“Uniformly Challenged”

Lately I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about uniforms and how easy it would be to reach for the same thing or same type of thing day after day. For all of you indecisive clotheshorses (whinny if you hear me) a uniform is something that would enable us to get out of the stable and trot around the pasture a lot sooner.

True, we would not necessarily be showing the world our most scintillating sartorial side but sometimes having a go-to outfit or outfits can be liberating, or so I would imagine.  Many cliques already have a de facto “uniform”: artistic types and downtown denizens tend to favor all black apparel, well-to-do Upper East Siders can be ID’ed by their Birkins, Brooklyn hipsters by their eyeglasses and hats; but what do young executives newly entering the workforce wear? (Yuppies are so last century). Again, it depends where the work place is, and what type of work.

I was recently faced with this dilemma when my daughter graduated from college and took a job in finance. According to a June 2015 study performed in the UK, women ages 18 to 65, spend a full five months of their lives (approximately an hour a week) choosing outfits for work, evening or weekend wear. I’m almost willing to gloss over the fact that this study was done by British uniform company Simon Jersey and is therefore biased towards selling uniforms, because, even if these numbers are somewhat exaggerated, the point is indeed taken and overall rings true.

In response to this ticking clock phenomenon, especially for those in corporate America where there may be an almost unwritten dress code to decipher as well as the written one, many women have adapted a “uniform” of sorts which they keep on rotation in one section of their closet. This is basically what I’ve tried to facilitate by organizing my daughter’s closet with a “professional clothing” section in which no party or play clothes need apply. This begs the question, If the denim and flannel of my daughter’s college days are out of sight, will they be out of mind? Unfortunately, work attire doesn’t “work” that easily when dealing with someone who willingly admits she is more Bonnaroo than Brooks Brothers. Despite having interviewed for and held former summer office jobs requiring business attire as well as the ridiculous college business presentations, in which one is required to dress professionally, there is no slow immersion; no spoonful of sugar that makes this medicine go down in the most delightful way.

In addition to the painful realization that T-shirts and sweats will not cut it  when you oversleep (no doubt after a long night spent at the office rather than the frat rager), the problem becomes even more, well, problematic.  Where to buy this “uniform” while retaining some level of age, comfort and cost appropriateness? Bloomingdale’s Y.E.S. (Young East Sider) department which features their contemporary designers is mostly lacking. I propose they add on a Y.E.S. which stands for Young Executive Style. If you’ve ever tried to outfit someone for their first job, you know what I’m talking about. This market is so underserved that I cannot think of one store or brand to recommend. My daughter and I first realized this problem at least a year ago when she needed a serious, yet stylish suit to wear to interviews. She had gotten by with a black pantsuit from Comptoir des Cotonniers during her early college years along with various black pants and H&M or Theory blouses.

Nanette Lepore suit

When it came time to interview for that all important post-college job, incredulity followed by panic set in. I got the dreaded phone call that I had anticipated for months…”Mom, I need a skirt suit ASAP!” The non-dowdy yet not “slit-up-to- there” skirt suit or dress and jacket combo is a rarity harder to lay claim to than a unicorn sighting. Ann Taylor was proclaimed too boring, BCBG too slutty, Theory (even on sale) too expensive, ElieTahari expensive and matronly, Express has a few good basic pant styles and maybe a pencil skirt but not much else, and the beat goes on. Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I needed smart professional clothing, Nanette Lepore carried some stylish career wear, now not so much. I managed to find a skirt suit and a dress with a short jacket on sale from Nanette at Saks.com as well as a drastically reduced Albert Nipon black and white herringbone suit from the back of Neiman’s catalogue where lesser brands go to die. Amazingly, these served their purpose as interview suits and second interview suits for the same company (unlike a man, heaven forbid you can’t wear the same suit for both!) and in them, my daughter miraculously landed her dream job. Whew! I felt every bit as victorious as she did!

Albert Nipon Houndstooth suit

What came next reminded me of the conclusion of the 1972 movie “The Candidate,” in which, once Robert Redford’s character has expended all of his efforts campaigning to be likeable rather than endorse policies that he really believed in, he is elected to the Senate. “What do we do now?” he asks his aides. In our existential crisis of sartorial proportion, now that the interview suit had served as appetizer, what would we serve up for regular fare? Everyday attire must still read corporate but less so, requiring an entirely new wardrobe known as business casual. This seemingly easy-going phrase sounds harmless enough, but is, in actuality, a virtual land mine to navigate.

Quite possibly this is where the extended closet time happens. Not only is it a tightrope act to walk that fine line between over and under dressed, regarding both propriety and climate in the work place, but according to the aforementioned study, some women will even return home later in the day to change if they don’t feel like they nailed it. Arrivederci sandals, Ciao pumps (I told my daughter to invest in Band Aid Friction Block and keep it on her at all times) although I believe she defaulted to flats after not heeding my advice during week one. The trouser/button down blouse combo (make sure the buttons don’t pull or gape) are fine but if you go for a more form fitting pant you better be certain that it won’t be mistaken for a legging. A cardigan or blazer topping it off makes it more businesslike assuming that the skinny legged pant is even alright? A skirt can’t be too short, or too tight and sitting must be possible with ease and modesty. It bears mentioning that if you are on the tall side, the right skirt length just doesn’t exist–they are only made to hit mid-thigh or well below the knee. Dress Down Fridays (DDF’s) may as well have been called WTF, as in Wear That Friday? Not willing to be tripped up so early in the game, my daughter ignored it altogether her first week and dressed in usual corporate attire. As the lone holdout, she now knows that sandals and dark jeans are fine as long as you feed the $5 office kitty. Sweats are of course, verboten…

Banana Republic offerings

In my constant role as self-proclaimed wardrobe stylist to the next gen, I am now resigned to trolling the sale rack at Banana Republic as well as H&M for summer dresses that can be worn in an office environment. It’s truly amazing to me that so many ads and emails tout “wear to work” items that are cut-out in the back or on the sides, short enough so that several inches of thigh are exposed, or feature a model wearing them on a yacht in the south of France.  I always want to know where these people work because it certainly isn’t corporate America! I also check online sites such as Rue La La, My Habit and Haute Look which I will occasionally order from just as long as nothing is final sale.

Amy Schumer in a Blazer

I found it entertaining that Comedian/Actress Amy Schumer deals with the corporate closet issue in her new film “Trainwreck” as well as in another potential real life role. Her thinly veiled character, a writer at a men’s magazine amusingly named “S’Nuff,” dresses in office attire in her work scenes. In an interesting twist, Ms. Schumer herself has gone on record as saying that she was one of several candidates considered to replace outgoing Jon Stewart at “The Daily Show” however something stopped her: she was not a fan of the possible wardrobe. Turning down the job, reportedly saying: “I just pictured all the fittings — all the blazers I would have to wear. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do that!” she joked. (Apparently Trevor Noah, who was ultimately selected as the replacement host, didn’t have a problem with it).

Amy Schumer “almost a blazer”

Obviously, the “blazer” excuse was not the real reason yet I would have to say in her defense that female comics don’t really do the lapelled jacket thing. Even when paired with jeans comediennes may see blazers as too restrictive, too structured, off putting and unfunny. Truth be told, I can’t remember ever seeing Chelsea Handler, Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman or Lena Dunham quite so conservatively dressed. I suddenly sense a new comedy troupe forming. Upright Citizens Brigade could become Unite Contra Blazers. Or as a homage to SNL, I suggest “The Not Ready For Professional Tailoring Players.”

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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