The Death of Business Casual, Pt. 2

November 8, 2013 • Fashion


In Part One, we explored the definitive end to [EXPLETIVE DELETED] and the divine variety of workplace attire that has appeared in its place. The women I interviewed have a marvelous command of what they want to wear to work, even as offices across Manhattan continue to come up with dress code expectations that are practically written in Webdings.  Fridays!

In Part Two, we talk about the stress of looking great while we make the big bad decisions that make this economy go “grut-grut-grut!” To the boardroom, in which we’ll cower together in our confounding rainbow of work-appropriate trousers!

What you wear is more important than ever: “Those who refuse to dress the part rarely have the part for long”
The pressure is higher than ever to look the part. Or perhaps it just feels that way because there is no guidebook, just a tangled web of Equipment blouses. Women “would be silly to think people don’t pay attention” to what they wear, the Brooklynite tells me. “When I was working at a fashion label I think it mattered more, especially what brands and such you were wearing, but in [digital strategy] agencies, I think it’s just more about who you are rather than if you ‘fit in.’”

Indeed, Limoges says of dressing for work at a fashion magazine, “It’s not an environment where outfits are judged, but if you dress with purpose, it is absolutely noticed.” Adding that she often plays stylist to others in and out of the office, Limoges gets philosophical: “I find it’s all about understanding who you are, and how to communicate that through a look. When I dress others, my goal is to capture their personality, and translate that into garments that both enhance their natural beauty and shape, while standing for something…. We women have important meetings, and style should reflect both the occasion and your perspective.”

She admits, however, to feeling underdressed on occasion. “I wear a punishing shoe the next day to atone for it.”

Gallerina X handily summarizes the point-of-view of the art industry: “Those who refuse to dress the part rarely have the part for long.”

Meanwhile, Pose/Prose is always chasing the part. “Casting directors want a girl to walk and look the part, to fit the image upon which they have already decided. I try to cater to whatever the casting is for,” she says. But once she gets the job, the jig is up: “On shoots I really don’t think anyone gives a shit. I show up at 7 AM with no makeup on and my hair unstyled, if not wet, since I’m going straight into Hair and Makeup when I arrive.”

A recent experience at her internship has had her stuck on the pressure of dressing for a different kind of world. A woman in finance told her “that a large part of her power, her ability to command a room [filled with men], comes from her self-presentation: business suit, glasses, heels, professional hairdo. Even a lower tone to her voice.”

Says the truth darkwarrior, “In certain jobs a certain demeanor is expected. That is why I avoid those jobs.”

But don’t dress too well: “Save this for when you’re Editor-in-Chief”
Dress for the job you want to have is a lovely maxim, but practically, it mostly makes for fantasy. Limoges, whose job it is to make herself and others look smart, tells me, “I bought an incredible grey wool Bottega Venetta dress that had some commanding structure on top, with a punishing fit through the waist and legs. I took a bathroom selfie in this dress that I couldn’t afford, emailed the photo (as one does) to my best friend, a publicist for a high-end heritage brand, who responded, ‘Save this for when you’re Editor-in-Chief.’ It went back.”

And the struggle to wear just the right thing isn’t limited to the textbook workplace. “I still haven’t figured out what ‘downtown cool’ means,” says Pose/Prose, who attends several functions for business that might sound like pleasure to us. “Like what do you wear to a party vs. a dinner (and then what if that dinner turns into a party?) What if you’re starting the night uptown and then heading downtown? THEN WHAT DO YOU DO?”

Compounding the difficulty of wearing the “right” thing is the reality that a well-heeled woman can often find herself the object of derision from men in the office. I once worked in a nearly all-male office, where anything other than a black skirt and a white button-down gave the whole place pause. The Brooklynite tells me she has felt in some jobs like “the girl with the outfits,” a notion the Street’s debutante shares. “A lot of people in my office don’t ‘get’ what I’m wearing. It becomes a struggle to fulfill my desire to dress creatively while trying not to evoke nasty comments and raised eyebrows.” Her officemates are not above editorializing on the cost of her clothing, either. “I’ll get comments about how much my outfit must have cost or egregiously intrusive questions about if I can pay off my credit card bills, or if I’m in debt.”

The Interview Question
The office-specific definitions of work appropriate attire have made the act of dressing for an interview tougher than ever. Just one of the six woman copped to wearing a suit, but she works on Wall Street. In general, our women seem to see the interview outfit as a means to communicate how you fit into the company. “I think what you wear should say ‘I am right for this job’ as much as your resume does,” the Brooklynite says.

This still leaves many questions. If you get to an interview and your outfit isn’t…quite…for them, is it over? Should you wear something that makes you look like you fit in, even though you may not? And how do you even gather an idea of how an office dresses if you’ve never been before?

Pose/Prose knew little of what one wore in an office beyond what she’d seen on Mad Men, so for her internship interview, “I wore a Jil Sander black and white plaid pencil skirt and a black bodysuit…. When I got there and I realized that the interns wore whatever they want, I felt a little silly.”

Gallerina X puts it another way, and perhaps offers the key to solving the whole puzzle. Pizza! Just kidding. Anyways: Gallerina X says she used to wear trouser suits, “but as I have gotten more at ease with myself, my expertise, and my place in this industry, I have found that interviews are, more than anything else, an opportunity to show how you would fit into an organization.” The intriguing implication is that the suit is a stand-in, what we wear until we gain enough of that elusive mid-twenties self-confidence to articulate our aesthetic perfectly.

  • Lady

    Absolutely fascinating read! I just wish I knew of some girl with militaristic posture, skin the color of porcelain, dressed with lots of side boob. I think we can all call that I win.

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