How to Dress for Career Success

How to Dress for Career Success

Team, you’ll be surprised to learn that in the week since I wrote this blog post about how to attract a husband, I have been unsuccessful in meeting my perfect match: the artist/doctor hybrid.  Looks like a career and a cat is my only option, after all.  So the real question is (obviously): how do I use my clothing choices to ensure my success?

Now.  I wrote a highly sarcastic blog post about this book just last week, and I 100% stand by it because it was hilarious and any book that includes a chapter on husband-hunting deserves it.  But I have to give this book a shout out for being surprisingly progressive for 1977 (although not in the chapter about husband-hunting, I note).  It references the pay gap, unconscious bias, and includes this quote in a section titled “Sexism? No!”:

If women control a substantial hunk of the power structure in ten or fifteen years, I will write a book advising men how to dress in a female-dominated environment.

(Obviously that didn’t pan out. Sorry ‘bout dem royalties, mate.)

Again, I’m not a complete idealist, I realise we’re far from being evolved enough to divorce the superficial question of how people look from the question of what we think they are like.  But since it’s no secret that women do not, in fact, control a substantial hunk of the power structure, 40 years post-publication, clearly the question remains entirely valid and not at all sexist – how should one dress to success in a (still) male dominated world?

Do you want a power uniform?  It’s the skirt suit.  This is terrible, terrible news for me, the proud owner of zero skirt suits, multiple pairs of “work culottes” and a burning ambition to have a job that doesn’t involve manual labour of any kind, and as few layers of hierarchy above me as possible.  “One” is my optimum numbers of upstream hierarchy – just enough to give me someone to escalate to.  How will I aspire to these dizzying corporate heights if I don’t own a skirt suit?  I’ve been over here focussing on my technical skills, people management skills, and personal development like a fool when I could have just bought a skirt suit and zoomed to the top. 

Now, brace yourself, because there are a lot of details about the perfect suit skirt.  It should be a man style blazer (so fully covers the contour of the bust, is not nipped in at the waist to exaggerate the bust).  The skirt should fall just below the knee, should be linen or wool, and should be a grey or medium-blue solid, plaid or tweed.  I’m using this to create a mental picture of how I should dress to get the respect I deserve, and to be honest it’s not worth it.  I don’t need that much respect.  I don’t want to be a top level executive enough to clad myself in boxy, grey woollen tweed that cuts me at the least flattering point of my leg.  I mean, I’d be a walking block of textured concrete.

The rules go on – they studied everything to a level of detail that I can only describe as terrifying.  The perfect style of blouse, the impact that different colours of said blouse will have (black: offends 15 to 20 percent of the executive population, particularly men over forty five.  Just putting it out there, you guys).  I was amazed, frankly, to learn that “most men find women in pants very sexy…pants on the average well-rounded woman are widely acclaimed to be a hit”.  I have to assume that they were specifically asked if women wearing pants were sexy, or else it’s a complete fucking miracle that our society has achieved anything if men are going about using their precious thinking power to automatically categorise pants as “sexy or not sexy”.   What happens if you wear a black blouse with pants?  Do men over 45 spontaneously combust in confusion?  God, dressing for work just got so confusing, and potentially dangerous.  

This book is approximately 200 pages long, so let’s cut to the chase.  I haven’t been wearing a skirt suit; that’s strike number one.  What else is holding me back from replacing my empty, husband-less life with a Career That Will Take Me Places???

You can pick your outfits based on whether you want authority, presence, believability or popularity.  Since I’m short and youthful in appearance, I need presence to ensure people won’t just talk over my head (this happened to me once, and it was deeply annoying).  I’ve been using 4 inch stiletto heels to give me the additional height I need to check in at “slightly above average height”, aka “eye level”, as well as sheer force of personality.   I should have been wearing a grey suit with a white blouse.  Nothing says “I am here and worth talking to” like a severe mix of grey and white – not even industry-specific skills and knowledge, you guys.

The author is very pro-blazer, which is where we agree.  I own a rail of blazers.  You can assume they do not meet his requirements.  He suggests two for work that are, or look like, rich wool.  They should be navy or camel.  So…not a red silk blazer with black rococo design features and emphasised shoulders, then? 

The author also says you should choose your coats very carefully, which I also agree with, and says the best coat is a camel wrap around coat.  My favourite coat of last winter was my full length, grey and black check coat from Lonely.  I felt true despair – even my coat is holding me back! – until I read the magical words “One of the primary rules of coat wearing is that the coat should completely cover the dress”.  While I don’t think this is a rule (what, exactly, happens if you don’t obey? Nothing? So then it’s not a rule, is it), I do think a hem of a dress hanging out under a coat doesn’t look as perfectly prissy and delightful as a coat without a hem hanging out from under it.  Here I am, writing a fashion blog in 2017, loving the rules of 1977 like the true progressive I am.

I really failed at shoes.  The perfect shoe sounds like the comfort shoes my 95 year old grandmother buys under duress: a dark coloured plain pump with a closed toe, and a heel of not more than 1.5 inches.  I’m over here wearing floral shoes, red shoes with bows on them, platform sandals – all checking in at significantly more than 1.5 inches in height.   Also: “boots should not be worn to work” – mate, it’s cold in winter.  I get very few things over the men in my industry (see that bit where they (a) dominate and (b) get paid more for no apparent reason and in some cases despite all evidence that they are total numpties), and my ability to wear thermal socks and knee-high boots on a cold day is SACRED, dammit.

Time to sell all my shoes for a dollar, it would seem.  The good news, which we’ll end on, is that hats are a traditional symbol of power, and are very much approved of.  I’m going to use all my shoe dollars to buy hats – preferably a woman’s fedora – so I can box my way to the top with my choice of hats. 

I look forward to seeing you all in the near future, in my grey boxy tweed suit, fedora, low-heeled black shoes, and white blouse.  While this may make the blog a little boring, I think we can all agree it’s worth it if it means I’m a Lady CEO before I’m 40.* 

*Unless I meet that doctor/artist.