Friday, April 30, 2010

"Professional" Me


pink dress (H&M)
high heeled Mary Janes (Michael by Michael Kors)


This outfit saw me through my Master's defense.  It did a spendid job of calming my nerves and making me feel confident. 

Like Liz, I wanted to wear something that was completely me, but I did want to present "professional" me.  This dress has a traditional cut and more structure than some of my other, more feminine pieces that I considered wearing.  However, the bright fushia color gives it that hint of drama, femininity, and fun that I really wanted to feel good about myself.   Also, it fits well, flatters my shape, and is extremely comfortable.

Obviously, I knew I would wear high heels, seeing as they are my fashion talisman.  I chose these Mary Janes.  I'd been looking for a pair of high-heeled Mary Janes forever, and this year I finally found these.  Patent leather, super high, and (mistakenly) marked down 50% (which they did grant me).  In other words, everything I could have ever wanted in a shoe.  These are one of my favorite pairs of shoes, and they are also one of the most comfortable pairs of heels I have ever worn, especially given their height.

If I'm completely honest with myself, I'm not entirely sold on the combination of this dress and these heels.  But I really wanted to wear the heels, and I didn't want to change the dress, and even though I had considerable time to change, I just went with it.  Next time I wear the dress, though, I'll probably pair it with different shoes.

I have a nervous tendency to play with or flip my hair.  I didn't want to pull it completely back, but I did want to get it off my face so I wouldn't be tempted to fiddle with it, so I used a headband to secure it back.  Worked perfectly.  I didn't touch my hair at all during the defense.

All in all, a good experience, which the clothes helped and enhanced.

  • Should this be "Mary Jane's last dance" with this dress?
  • Do you count on color, cut, or both to feel feminine?  Or do you use something else to enhance your femininity?
  • Do you ever use fashion to head off bad habits, like my headband trick?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

In the Buff Round 2


Earlier Drafts: 
I sported nude suede heels.

cropped cargo pants (Target)
white sheer top (thrifted, from forever ago)
nude suede heels (Seychelles via Piperlime)

Yesterday I wrote about my newest fashion interest, the flesh-toned shoe.  In the post's Prompts, I struck with a mere glancing blow at the concept of what I'm calling "dressing nude."  Here's what I asked:

I'm also wondering how the nude shoe trend acts as an extension of the nude makeup trend, which Katie alludes to here.  Does our collective fashion conscience think nude equals most beautiful?  If so, why?  Do we feel an impulse to down-play our assets or do we simply like our au naturale selves enough to gesture at them in our dressing habits?

Liz requested an elaboration on the subject, so here it goes.

I suspect that the nude shoe trend is merely an extension of a larger "dressing nude" trend.  Make-up fashionistas recommend substituting the painted red lip for a barely-glossed one, for example.  This season's awards events showcased several actors boasting flesh-toned frocks, like Diane Kruger in this Herve Leger number.  It's early in swimsuit season, but we've already seen photos of Kim Kardashian in a skin-toned suit.  And, lest you think I've forgotten that flesh-toned everythings generally coincide with warmer weather, I present as a rebuttal Garance Dore's photo of three women in full-on, cool weather beige.

The trend isn't a new one, of course.  Before there was Bo Derek, there was the nude bather of the classic art frieze. So, to answer my own question: yes, our collective fashion conscience seems to appreciate a bare or bare looking body.  That's no surprise.  I'm wondering, what does the trend signify now?

Here are some conclusions I'm considering:
1. Perhaps, as I suggested in the comments section of Katie's makeup post, we "dress nude" in defiance of marketing messages that state makeup and clothing are necessary correctives for our numerous flaws.  We quite like our flaws, so we combat the 'done-up-ness' with the suggestion of minimality.

2. We feel slightly guilty about our assets and therefore shy away from full-on glamor.  If this is the case, why?

3. Maybe we subconsciously consider those who require less effort in dressing - those who can go 'bare' - the most beautiful, so we emulate that notion of beauty.

Here's a tangent for you.  As I've thought about this nude trend, it has occurred to me that most often the terms "flesh-toned" and "nude" refer to whiteness.  This article describes how one Associated Press writer referred to Michelle Obama's beige gown as "flesh-colored."

Generally, what's your take on my observations?

  • To which cultural phenomena do you think the "dressing nude" trend responds or speaks?
  • What's going on with our terminology?  How do you assess the "flesh-toned" family of labels in regard to race?
  • Any other insights to offer?  Please share!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In the Buff (with a Side of Americana)


Earlier Drafts:
Liz channeled Americana

red chinos, Bermuda Shorts style (Old Navy)
blue cotton peasant top (H&M)
grey blazer (Gap)
flesh-toned suede heels (Seychelles via Piperlime)
nail polish (OPI "Parlez-vous OPI?")

Advocates of nude shoes everywhere: I am a new convert to your doctrine!

Today I had intended to riff off of Liz's post on "national" style, so I had composed what I considered an Americana color scheme - red and blue, plus the peasant top has a jean look to it - with another 'national' classic - the blazer - thrown in for interest.   On my way to a haircut appointment, I donned the flesh-toned heels as an afterthought.  Let me tell you, I am convinced of their miracle-working power.

Before purchasing these shoes several weeks ago, I had discounted the advice of style sages who recommended nude heels as a necessity for every woman's wardrobe.  A skin-toned pump will elongate the leg and, what's more, will act as a true closet workhorse, they said.  I liked my patterned kicks and colorful wedges, thank you very much, and I didn't see the need to shop around for what inevitably would be the palest skin-toned sandal ever.

Then I caved.
These heels sat in my Piperlime shopping basket for three days.
I debated.
(They really won't make me look paler?)
And then I conceded.

Having only worn these sandals three times, I'm already pleased with my purchase.  I have officially identified my summer staple.  Now I know what nude shoe advocates mean when they say "nude equals neutral."  It means, "Yes, in fact, I can wear this with absolutely every item in my closet."

Which leads me to ask, what are your closet 'neutrals,' the items that pair well with anything and everything?

  • Tell us about 'em!  What are your closet 'neutrals'? 
  • Any other nude shoe success stories you'd like to share?  We're all ears!
  • What do you think of my interpretation of the Americana color scheme?  
  • I'm also wondering how the nude shoe trend acts as an extension of the nude makeup trend, which Katie alludes to here.  Does our collective fashion conscience think nude equals most beautiful?  If so, why?  Do we feel an impulse to down-play our assets or do we simply like our au naturale selves enough to gesture at them in our dressing habits?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

All-American Style

Revised Draft:

Earlier Drafts:
Anne-Marie shared her jet-setting style
I brushed the dust off this jacket

turquoise beaded necklace (Kohl's)
white t-shirt (American Eagle)
blue cotton blazer (Gap Outlet)
jeans (Gap)
sneakers (Converse Chuck Taylor)

As part of our ongoing discussion of simplicity and questioning of the idea of a "national" style, I thought I'd contribute one of the quintessential "American" looks:  jeans and a white t-shirt.  Growing up in California, we were taught that jeans were an American invention of the gold rush era.  Levi Strauss had been using a heavy cotton material to make tents for the miners when he realized that the same material could be used to make very sturdy pants.  Enter Jacob Davis, who suggested adding the rivets, and the "Blue Jean" was born.  You can read the history of the jean according to Levis Strauss & Co here.  Calling this an "American" invention seems problematic, since Strauss and many of the miners were immigrants, and they were mining gold in a region that the U.S. had only recently acquired from Mexico.  But they didn't tell us that in 4th grade, naturally.

I also have a strong mental association between jeans and US citizens because of the only trip I've made overseas.  When I spent time in Ireland with my friends in 2004, none of us could pack heavily, so we each brought two pairs of jeans.  Everywhere we went, we were almost the only women wearing jeans.  When we walked into pubs, people called us Americans before we spoke a word.  I imagine jeans were not the only visual marker of our foreign-ness, but they were certainly the most obvious difference I could recognize.

Recently, we experienced another indication that the jean is quintessentially American.  Burton, who is developing a tradition of creating U.S. Olympic Snowboard Team uniforms to resemble staples of Americana, fashioned the 2010 uniform to look like a pair of jeans with a flannel shirt.  In 2006, Burton designed a white pinstriped uniform intended to resemble vintage pinstriped baseball uniforms.  Why is our snowboard team invested in trying to look so "American"?  I don't know this for sure, but I imagine it's because we think of snowboarding as an American invention and want to differentiate ourselves on the hill as the originators of the sport.  I do know that those snowboard jeans caused quite a stir in Vancouver!

When I put this look together, I was meeting a friend for breakfast and some shopping.  Normally I would have worn this blazer and jeans combination with a white button down and a pair of flats, but I drew some inspiration from Anne-Marie's "jet-setting" look in hopes of making my ensemble more casual but still pulled together.  I really like the combination of the fitted jacket with the more casual Chuck Taylors, which is a shoe that I also consider iconically "American."  (Mr. Taylor and his basketball shoe deserve a post of their own, so I'll go into more detail about them in the future.)

  • I get the feeling that jeans are more ubiquitous overseas these days.  For those of you who travel or live in Europe, how frequently do you see or wear them?
  • Any other good stories about jeans and Americana that you want to share?
  • Is there a different clothing item that you think is a strong signifier of American-ness?
  • How have you used styles you've seen on fashion/style blogs to inform your own dressing choices?  If so, how?

Monday, April 26, 2010

What do you accentuate?


navy dress (H&M)
navy and pink polka dot pumps (Payless)

Last weekend, I attended a bridal shower for one of my best friends.  I've known her since we were five years old, so we've seen each other through many fashion (and life) ups and downs (see: stir-up pants).  I was happy to celebrate her upcoming marriage, where I know for a fact that her wedding dress will be a fashion DO.

Unfortunately, the cold and rainy weather on the day of the shower caused me to scuttle my plans to wear a fresh, spring dress or my frothy sea-foam colored skirt (which is lovely and part of an upcoming post).  So instead, as part of thinking about one-and-done outfits, I wore this shirt dress.  The color is dark enough to fit the dreary weather, but the dress itself is not heavy or too winter-y.  Mostly, I love the simplicity and ease of this. The built-in belt gives the dress shape, accentuating my hourglass figure.  The solid color and simple cut make this dress a perfect vehicle for fun shoes.

I love the way that these shoes add whimsy to genre of the peep toe pump.  The light pink polka dots are lighthearted, fun, and youthful, and the little poof at the toe just enhances the playfulness.  They're a great way to lighten up an outfit -- perfect for this occasion, where they transition the classic, more professional dress into a social, more outgoing context.

I want to place this outfit in the ongoing conversation on our blog about under-styling and over-styling and the questions raised about varying philosophies regarding layering and the use of accessories (with some great conversations going on in the comments!).  Namely, I want to question my own fashion decision to under-style it.  The reason I did was two-fold.  1) As I mentioned, I like the way that this dress highlights my natural curves, and by keeping it simple, I think it works as a showcase for my body shape. 2) I have a strong belief in the way shoes make a statement, though sometimes that focus makes me neglect the other aspects of my ensemble.  Now, unlike the other outfits in our blog discussion, mine does not employ a bold print.  In fact, if I want to turn a very critical eye to the dress, it could look like a stewardess dress.  Keeping that in mind, I wonder if in the future I should pair it with a different belt (maybe a pink one?) and/or a nice necklace (perhaps a gold pendant?).

  • How else could I style this dress?  And do I look like a stewardess?
  • When you look for statement pieces, what kinds of accessories do you like to accentuate?  Jewelry?  Shoes?  Scarves?  Hats?
  • Do you typically dress to show off your assets or hide (perceived) flaws?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity

Over the past week, we've been having an interesting conversation about whether one can identify characteristics of "American" style and how we might differentiate between it and "European" style.  We began discussing it in Anne-Marie's post, Dressing simply with patterns, and Liz followed up by posting Pattern Styling Experiment, Take Two.  As it turns out, this is a great time to be exploring this question!  This spring's exhibit at The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is going to be called "American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity."  The Met's press release for the exhibit explains,

"The exhibition, on view from May 5 through August 15, 2010 (preceded on May 3 by The Costume Institute Gala Benefit), will explore developing perceptions of the modern American woman from the 1890s to the 1940s, and how they have affected the way American women are seen today. Focusing on archetypes of American femininity through dress, the exhibition will reveal how the American woman initiated style revolutions that mirrored her social, political, and sexual emancipation. Early mass-media representations of American women established the fundamental characteristics of American style – a theme that will be explored via a multimedia installation in the final gallery."

For more information, visit the press release here.  Looks like it might be time for a Scholar Style Guide field trip!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pattern Styling Experiment, Take Two


fuschia animal print wrap dress (Express)
black cami (Old Navy)
black wedges (Lauren by Ralph Lauren)
beaded headband (NY& Co)
pewter disc earrings (Charlotte Russe)
beaded necklace (NY& Co)
black cardi (NY& Co)
black patent belt (Forever 21)
black patterned tights (Target)

Anne-Marie's post from Wednesday, in which she offered an alternative definition of "overdressed," got me thinking about my own styling choices.  How often am I guilty of "over-styling" a look?  My own juxtaposition of different looks on Tuesday also gave me a different perspective on those styling choices.

So, I wanted to keep that conversation going by experimenting with "under-styling" and "over-styling" the boldest pattern in my closet.  The color, print, and cut of this dress work together to ensure that it's something I'd never wear alone unless I was feeling particularly adventurous.  I doubt I would have bought it to begin with if it hadn't been on clearance.  After snapping a photo of the dress by itself, I piled on all the various accessories I have worn with this dress in the past.  I've never worn all of these accessories together, but  I'm not sure anyone would think twice if I showed up on campus sporting all of these items.  I probably tend to over-style more frequently than I under-style.

I think this dress is best with a cardigan, which helps to mitigate the impact of the bold color and print.  If forced to choose between the two looks today, though, I'd probably choose the one on the left.  Before Anne-Marie's post got me thinking about overdressing in this way, though, I might have chosen the one on the right.  Now that she's asked me to think about it,  I'm uncomfortable with the way that piling on accessories says "Look at all these commodities I own!"


  • Okay, be honest: would you ever leave the house in a fuschia animal print dress?  Or should I have left it on the sale rack?
  • What's your analysis of the under-styled look versus the over-styled one?
  • Which look do you think is more similar to those featured on other "fashion" and "style" blogs you read?  Have you noticed a difference in the styling choices made by Americans and those made by residents of other countries on these blogs?  Share links!
  • I'm also wondering to what degree these styling choices are as much (or possibly more) governed by class status as they are by nationality/regionality.  Do high profile people in the American fashion industry really style themselves differently than high profile people involved in the fashion industry in European nations?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Making Up Personal Style


loose power (Cover Girl)
mascara (Great Lash)
concealer (Mary Kay)
black eyeliner (Cover Girl)
pink eyeshadow (Cover Girl)
lip balm (Burt's Bees)
perfume (Burberry London)


Today, I wanted to write about some of the smaller, less obvious parts of personal style.  Namely, that we reflect our personal style not only through our clothes and accessories, but also through the ways we alter our physical bodies.  Liz covered some of these issues in her wonderful post that includes her nail polish. 

So I thought I would go through my normal make-up routine as an entry point to discuss this issue.  I've never been one for an overly made up face, nor have I ever wanted to use it to drastically alter my appearance.  I use it to highlight my features and create an enhanced natural look.

I'll start with the base.  As you can see, I have a ton of freckles.  Considering my near uni-freckle, I have never worn foundation.  Ahem...I'll amend.  I wore foundation once, a long time ago, and it just looked so fake that I've never been tempted to go back.  Yes, I realize that there are ways to wear foundation with freckles, but I'm lucky enough to have good enough skin that it's never been a necessity.  So I begin with a bit of concealer on any blemishes and then a smattering of loose powder, just to cover any shine.

I'd say that I wear eyeliner about 70% of the time.  The other 30%, I just wear eyeshadow and mascara.  I usually use black eyeliner, though sometimes I'll wear brown.  I line the top of my eyelids -- sometimes half-way, sometimes all the way.  Then I add eyeshadow.  I think that a light pink shadow (I use a combination of the two middle shadows) is a great everyday color that looks good on most people.  I top it off with a brush of mascara.

I have naturally rosy cheeks, so I don't wear blush.  I have before, and it just makes me look clownish.  I rarely wear lipstick or even gloss on week days because 1) my hair sticks to it walking around campus and 2) I drink so much coffee during the day that it wears off immediately and/or just stains the rim of my coffee mug.

I've mentioned before that I think that having a signature scent is important.  I currently wear Burberry London, which has a warm, feminine scent that I really like.  I just use a quick spritz on my neck and sometimes my wrist so that I'm not an olfactory nuisance to everyone within a 50 yard radius.

I like my make-up routine because it's fast, low maintenance, and it gives me an easy, natural look.  However, I will say that I wish I knew more about make-up to give myself more options, especially when dressing it up.  When I'm going out, I tend not to do much differently -- darker eyeshadow, more eyeliner, or lip gloss, but that's about it.  I would love to expand my make-up horizons, so if you have any tips or suggestions, please share them.

I think that the way we make ourselves up does impact our personal style.  If a woman is impeccably dressed, but wearing glittery blue eyeshadow up to her brow ridge, more blusher than Bozo, and enough lip liner for an entire Clinique counter, she undoubtedly sends a different message than if she wore something more understated.  Likewise, a heavily made up woman in sweats or mismatched clothing raises an important question about personal style: is her face more important to her than other style choices and why?

  • I do wonder sometimes about why women wear make-up and how that reflects on us.  Do we wear it for men?  For other women?  For ourselves?
  • Do you wear minimal make-up or is your routine more complex?  Have any tips for twists on my routine?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dressing simply with patterns

patterned dress (Target)
ring (grandmother's costume jewelry box)
yellow wedges (Nine West)
nail polish (OPI Tickle My France-y)

Last month, Liz tackled the overdressed versus underdressed debate, and she related her tendency to overdress.  Today, I'd like to redefine the terms and propose some merits of underdressing.

As I see it, there are two ways to define overdressing.  First, one could define it as Liz did in her post: overdressing means "I took this event a little too seriously."  It signifies inappropriate or excessive formality.  Second, one could define overdressing like so: "I'm wearing more accessories than a Coach model."  In this case, overdressed signifies something slightly different.  It means the outfit is excessively styled or overly adorned.  Of course, the two definitions of overdressing may overlap in meaning, but I still maintain the distinction between them.  Wearing a single cocktail dress to a backyard barbecue - definition #1 - is not the same as complicating an outfit by layering multiple garments or jewelry items - definition #2.

The latter condition would make Coco Chanel roll over in her grave.  She advised women to remove at least one accessory before leaving the house, because she advocated the "less is more" rule.  So I imagine she might shudder at the simultaneously belted, hatted, hosiery-ed, sock-ed, cardigan-ed, necklace-d, earring-ed, bracelet-ed women of contemporary America.

I distinguish hyper-accessorized ladies as American not only to gesture at Coco Chanel's Frenchness, but also to introduce my cause for interrogation.  Lately I've stumbled upon a few essays which present the French woman's adherence to simplicity as a remedy for the American woman's supposed addiction to layering.  The American woman hides behind her clothing, say these fashion critics, and she therefore over-constructs ensembles.  That's why most of us are adept at executing this formula:

Cami + Cardigan + Belt + Jacket + Scarf

And why we saw so much of the Tights + Socks + Boots concoction this winter.
And why we're still seeing the Leggings + Dress + Cardigan + Belt combo now.

Alternately, the French woman relies on a single article of clothing to carry her look.  The black dress, the expensive coat, or the signature bag.  She does not succumb to the impulse to wear all interesting wardrobe items at once, which leaves her looking effortless and draws attention to her natural beauty rather than to her fashion sense.

Or so they say.
The argument has merit, as I see it.  When I studied in Barcelona, I noticed the same trend among Spanish women.  They rode the metro, walked the dog, and dined out in their finest, but they rarely looked overdone to my eyes.  They did insist on minimizing their looks, though.  My host mother, even, who was well into her 60s, chastised me often for wearing "too much."  Her wardrobe was smaller than mine - European women invested in signature pieces, she explained, and did not collect clothing - but to her it was more valuable.  I owned a dozen department store jackets; she owned two Yves Saint Laurent coats.

To her, the expensive garments enabled simple dressing, and their ability to stand on their own imparted more value than did their brand.  Admittedly, her impulse to pare down ensembles encouraged me, because I'm not one to match and coordinate and compose my outfits, and I grew up thinking this was negligent.  In fact, the closest my (wonderful! dear!) mother and I ever came to an all-out brawl was during my high school senior portrait session; she wanted me to wear the pearl necklace and the earrings, and I insisted on wearing one or the other.  I thought wearing both would make me look overdressed, like I had over-styled.  To my self-conscious 18 year old self, over-accessorizing reeked of pretension.  (Why I felt this way I cannot remember.  I may have considered pearl jewelry a decidedly 'adult' thing to wear, and the reasons behind this perception merit another post.)

In the same way, style critics suggest, excessively styled (often layered) outfits convey considerable effort.  And effort is not the same as thoughtfulness.  Liz suggests this supposedly American tendency to excessively layer clothing might coincide with the impulse to accumulate material items.  If so, the issue is one of value:  how and why do we transmit value to certain articles of clothing?

Today I'm experimenting with simplification, so I appreciate a garment with a strong pattern that can sustain a look without requiring enhancement from additional pieces.  Of course, the average French woman shuns patterns in favor of sophisticated, solid neutrals, so I'm departing a bit from my source of inspiration.  Still, I embrace the purportedly European concept of dressing simply, and I think patterned fabrics lend themselves to it.  It follows, then, that I appreciate this jersey knit dress, even though the same pattern in polyester would make me look like a veritable 1970s housewife.  (A martini in hand, cat-eye makeup, and the B-52s background music would round out the aesthetic.)  The black and white palette provides the option of pairing shoes and accessories of any color, the fabric is comfortable, and the belted waist offers structure.  But the best part of the dress?  It doesn't require a camisole, jacket, cardigan, belt, necklace, or scarf of any kind.

  • What do you think of my proposed definitions of overdressed?  Disagree, agree, or agree with edits?
  • How do you diagnose the layering trend?
  • What are your favorite ways to wear patterned pieces?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Revising My Uniform for Spring?


eyeglasses (Kate Spade)
turquoise beaded necklace (Kohl's)
red and gray beaded necklace (NY&Co)
black and white camis (Old Navy)
black cardigan (H&M)
snake print belt (Kohl's)
black and white print trousers (Express)
black almond toe wedges (Lauren by Ralph Lauren via Zappos)
brown blur (my dachshund, who thinks he belongs in these photos but can't stand still)


Katie and Anne-Marie have already addressed the ways in which they transition from cold weather styles to warm weather styles, so I thought I would weigh in on the issue.  I also thought it was about time for me to introduce and acknowledge my standard "uniform."

Especially in the colder months, I'm often wearing an outfit something like this.  I own quite a few cardigans.  Underneath the cardigans I alternate between pairing plain tops with interesting necklaces and wearing more visually interesting tops alone. Oftentimes I belt the cardigan, but sometimes I do not.  On the bottom, I'm always wearing one of my several pairs of Express Editor trousers.  The tags on these pants usually tout them as "the best fitting pant in America," which always makes me laugh.  How could you possibly go about proving the validity of that statement, Express?  I can't deny, though, that these pants fit me better than any other pair I've ever put on.  Everyone to whom I've recommended them loves them, too.  Let me know if you want the secrets to getting them for less than full price!

I also recognize that I'm more attracted to the black/white/gray color palette than most women.  I love the versatility I get from buying pieces within this "color" scheme.  The pieces all go together, I don't have to put a lot of thought into mixing and matching, and black/white/gray always looks very polished to me.  I often try to add pops of color here and there, like the red detail in the necklace I'm wearing above.  I took the photo on the right to serve as the sort of "winter" version of today's look.

I have difficulty translating the black/white/gray look into the warmer months, however.  Red doesn't really feel like a spring color, and black and white often feel too harsh in comparison to everyone else's fun spring wardrobes.  Generally, I try to make this transition by wearing more white and gray and less black, which helps to make my ensembles feel a little less stark.  This year, though, I have been on the hunt for a bold turquoise necklace that would serve as a summery substitute for my red accent pieces.  I finally found one I like!

I'm still not sure this outfit on the left is working as a spring look, though.  I tried a gray cardigan, but since these pants look gray rather than patterned from a few feet away, it looked like a terrible head-to-toe gray mess.  Now that I'm looking at the photos, I think the belt is the problem.  I imagined the necklace as the focal point of the look, but I think the snake print is drawing attention to the belt instead.  Thoughts?

  • Any suggestions for transitioning my black/white/gray pieces into the warmer months?
  • Do you have a general "uniform" that you revert to when you don't have time or energy to dress creatively?  If so, what is it?
  • Do you ever find an item you love and buy it in multiple colors and styles?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Projecting Versus Performing Professionalism


blue "embossed" cotton dress (J. Crew)
necklace (gift from husband)
cream cardigan (Ann Taylor)
brown woven stretch belt (Forever 21)
snake print platform heels (Nine West)
taupe polish (OPI You Don't Know Jacques!)

I can't believe Anne-Marie posted her snakeprint heels yesterday, before I got the chance! : )  We found them on super clearance last summer and bought them in different colors, but I have only worn them a handful of times.  I wore them earlier this week, though, for my Master's Project Defense.

At first, I thought I would wear a very "professional" outfit for the defense.  Then I decided against it because the professors on my committee know me better than anyone else on staff, and they've worked closely with me on the project for the past year.  So instead of trying to dress in a way that would project the professionalism I've demonstrated to them all along, I put together an unabashedly girly outfit that I loved.  I wore my favorite dress, my favorite nail polish, and one of my favorite pairs of shoes.  I thought the comfort and confidence I felt about this look would help me to absorb any criticisms they might offer and respond professionally and thoughtfully.

Unfortunately, I crashed and burned in this outfit.  During the defense, my (male) reader said he had some criticisms about my paper, but wanted to assure me first that he recognized and admired all the hard work I had put into it.  I was emotionally overwhelmed by the praise that preceded his questions.  I tried to stifle my tears, but by the time he got to the criticism, I was wiping them off my cheeks.  I know this made it seem like I couldn't handle criticism, when really, I think I would have responded to straightforward criticism much more easily.  This complete breakdown of professionalism is still so troubling to me (even though I passed the defense) that it's hard for me to admit it here, but I think it raises some interesting questions.  Afterwards, when I tried to explain myself to my (female) director, she said that many women in academia have to learn to get used to their own work being taken seriously.  She thinks women are more likely to expect criticism than praise, which was certainly the case for me.

I've never thought very much about dressing in a way that would help me take myself seriously; I have always been more conscious of projecting professionalism to others.   I can't help wondering, though, if I might have felt more prepared to accept criticism and praise had I been suited up in a tailored, pressed, professional outfit.  If I'd been wearing a jacket over something structured, I would have been performing professionalism in a way that I simply was not in this look.

  • Does your own experience indicate that women have a difficult time accepting praise for their work?  If so, why might this be?
  • How conscious are you of performing professionalism as opposed to simply projecting professionalism?
  • Any stories you'd like to share about looks you've worn that have crashed and burned?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reptile Print to Work?


grey dress (
red cardigan (The Limited)
grey tights (Hue)
heels (Nine West)

Anne-Marie here, following through on last week's promise to showcase one of my more professional recruitment event ensembles.  Today our staff is hosting an open house in warm weather, so I've skipped out on my usual blazer and exchanged it for a silk cardigan in one of the university's colors.  I'm hoping the splash of red will identify me as a staff member and exempt me from answering the "Do you work here?" question several dozen times.  Many of the prospective students look older than I do, so it's often difficult to prove my competence to parents.

I'm hesitant to wear these heels, however.  Last time I sported these reptile print platforms at an admissions event, I deflected many interest(ing)(ed) glances from guests.  What's your take on them?  Too sexy?  Not conservative enough?  Potentially offensive to the animal friendly?  (They're faux!)  How do you read them?

  • How does this outfit stack up against your personal standards of professional attire?
  • Am I demonstrating poor judgment by choosing these shoes?  What's your take on them?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Status Symbols



black long-sleeved t-shirt (Old Navy)
jeans (DKNY)
"ruby slippers" (DSW)
Burberry scarf (gift from mother)


First off, I realize that I'm wearing a winter-y outfit in front of the blossoming spring flowers, but I didn't have a picture of this outfit - which I did wear recently - until this morning, when the natural lighting and lovely landscape beckoned.  So please forgive the seasonal clash.

This outfit is one of my staple outfits for class or maybe a Friday afternoon lecture.  It looks put together, but it's also casual and comfortable. 

I want to make a note about these shoes, which are one of my favorite pairs.  I call them the "ruby slippers" because, well, I'm cheesy.  They have a tiny heel, enough to give me a little boost, but they're still very comfortable, perfect for walking around campus.  I like them because they're an easy way to add spice to an outfit.

I love the neutral palate of this scarf that still contains just a hint of color.  These soft colors makes it extremely versatile.  It's also warm, comfortable, well-made, and just plain pretty. of course, you realize that my hedging is leading up to the inevitable: a Burberry scarf is one of the most easily identifiable designer items.  To put it bluntly, it's a status symbol.  When I received this item, I loved it for the aforementioned qualities (comfort, adaptability, quality fabric and make, etc.).  However, I can't deny that wearing it does mark me in a certain way as a consumer of expensive designer goods, which frankly makes me a bit uncomfortable, especially considering my graduate student status and tiny, tiny budget.  Sometimes I wonder if I would still feel this way if I made more money or if I worked in an atmosphere where designer pieces were the uniform.

  •   Why are we attracted to designer pieces?  status?  quality?  mixture of both?
  •    What is the status of designer clothes in your work environment? 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Starched and Pressed


white tank tops (Target)
linen skirt (H&M)
blue canvas wedges (Target)
silver necklace (Ornamental Things)
silver cuff bracelet (gift from grandmother)

Today I'd like to know: do we still consider the iron a necessary tool in the professional woman's wardrobe?  Does starched and pressed still signify business apparel?  Should I forfeit my dreams of dressing solely in linen from now until August 31?

If you're like me, you're more than slightly perplexed over the contemporary definition of professional attire. In a world in which chinos and polo shirts comprise everyday office wear, ties and suits signify exceptional - sometimes excessive - formality, and Casual Friday means jeans and henleys, how are occupational newbies to dress?

My gender and my current position as a graduate student further complicate the matter of interpretation.  Brace yourself for some old fashioned essentialization:  the professional attire of men seems to run the narrow gamut of polo shirt, button down with tie, and tie with blazer.  The degrees of formality are therefore well mapped.  For women, the choices are more nuanced.  Skirt or pants?  Tights or no tights?  Heels or flats?  Sweater or button down?  Silk or cotton?  Tucked or untucked?  Ad nauseum.  What's more, I'm technically a professional student, which means I'm allowed to wear sweat pants every day if I'd like to eliminate the possibility of future employment.  My fellow students cope with this veritable free-for-all of sartorial lawlessness in various ways.  Liz feels overdressed, I feel underdressed, let's call the whole thing off?

This linen skirt represents my version of calling off the battle with definitions of professionalism.  I simply restrict my spring and summer wardrobe to all linen all the time, since the fabric looks decent wrinkled and doesn't require an iron.  But I can hear my mother and grandmother reminding me to starch and press all articles of business wear.  (And why wouldn't I, they'd say?  These ladies even iron bedsheets.)  This skirt would definitively fail their inspections.

In some ways to appease older generations of relatives, I bought an upright steamer two years ago.  It requires less time than ironing, and it's just as friendly to my chiffon dresses as it is to my cotton button-down shirts.  It works well for me, but I'm not fooling any coworkers.  They detect my rebellion against starched-and-pressedness, I'm sure of it.  Do you think they read unprofessionalism in my wrinkled linen skirt?

  • Do you equate ironing with professionalism?  Why or why not?
  • Besides linen, which other fabrics do you think qualify as exceptions to the starched and pressed rule?
  • Do you iron? Convert me to your ways.  Ready, set, go.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Look Like a Professor


eyeglasses (Kate Spade)
nail polish (OPI Over the Taupe)

My presentation went well!  Thanks to those of you who weighed in on my conference presentation look via comments, email, facebook, and in person.  Your perspectives were definitely on target! I felt perfectly attired for my presentation, and that helped me feel confident about delivering my paper, too.

My professor stopped in during the Q&A because he knew I was nervous about fielding questions.  He is generally encouraging and enthusiastic, and afterwards, he said I did a good job answering the questions. He also told me "You looked like a professor up there!"  I think he meant to imply that I had handled myself well, which I certainly appreciated.  Since I'm a scholar interested in style, though, I couldn't help but notice that he said I looked like a professor rather than seemed like one.

Since you already know what I wore, I thought I would address two "accessories" issues that were particularly important to me for this important styling moment and which I think may have helped me "look like a professor": polish and eyeglasses.

I confess to possessing an incurable nail biting habit.  I'm aware, though, that nothing says "amateur" like badly bitten nails.  I keep my nails polished at all times because I cannot stop myself from biting them otherwise.  I generally pick at my nails most when I am thinking, reading, and/or writing, so as you can imagine, graduate school is a recipe for disaster.  After destroying them during my second semester, I decided that polish was a necessary answer.  I spent a lot of (read: too much) time thinking about which polish to choose for this conference. I have been obsessed with OPI's You Don't Know Jacques for the past six months, but I thought it was a little too dark for this event.  I went with YDKJ's lighter sister, Over the Taupe, because it felt like "me," slightly trendy, and yet fairly neutral.  A few women complimented my nails at the conference, which surely would not have been the case if they'd been chewed up.  All but one of these women were European; are they more nail savvy across the pond?

I consider eyeglasses a serious style choice because I only have one pair and I wear them about half the time.  I like these frames because their brown hue is not too severe for my complexion, the branding detail is interesting but subtle, and the frameless bottom keeps them from overpowering my small face.  Unlike my polish decision, though, I didn't have to spend any time thinking about whether to wear glasses or contacts for the conference.  Anytime I feel like I'm going to be under academic pressure, I'm wearing glasses.  The reason for this is two-fold.

The first reason I wore glasses is that I believe glasses and academics go hand in hand.  About half of the attendants at the conference were bespectacled, and this ratio is about the same amongst my professors and classmates.  We tend to favor serious frames, too, which I think must be a way of owning our status as "four eyed" nerds who like to read books.  It seems like glasses have projected an image of intelligence, bookishness, and seriousness for time immemorial.

The second reason I wore glasses is more personal: I feel a lot more comfortable in them.  I have mentally constructed my glasses as a mediation between me and the people who are staring at me.  I think of them as a sort of separation between my interior thoughts and the way others perceive me exteriorly.  It's not that I'm trying to hide behind my glasses, but having them on helps me feel a little bit protected from the intellectual prowess and possible criticisms of the people out there, beyond my glasses.  Sometimes I think this is a little bit crazy, but nonetheless, it works for me as a self-soothing strategy.

  • Do you wear polish or do you prefer nude nails?  What's the logic behind your preference?
  • What are some of the factors you consider when choosing eyeglasses for yourself?
  • Is my construction of glasses as a mediation between interior/exterior completely crazy, or can you at least see where I'm coming from?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Jet-setting style


Textured T-shirt (J.Crew)
Grey Chinos (Banana Republic)
Gold Swing Jacket (NY & Co.)
Converse Sneakers (My closet circa high school)
Green Pattern Resin Ring (Ornamental Things)
Black Labrador Retriever (A sketchy breeder in the city) 

Earlier Drafts:
gold swing jacket

In honor of Liz's conference travel this weekend, here's an outfit I recently wore while flying south to visit family. We aren't jet-setters at Scholar Style Guide, but we do enjoy a practical and photo-worthy travel ensemble.

Why do I adore this outfit?  Let me count the ways.

T-shirts are always comfy, but not always fashionable.  Since looking frumpy is always a no-go, I opted for one of J.Crew's textured tees.  Their ultra soft cotton knits give me the sensation that I'm still wrapped in my bedsheets, a feeling I appreciate while idling in an airport security line at 4:30 a.m.  Also, I had not learned to value the length of a T-shirt until I slipped into one of these.  As the owner of a long torso, I usually forgo tees because I don't enjoy pulling the shirt's lower hem over my pant's waist every five minutes.  But J.Crew's shirts hit at the ideal place at my hips.  Not too short, not too long, and perfect for layering. 

These pants.  I could disown jeans after wearing these.  I'm absolutely obsessed with the versatility of these lightweight, stretchy, putty colored chinos.  A week rarely passes when they remain on my closet shelf.  Banana Republic makes a mean petite trouser, so I'm grateful a hundred times over for a trim cut that doesn't presume short equals hip-y.  (Now don't go grumbling, you curvaceous vixens.  In my case, short equals "I look like I'm an eight year old boy.")  What's more, the fabric's subtle sheen makes it easy to dress these pants up for a night out and dress them down for navigating an airport, like I did.

I've remixed the trusty gold swing jacket.  It offered the right amount of color to contrast with the neutral grey of the T-shirt and the pants, and it kept me cozy on the chilly flights.

The Chucks, who doesn't love 'em?  Raise your hand, I dare you.

  • How do you dress for airline travel?
  • What are your favorite casual wear items?
  • Okay, seriously: do you love or hate Chucks?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Brushing the Dust Off


navy cotton blazer (Gap Outlet)
navy print shift dress (H&M)
brown woven belt (Forever 21)
brown wedge sandals (Old Navy)

If you are anything like me, you have several items in your closet that hang there and collect dust. You liked the item in the store. You liked the idea of incorporating it into your wardrobe. But now that you own it, you can never quite figure out how to wear it.

Until recently, that was the case for this blue cotton blazer. When I saw it for only $7, I couldn't possibly pass it up. It fit perfectly... except the sleeves were at least a half inch too short. At the time, I thought I'd wear it with button down shirts that had a longer sleeve, and it would mitigate the problem. I haven't executed that plan, though, and I could count on one hand the number of times I've worn this jacket.

Lately, I've been seeing a lot more blazers with cropped sleeves. I've also been noticing that part of the "boyfriend dressing" trend Anne-Marie tried out recently includes wearing a blazer with the sleeves cuffed. I thought I'd give that look a try with this jacket. I was really pleased with the result! In my opinion, it would have looked better if the jacket had a nice lining, but beggars can't be choosers. I'm not sure why I felt like the belt was necessary, but I do think it looks better with the belt. I've been thinking about Katie's recent post about fashion talismans, and I think the belt must be mine. For some reason, I think an outfit looks more "complete" once I've belted it. What will I do when belting goes out of style? What did I do before I belted everything? I'm not sure.
In contrast to the blazer, this dress is one of the major staples in my wardrobe. It's a simple cotton shift with a somewhat crazy pattern: is this geometric? or floral? It looks like both. I can wear this dress to work by itself or with a cardigan, I'm wearing it more like a skirt in this photo, and I wore it to several weddings last summer, too. I wish I'd purchased a cotton shift to serve as one of my first wardrobe staples after graduating from undergrad. I probably would have chosen a solid jewel tone for that purpose, though.

  • Have you ever found ways to re-purpose items you rarely wore before? If so, share your secrets!
  • Should I have forgone the belt with this look? Does anyone share my belt addiction?
  • Do you own a shift dress? Are there any other ways to wear this look that I haven't thought of yet?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Textual Analysis: Interpreter of Maladies ("Sexy")

Lahiri, Jhumpa.  "Sexy."  Interpreter of Maladies.  New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.  83-110.  Print.  Google Books

This story in Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories features Miranda, a lonely young woman living in Boston.  She begins an affair with Dev, a Bengali man who is married.  Miranda and Dev meet in a department store, while Dev's wife is in India.  When she returns, Miranda goes shopping "to buy herself things she thought a mistress should have," including "a pair of black high heels with buckles smaller than a baby's teeth," "a satin slip with scalloped edges and a knee-length silk robe," "sheer stockings with a seem," and after "searching through piles and wandering through the racks, pressing back hanger after hanger" she finds "a cocktail dress made of slinky silvery material that matched her eyes" (92).

Miranda never gets to wear the items though.  She wears the robe the first time Dev returns to her apartment, but he ignores it.  The next time he visits, she wears jeans -- "she kept the lingerie at the back of a drawer, behind her socks and everyday underwear.  The silver cocktail dress hung in her closet, the tag dangling from the seam.  Often, in the morning, the dress would be in a heap on the floor; the chain straps always slipped off the metal hanger" (93).

I find this passage interesting because I think it registers on several different levels for most women.  The line that I bolded -- "to buy herself things she thought a mistress should have" -- particularly resonates with me, specifically Miranda's supposition that this status has a certain clothing code.  In her mind, these clothes mark her as a mistress; they are sexy, superfluous, seductive, and impractical.  Miranda is a mistress whether or not she owns the clothing, but she does not feel like one until she looks for items that she "should" have.  To play this role, Miranda must look the part.

This concept of how clothing marks us translates far beyond this story, and I think it hits on some of the issues that we explore on this blog.  Namely, it addresses the performativity of clothing, how the way we dress sends certain messages and how we manipulate our own images.  The president of a company is still the president whether she wears a sweatsuit or a Chanel suit.  But are we more likely to understand her and contextualize her as such if she wears the latter.  (This concept applies across gender lines: the same holds true for a male company president).  

  • Have you ever bought an item of clothing because you felt you "should" own that type of item?
  • How do you perform different roles with your clothing?  Do you have a different "uniform" for different functions -- teacher and/or professional?  student?  wife/girlfriend?  
  • Do you have a completely unessential but beautiful dress with the tags still on hanging in your closet like Miranda (and me)?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thrifting chic

Brown Top (thrifted)
Taupe Skirt (Ann Taylor Loft)
Grey Heels (Steve Madden)
Pearl Necklace (gift from husband)

I love the look of genuine vintage clothing, but I so rarely execute the look in modern ways.  This year, I'm determined to master the art of thrifting, not only because it will help me conquer my vintage styling hurdle, but also because thrifting habits suit my scholarly budget.

This outfit represents my return to the thrifting world.  The brown top, which I spotted in an out-of-town consignment boutique, is not only comfortable, but it has already proved versatile.  I've discovered multiple ways to incorporate it in my wardrobe, and it pairs just as easily with skinny jeans as it does with this wool-blend skirt.

Here I've paired the top with pieces that boast flirty details.  The skirt's lace underlayer and the shoe's ruffled T-strap, topped off with the pearl necklace, all maximize the top's vintage charm while still remaining current. Or, maybe I should pose the question to you.  Have I executed the look well?  With which items would you have paired this top?


  • How do you incorporate thrifted pieces into your wardrobe in contemporary ways?
  • What are your vintage shopping secrets?  Where and what do you buy?  Do tell!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Perfect Bag for a Scholar


white button-down (NY & Co)
black and white pencil skirt (NY & Co)
black stretch belt (NY & Co)
The Perfect Bag for a Scholar (Kate Spade New York)

I returned to graduate school around the same time many of my friends started having babies.  As stylish mothers and friends of stylish mothers know, Kate Spade makes fabulous baby bags.  I wasn't pregnant, but I decided that my graduate school endeavor deserved a fabulous bag of its own.  Prior to purchasing this Kate Spade bag, I'd never owned a designer handbag, and I'm not a fan of the heavily branded designer bags that have become popular.  I used to think all designer bags were vastly overpriced.

This Kate Spade bag has converted me.  It is so well made that after two years of lugging around my books in it, it literally shows no signs of wear.  It's even survived several exposures to pouring rain.  As I tried to capture in the photos, the place where the strap fastens to the bag is extremely sturdy and gives an otherwise plain bag an attractive detail.  The strap is thick and sturdy, too, so it doesn't hurt my shoulder even when it's weighted down with study materials.  The subtle branding of the bag also matches my personal style and tastes.  The gold details are stamped with the "ks" logo, and "Kate Spade New York" is stamped into the leather on the front, but that is so unobtrusive that I could hardly even get a good photo of it.  The leopard print lining is also sturdy and chic.

This bag is also unbelievably functional.  As you can see, I managed to fit all of the following into the bag for these photos: my laptop, a two-subject notebook stuffed with handouts, my planner, three substantial paperback books, and all the other things that stay in my purse (wallet, glasses case, toiletries/medicine pouch, etc).  There are two small pockets on the front wall, in which I place my cell phone and keys so I can find them easily.  I can take this bag to the library and load it up with even more books if I'm not worried about trying to zip it shut. 

I don't think I'll become a woman who has a whole collection of designer bags because that kind of indulgence just seems wasteful to me.  This bag has convinced me, however, that every professional woman needs one fabulous, sturdy, functional bag.  Since I happily carry this bag every day, and it has become one of my signature items, I definitely think it was worth the investment.  I don't mind supporting Kate Spade, either, because the brand so frequently lends its name to good causes.  For the past several years, they have been working to promote and raise money for Women for Women International.

  • Do you carry the same bag every day, or do you prefer to have a variety of different bags for different occasions?
  • Have you ever owned a designer bag?  How do you feel about them?
  • Have you found bags that retail in the under $200 range that are still sturdy, well-made, and stylish?  This seems like a more reasonable price point, especially for graduate students.
  • What features do you look for in a bag for work/school?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Signature Items



Ring (Tiffany & Co.)
Necklace (Tiffany & Co.)


I'm lucky enough to have grown up with a wonderful and generous style mentor -- my mother.  For big birthdays and events, she took me to Tiffany's, and I got to pick out an item.  It was never so much about the brand,* though that certainly adds some glitz to it, but more so about having nice pieces of quality jewelry.

On my 18th birthday, I chose this silver necklace.  I very rarely take it off, only removing it to put on the occasional statement necklace.  One of the reasons I chose this necklace is its simplicity; it goes with virtually anything, and as such, I wear it with pretty much everything.  While I don't consider it one of my fashion talismans, as it does not necessarily instill confidence in me or make me feel a certain way, I do feel strange if I forget to put it back on after wearing a different necklace.

I received the ring as a 21st birthday/college graduation present.  I love how the frame around the diamond both makes the stone look slightly bigger and gives the classic look a little twist.  It's a small ring that I think is perfect for everyday use.  (Please excuse my unpolished, uneven nails in the picture.)

There are three things that I almost never leave the house without: this necklace, this ring, and a spritz of perfume.**  These pieces of jewelry are absolutely my signature items; they can mark any outfit as specifically "Katie."

While I think having signature items is important, I will admit that having them does cause me to become a little lazy in looking for jewelry.  Wearing these items becomes an unconscious decision, and I can overlook other options because of it.

*I was never into those ubiquitous early-2000s (if I'm remembering my dates correctly) bracelets that said "If found, return to Tiffany & Co." or anything that loudly announced the Tiffany & Co. brand.  Also, look out for more posts coming up on designer branding.
**For me, having a signature scent is key. 

  • What are your signature items?  Do you have signature jewelry like me or do you have an article of clothing that you love, like a cardigan you pair with everything?
  • Are you more into simple signature pieces of jewelry or do you prefer statement pieces?  Or do you have a signature statement piece, like a cocktail ring?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Reader Response

Scholar Style Guide wants to hear from you!

Style is deeply personal, and each person has his or her own way of thinking through that eternal question: what do I wear today?  When we began the blog, we envisioned it as a collaborative project with our readers.  The three of us can write about our own personal style, but we can't capture your personal style.  That's why we welcome and encourage readers to submit their own outfits, thoughts on fashion, prompts, or textual analyses to post on the site.

To submit to our site, please go to our "Submissions Wanted" section.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Conference Presentation


antique look gold earrings (Charlotte Russe)
brown print jersey dress (Target)
sand swing jacket (H&M)
brown woven stretch belt (Forever 21)
brown tights (New York & Company)
brown buckled sliver wedges (Jessica Simpson)

Later this month, I'm presenting a paper at a major international conference that will be attended by some of the pre-eminent names in the field.  A friend of mine, who is also giving her paper there, recently asked me if I was planning to wear a suit.  She was trying to decide if she should invest in a blazer or not.

My answer? No.  I own a suit, but if I wear it, I won't feel like myself.  When I put on a suit, I can't help but feel like a child trying to play dress-up in "adult" clothes.  While I understand that as a graduate student presenting at a major conference, it is in my best interest to look as "professional" as possible, I just can't wear a suit.  I'll feel most confident in an outfit that caters to the occasion and my personal tastes.  I did tell my friend that I'm planning to wear a jacket for my presentation.  I like swing coats (I own a black one, too) because they feel more contemporary than a traditional suit jacket, but they still read as "professional" in a way that a cardigan might not.

When I put this outfit together, I intended it as a test-run for my conference presentation.  I feel like the print of the dress creates some visual interest, but the color palette is subdued enough that I don't look like I'm trying to draw attention to my clothing.  I love these shoes because the buckle detail keeps them from being boring.

I'm presenting during the second day of the conference, so I'm glad I'll be able to look at what people are wearing on the first day to figure out if this look is actually appropriate for the event.  I'll have a few "pants" looks packed, in case I feel like my audience might misinterpret my decision to wear a dress. 

  • Based on the conferences you've attended in the past, do you think this look is appropriate?  Or will I end up switching into pants?
  • Do you have an item in your closet that you count on to help you look professional but still feel like yourself?  If so, what is it? 
  • Am I wrong to think I should stay away from bright colors for an event like this?

Friday, April 2, 2010

How wearable is the wrap dress, really?

Blue Cotton Wrap Dress (Target)
Gold Swing Jacket (New York & Company)
Leather Boots (Steve Madden)

Yesterday was unseasonably warm for the beginning of April, and at the Admissions Office, it was also our busiest tour day of the year.  So I needed a professionally functional* outfit which would also ventilate me during the trek across campus for afternoon classes.  After consulting my closet on these concerns of outdoor temperature and professional visibility, I arrived at this combination: a lightweight wrap dress and a swing jacket.  The boots? They contributed an element of fun and prevented pumps-related blisters.

The jacket served its purpose well enough during the work day, and, as expected, I found myself shedding it mid-way through the afternoon stroll across the campus lawn.  The dress also performed well, a pleasant surprise given that yesterday marked my first time wearing it.  I appreciated its length - the hem hits just above the knee - and the fact that the wrap ties remained secure throughout the day.  (This is a recurring tiff between me and wrap dresses; despite my best knotting efforts, the ties devise a way to loosen themselves.)  All in all, I was pleased with the selection.

I'm wondering, though, do any of you question the perceived wearability of the wrap dress?  I do.  Critics praise the garment's ability to convey both modesty and style savvy, but I find that it, in fact, challenges both.  On the modesty front, I found myself checking the dress' upper panel every ten seconds to ensure that it had not gaped open and inadvertently exposed my undergarments.  Same story with the lower panels, especially on windy afternoons like today.  On the style front, and increasing the risk of the aforementioned scandal(!), the fabric constantly shifts.  To me, a garment that fails to stay in place during use does not make the wearer appear well-assembled.  I tried donning a camisole and a faux tank underneath the dress, but this move caused it to look bulky.  To me, these characteristics detract from the versatility of the dress.

I'm generally pleased with this look, even with this particular dress.  Perhaps I could use some tips for wearing it in the future.

*Based on the above ensemble, my definition of "professional attire" likely seems questionable, so let me clarify.  Our staff typically wears business suits and the like for weekend and large-scale recruitment events.  However, during regularly scheduled weekday tours, which are staffed by student guides on break between academic classes, the expectations for attire are more lenient.  Stay tuned for a future post about my recruitment event wardrobe.

  • What's your secret for wearing wrap dresses effortlessly?
  • How do you transition your outfits from workday professional to after-hours casual?