blogger to Work Day in my office! Hmm…not a bad idea, really. If McCall’s can do it….

  11. If I were Queen of the World, I’d pick the shalwar kameez as business casual for women. It’s beautiful, supremely comfortable, covered up but cool, and has infinite variety. Can’t someone arrange for this to happen?

    1. I’m half-Indian, and thus vehemently anti-shalwar (I don’t know why. I blame my grandmother entirely, as she is vocally anti-shalwar and pro-sari), but I get what you’er saying.

      If we wear shalwars, and men wear kurtas, everything would be solved, wouldn’t it? Yup.

  12. You need a penis. Without a penis, it’s an uphill battle.

    I work in engineering consulting firms, mostly, where people wear jeans to work every day. My boss wore stretchy jersey clothes all the time, before she got ku, and looked more like she was dressing for a first date than for work. I can’t say for sure that it held her back at all. I wear floral all the time and it is a huge fanciness step up from the wear of most of my colleagues. So it sounds like a very different work environment than the one you’ll be entering. I find all of the talk about what women wear to work so very depressing. It seems no matter where we go or what we are doing, we’re still being evaluated first and foremost on our appearances. Ugh.

    But to turn this completely around: what are the clothes that will help you take yourself seriously?

    Clothing will ultimately camouflage you only so much. It’s like we’re supposed to be aiming for “someone who could be fuckable in other contexts.” No you don’t want to make your male colleagues think about sex, but heaven forbid you make yourself look like someone who truly doesn’t care if her male colleagues think about sex when they look at her or not. It’s such a ridiculous tightrope.

  13. I did a few trips with Accounting Club in college (wow, that sounds extremely nerdy), and one piece of advice I can give you is absolutely NO open-toed shoes! Also, you can be more “fun” in your blouses, as long as you have a jacket to cover it up with. I suppose I should clarify, “fun” doesn’t mean actually fun, it just means you don’t have to wear beige, champagne, or camel at all times. Also, wear at least elbow length sleeves until you get a feel for what everyone else is wearing. In fact, for the first day or two, I’d wear a long sleeved blouse, just to be safe.

    Congrats on the new job! And good luck! 🙂

  14. I know where you’re coming from! I work in the financial services sector, and the dress code is a bit vague. However, after a pointed comment from management, in front of my whole department, to the effect that the people dressing colorfully/ creatively (oh no, that was me!!) were vain and incapable of concentrating on their work, I decided to leave the loud prints and colour saturation at home. I now dress much more conservatively at work – lots of black trousers and plain sweaters, simple tops, etc. I still feel like I can work with interesting shapes, and a single colorful piece (eg a red jacket, black and white everything else) send to be acceptable… It really annoys me that I have to look like someone more conservative than I am at work, but it is paying off – I’ve been in the job many many years and finally a few weeks ago got offered a high profile secondment and also told I was management material. It depends what you want to achieve, but it’s worth it for me. And I am still going to sew what I want, even if I can’t wear it to work!!!

  15. So, I’ve been reading this style blog lately, and this post in particular might be helpful to you:
    and also maybe this one, although it’s not being written anymore:
    I found AcademicChic has some really insightful posts on the politics of dressing and gender, specifically in academia, but academia is often even more conservative and judgmental than the average corporation. Anyway, hope you find both of interest.

  16. It’s funny because when I was first starting out (all of six years ago!) I ditched my personal style in favour of pencil skirts, sheaths and blazers. After a few promotions and a solid wack of “proving myself” I’ve gone 360. I still dress completely appropriately, but these days my dresses are floral, my blouses are polka dot and my coloured cardigans many. I still struggle with being taken seriously and get mistaken for support staff, but the important people (my bosses) know I’m a good worker and take me seriously – and that’s all that matters to me.

  17. Just read this article and thought of y’all. You’ll have to judge whether her recommendations are the right formality for your situation.

    How to Create a Powerful Wardrobe When You are the Youngest Employee

  18. I’m excited to see your Super Professional Wardrobe! I’ve never had an office job, so no excuse to make fun clothes, although I have been finding it a bit challenging to dress lately (I’m working in a dirty workshop, but teaching once a week in the evening and going to class with a bunch of fashionistas twice… ordinarily I would just throw a jacket over my jeans and tee, but that doesn’t really work in the sweaty summer. Did I mention there’s no AC in my workshop?)

    I also think that you can get away with more color and more prints in garments that are very tailored. The cut can make them seem more grown-up, I think.

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