Once upon a time there was a simple blazer, navy blue with a classic mother-of –pearl button, nothing special to look at, just the classic blue jacket of business dress everywhere. But this blazer had a magic power, anyone who put it on was instantly transformed into an appropriately dressed professional whatever the situation and whatever else they might be wearing. Oh what an astonishing power, what a miracle or sartorial splendor, the missing link in women’s fashion.
This of course is a fairy-tale, something we all may long for but that simply isn’t real. There is no blazer in the world that can transform a hooker into a lady, that’s just how it is. I say this of course without denigrating the sex trade, I simply want to suggest that whatever your profession you should dress appropriately to those professional standards, and you cannot add one magical piece to the wardrobe of another profession and expect it to make a difference. Blazers are great but they don’t have that kind of power.
I was recently at a conference primarily attended by people in retail development, management, and acquisition. Ninety percent of the men were in suits or slacks and jackets. There was apparently no consensus on what the standard women’s uniform was to be and so we as a gender represented every lie the fashion industry has told us about how to dress for work: be sexy, be playful, be powerful, bring the beach to the office, picnic chic for 9to5, runway style everyday and other such nonsense. I happily, even eagerly acknowledge that fashion is much harder for women than men, and the expectations for how we show-up to the office (physically and emotionally) are unreasonable. But, we have to make both the individual and collective decision to stop listening to the utter idiocy of the fashion industry if we want to be taken at all seriously as professionals.
Let’s start with the BS of day-to-night work wear when your idea of evening clothes is what you would wear to a nightclub. You cannot wear a skin-tight dress with a prominent zipper up the back, a four inch hem, and six inch gladiator heels to the office by putting a blazer on over it. That does not make it a flexible day-to-night choice no matter what Cosmo says. Similarly weekend wear and the office are not a successful combination: you cannot wear your cotton maxi-dress in rainbow stripes with a pair of platform flip-flops and make it meeting ready by adding a “statement” necklace and a blazer. Blazers don’t work like that, In Style lied to you.
This is not a moral indictment of the state of today’s fashion. My personal preference is toward a greater degree of subtlety and classic styles and I also understand that fashion is art and an opportunity to express some of who we are. The problem I think is finding the right time and the right venue for that expression. When I go to a meeting I am there for the substantive purpose of that meeting which is not a celebration of me, a beach party, or a night out with the girls. What would you think if your male doctor walked into the exam room wearing swim trunks and a ‘this boy likes to party’ t-shirt? Or if Marissa Mayer, an avowed fashionista, came to the board meeting in a micro-mini, stilettos and peek-a-boo lace tank?
Fashion sells clothes by selling us feelings. I would suggest checking in with those feelings before buying the new whatever and work wear combination they are currently saying is all the rage. Ask yourself what you would think of someone who walked into a meeting in that outfit? Would you want to work with them, would you take them seriously and believe they were focused on the task at hand, would they convey the message of the business? Don’t judge of course, just ask – you never know what someone is going to be like until you work with them, but we express something about what matters to us in what we put on, we say something about what we think is most valuable in ourselves in how we present that self. If you have to put a blazer on to make the outfit okay the answer is it’s not, the blazer is not magical, it’s just a really nice piece of classic fashion.