Wednesday, August 11, 2010

This One is for Rachel

[This post is dedicated to my sister-friend whom I lived with last summer in Old Town. She is classy and sweet, and quite stylish. I always loved seeing what she wore to work every day, a combination of feminine and practical pieces.]

I am currently in Washington, D.C. for a conference. The dress code is business casual and I admit I spent about 10 minutes packing. It's not that I don't care about what I wear, per se, it's more that my work attire falls into predictable and classic patterns.

Today, for example, I am wearing an oxford, a salmon-colored cardigan with a knee-length black pencil skirt and flats. Basic, yes, but outfits can always be spruced up by shoes, jewelry and hairstyle. I know this still sounds like a boring topic to blog on, but patience grasshopper. With business attire, I think it is much better to be understated than too loud and edgy. This post is a result of me recently witnessing the latter. The hotel is currently hosting three conferences: the journalism one (mine), a government security one and a leadership one.

The journalism one is filled 2/3 with men in oxfords or polos and 1/3 of the attendants are women in nice skirt or pants outfits. The government one is filled with people in their official uniforms, which I find really cool. The leadership one is more of a range. The men were all dressed vaguely the same, but the women went from practical and comfortable to shorter dresses and very high heels.

I suppose I should caveat that I've never thought of myself as a stickler for dress attire. I think one should dress appropriately and for the occasion, but outside those two mandates, I think people should be able to dress themselves. I’m partial to and think a person can't go wrong with the classics (clothes, books, languages, etc.), but different people can pull off different styles and fashions.

My beloved uniform!
In high school, for example, I wore a uniform. I always love when people argue that uniformity squelches individuality. True, every girl's daily outfit on the base level consisted of the school's name embroidered on a white or forest green polo and the beloved wool plaid skirt. (Truly, I miss my uniform!)

Outside that, there were rules about what one could and could not wear, but those kinds of rules were made to be broken. For example, the rest of my outfit usually broke at least one rule. I wore shorts underneath my skirt, but they were usually soccer shorts and they showed. That, technically, wasn't allowed. My entire junior year, I wore my Birkenstocks every day to school. Why? Why not is the better question; they are comfortable and no-back shoes weren't allowed. I only got called out once by the sports director and I talked my way out of a demerit.

The same went for Kappa in college. During recruitment, we were supposed to wear very specific things and I mostly followed the rules, but the Devil is in the details. For example, we were required to wear black shoes. Traditionally, everyone wore black pointy heels. I wore my black loafers. I don’t think the comfort level is even comparable and my loafers are darn cute. Nevertheless, future generations of Kappas can thank me for the specific rule and requirement now in place that every Kappa has to wear black pointy heels during recruitment events.

The examples abound!

I like military uniforms because it is the same level of professionalism. Journalists are usually dressed well in a nonchalant way so we’re presentable when we show up at the Statehouse or a business. But business people have a different standard. I used to be okay with leniency, but I have been so surprised by people’s selection in professional clothing of late that I am now converted to the idea of the necessity of a suit for low and high brand professionals. Here’s a few reasons why I now believe this:

First of all, modesty. Women wonder why men don’t take them seriously in the workplace, but if they’re dressed in lower tops and shorter skirts, they’re not projecting a serious person. Double-standards? Discrimination? I don’t think so. I haven’t seen men wearing open shirts and shorts in business settings and certainly do not want to. The same goes for women. Work is for work and clothing is part of the working environment.

Secondly, selection. Some pieces of clothing are just not appropriate for work. Examples: anything with rhinestones or sparkles, anything overly flashy or metallic, and strappy high heels. I am mentioning actual clothing selections I have seen in the past two days. All offices I’ve worked for has never had these types of problems.

Thirdly, practicality. This does not mean frumpy. A person can dress well and comfortably. They are not disparate.

Thanks to my sister for my introduction to this great video, an ode to suits:

Washington, D.C. is great, by the way. Really great, actually; I didn’t realize how much I miss it until I got here and I helped an older couple buy their metro passes. I don’t regret turning down my other post-college offer which would have put me in the District, but I do want to move to a bigger city in the next few years. There’s an energy I love with hundreds and thousands of people constantly around and doing something.

The current speaker said at the beginning of his talk, "I'll be here all week. If you need me, I'll be at the bar." Gee whiz I love journalists!

1 comment:

  1. My dearest Julie,
    It is great to hear that you are yet again enjoying yourself in our nation's capitol. I really loved spending time with you there over the Right to Life Weekend and meeting some of your friends. I could definitely see during that time that you can function within the context of a big city, and hold your ground. I think that comes from your family and your CinCity background. :)

    Also, I am in complete agreement with you on the clothes thing. I think Uniforms are great for school because you should be worrying about what you are learning, and it 7am it's way to hard to try and look good anyway. And in terms of professional attire, I think you are absolutely right about being too flashy. Personally, my way of always standing out is with a tie. If you don't want to be noticed, wear brown and white with a blue tie. I promise no one will notice you. But throw on a paisley pattern and people will think, "Oh, subtle...I like that!" And that's why Ben's seemingly flawless philosophy towards dress clothes assures him a life time of looking professional in the best sense of the word.
    I have no fear as well that you too my dear Julie have ventured into the realm of having something you like to wear that makes you stand out, but only a select observant people actually notice. It's the best though when they do. Cause it means they know you, and they get you!