This weekend, I have frantically been scouring department store after department store (and smaller shops) to find the perfect outfits for my first week at work. While back in my high school days I’d have trouble narrowing down my piles of “loves” on shopping trips, these days I can’t find things I even remotely like. Partially, as my body ages I’ve developed curves in places clothing designers are terrified of admitting existence, so few things I try on even fit. Then, there’s the question of – what does a 26 year old wear when trying to dress older and more professional but not too old or too professional to a job that interfaces with many different types of people… in an informal left coast city?
The other thing is, I really don’t want to spend my entire paycheck on a new wardrobe before it’s even deposited in my banking account. I will if I have to, but that seems really silly. I do have expensive tastes, but in the past my purchases were more often sale rack than full retail, even in nicer stores. But in this role I really feel like I need to look expensive. Does this mean my clothes need to be?
Some days, I wish I was a guy. Men have it so easy. Wear a pair of slacks, a button-down shirt, slick your hair, wear nice shoes, and you’re done. Being a women… there are way too many variables for the professional world. What hair style do I wear? Up or down? Should I wear a skirt, pants, or a dress? Long sleeves or short sleeves? Or a jacket over a tank? Can I take the jacket off at work if I get hot? What shoes do I wear? Closed toe? Peep toe? Should I wear heels or can I get away with flats? Yikes.
Yesterday, I spent the morning shopping at Bloomingdales because they are having a 20% off sale and I also had a $25 off coupon expiring in April. Figured it was worth a look. The whole shopping experience there infuriated me. First off, finding my size… or anything close to my size… in items I liked was fairly impossible, with the exception of when items were “small, medium, large” — I’m somewhere between a 10 and a 14 depending how the designer cuts the clothes. Petite only in my inseam but everything else is, well, average to large. 31″ waist last time I measured. Probably bigger than that now. I have big hips, a protruding behind, and thighs that don’t look like they belong on legs with a 27.5″ inseam. Thanks mom.
Even when I found a few things I liked that seemed to fit I had to stop and ask myself — does this make me look too young? Can I be taken seriously in this? There is one skirt there by Marc Jacobs that I’ve been eying for months and I was surprised they still have it. It’s a $200 a-line black skirt in a thick fabric that just feels really nice on. Size medium was a little too tight, but I almost bought it because I have a habit of buying black skirts knowing I’ll wear them. Then I looked at the skirt again. It was flattering, covering my belly bulge with the exception of where it was slightly cutting into my stomach (must exercise), but it just didn’t make me look older. In fact, the whole outfit made me look younger. I tried the skirt on with the sleeveless shirt and sweater they were showing it with on the rack. The shirt, which looked like something I’d wear when I was 5, was a sleeveless with hearts on it and these gaudy gold buttons. The sweater was grey and preppy but oversized, and only available in a large or extra small. I grabbed the large and headed into the dressing room to try out the look. And, yes, I looked like I was 5.
Who wears this stuff, I constantly asked myself browsing all the expensive options by designer labels… half of the collections at the store look like they’re designed for people in high school or maybe college, and the other half (ralph lauren, eileen fischer, etc) look to be designed for women in their 40s. What do professional 20/30 year old women wear?
I’ve always found myself drawn to certain brands which seem to come close to what I’m looking for. Theory, one of my favorite brands in terms of style, had a few options. But at $200-$300 an item, I stop to wonder, can’t I find this style some place cheaper? Do I need to spend $250 on a pair of pants to earn the respect of my colleagues and move up the corporate business chain? And even if I do, is Theory the right brand to get me there? Surely, it’s a better option than anything offered by Marc Jacobs (really – WHO WEARS THIS STUFF?) but with each outfit costing $700-$1000, it’s tough to splurge without it being perfect. And nothing was perfect.
I found a nice grey half-sleeve sweater that I instantly knew would become a classic in my closet, so I felt that was worth the $200 price tag. There was a blue sleeveless cotton dress with ruffles on the neck which I could see looking nice under the grey sweater if I had a brown leather belt to tie it all together. So I bought that, the sweater, and a t-shirt length black turtleneck, all by Theory. Total cost after discount: $355. And really, I don’t have much of an outfit there. I still need shoes and a belt and handbag to make the dress/sweater look complete. The $75 black turtleneck feels like heaven and will be worn, but I’m not sure what bottoms to put it with.
So today I’m still looking for what to wear tomorrow. I really want to look like a million bucks without spending anything near that much money. But how? Sure, I could buy a suit at Macys for $99, but a suit really isn’t right for this environment. It’s too formal, especially for my role. Funny how it costs much more to do business casual than true-blue business. At least for women. I could definitely find a nice suit outfit for under $200 on sale. But to really look slick, slightly trendy but also professional, that’s where the money starts to become an issue.
The other thing I realized is… I don’t have much of a life outside of work. I mean, maybe all the clothes they sell at Bloomingdales are for women who dress up to go out at night and on the weekends. But I don’t go anywhere. On occasion my boyfriend and I go to dinner but I don’t really need to buy new outfits for that. I have plenty of dresses and things that work for my non-professional life. I have no reason to spend $1000 on an outfit that I wouldn’t be wearing to work. So I never would. I like to spend my money on nice clothes for the office because I’d end up wearing them most of my life. And it’s the only opportunity I have to dress up and look nice in my life. Even with my potential $100k salary, I live a $40k life. And I’m ok with that. I just like to dress up sometimes and where else am I going to do it other than the office?