10 June 2007

Professional neutral done right

In part influenced by a recent comment that I haven't remained true to the "philosophical pillars" on which ASJINE was founded and in part influenced by the constant criticism - a criticism to which I have never lent my voice, by the way - that DC's style landscape is too muted with black, navy, grey and brown, I thought I'd put together a collection of professional ensembles that demonstrate a woman can still find fashion success without bright colors, without chance-taking patterns and without Rachel-Zoe-approved necklines and hemlines.

If I could magic-wand one deficiency and one deficiency only when it comes to DC style, it would be that women placed primacy on finding clothes that fit their frames properly. I would eliminate muffin-top, sausage-encased upper arms, back-pucker, visible panty line, boxy, shapeless sheaths that make a size-8 look a size-12, and so on. My mission has never been to convince professional DC women they should dress more like Upper East Side socialites or to argue that a terrorism analyst at a government agency should introduce polka dots and the colors of the season - jewel tones and canary yellow - into her day-to-day work wardrobe. Hardly. In fact, I'm of that rare conservative ilk who believes certain professions restrict a woman's ability to express her creative personal style between 8am and 5pm, Mondy through Friday simply because of the kind of day-to-day work she does. I'm not going to try to navigate the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" for this industry and that industry, but I do know I wouldn't feel comfortable in a playful print or an in-your-face trendy cut giving - or listening to someone else give - a briefing on the issues on which my job requires me to give briefings.

Where the "no excuse" part of my blog title comes into play is not in the boring color palette or even the uninspired suit separates we so often see tromping up and down ConnAve and in the Pentagon's hallways. On the contrary, when I say, "a serious job is no excuse," I mean exactly what my blog description states -- I don't think just because a woman has a PhD, made partner at her firm or has 15 years of lobbying experience under her belt means she should use that achievement as a justification for not caring, not having the time or not needing to pay attention to her professional appearance.

Why not?

Well, there are a couple of reasons, the most important of which, I believe, is that a woman who feels confident about the way she looks is a fundamentally happier woman. Don't misinterpret that as "a woman who feels as thin and pretty as Keira Knightley is a happier woman," because that is certainly not what mean. But I have witnessed too many women at too many varying ages and sizes make the transition from not caring to caring about the way they look - exploring the worlds of figure-flattering dress, natural beauty enhancing makeup, face-framing haircuts, etc. - and as a result have become much more fulfilled and yes, happier. The changes have been so consistent and so extreme that for me not to believe a strong correlation exists between the two would be irresponsible. Second, as wrong as it may be, a polished professional is nine times out of ten going to be the more successful professional. I'm not saying convince your boss to promote you based on how you fill out a suit or because you've perfected a sexy eyeliner trick from InStyle, but I am saying that especially in client-driven professions, the face you put forward is the face of the company you represent. You may be smarter and more personable than the next woman in line, but the reality is, if you schlep yourself around in too-tight khakis with ripe, exposed blemishes and dirty fingernails, you're not going to be chosen to broker the big account. What is wrong with enhancing the success you've already rightfully earned through hard work, good ideas and a great personality with a bit of suit tailoring and high-grade concealer? I just don't see the vapidity, misogyny or "step back for women" in that.

And finally, after the longest lead-in in ASJINE history, here is what I wish I saw passing me by on my ConnAve/M St. perch. Again, I'm referring to the fit and color palette, not the specific brands or the size-2 frames on which they're draped.

Professional, figure-flattering neutral done right:

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