I think I’m going to have to break up with you. I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve changed. Thanks for the memories. And the sparkles.
Sometimes I think this column should be called “I’ve Got Nothing To Wear”. This month was one of those times because I started a new job and my wardrobe was suddenly useless.
After 15 years of working in a building with Australia’s most fashion forward young things, I’ve now moved to an environment where I’m surrounded almost entirely by men in suits. This has played havoc with my wardrobe. Not to mention my whole fashion headspace.
In my old working life, my magazine colleagues would get nervous if I ever turned up to work wearing black or anything resembling a suit. Even jackets made them fret. Was someone important coming in for a meeting? Was I going to see the big (i.e.: male) bosses? Might the world be about to end?
The word corporate rarely featured in my fashion vocabulary. Every day was a riot of colour, layering, sparkles and clashing prints and fabrics. Denim was a constant and impractical evening shoes were standard. There were no rules.
I was a walking canvass for my own artistic expression and I dressed to impress and entertain, both my team and myself. And they impressed and entertained me right back. I enjoyed the daily fashion banter. It wasn’t unusual for me to interrupt a meeting to comment on how great a colleague’s cleavage looked and enquire as to whether she’d found a new bra. “Take me through your outfit” was not an unusual form of greeting in the corridors or the office kitchen.
While there was certainly an element of one-upmanship, it was never about labels, more about looks. Whether your outfit came from Supre or Scanlan was immaterial, in fact, there was often more kudos to be gained from bagging a bargain. How you put it together and how right-now it looked was key.
And then I moved to television. Now I’m working in a more executive corporate environment where fashion has no currency. No one cares about the new Sass & Bide xxx[KA: pls insert name of new style in here] jeans or that Willow has done a diffusion line for Portmans. No one asks where I got my shoes. No one refers to clothes at all. Ever. They’re just…clothes.
This should have been a crushing disappointment because I’ve always enjoyed the creativity involved in getting dressed for work. But surprisingly, it’s been a massive relief. Relief to be off the fancy dress treadmill. Relief that my outfits no longer have to be clever and tricky and of-the-moment. Relief that my clothes are now the background not the main event. Relief that not only would no-one notice if I wore the same outfit twice in a week, the care factor would be zero if I wore the same outfit every day for a year.
However, this shift from fashion forward to fashion background has not been without its own challenges. Neutral clothes, corporate clothes, clothes that say take-me-seriously? Well, they don’t just fall onto your back. You have to identify them and buy them and style them (although admittedly it takes less time to pull together a suit than 17 layers of circus wear).
A quick inventory of my wardrobe revealed the following: I own far too many casual jackets, far too many floaty tops and far too much denim for my new life. We won’t talk about the sequins and the sparkly crap because I shoved all that in a cupboard some months ago.
Also useless? Anything with an empire line because men think you’re pregnant and it makes them nervous and confused. Ditto all my lovely Willow dresses because non-fashion people simply don’t understand them. At work and at play, men just don’t do fashion irony. White shoes, leggings, dresses over pants, high-waisted jeans, bubble skirts, skivvies under dresses, pinafores, jumpsuits…we think` fun, amusing and clever, they think ‘did she get dressed in the dark”?
Back in my wardrobe, after shifting everything denim to one side for weekends (sniff, sob, sad), I carefully extracted anything worky. This included wrap dresses from Diane Von Furstenburg, Portmans and Calvin Klein; pants from Joseph, Sportsgirl, Seduce, Scanlan & Theodore and Lisa Ho; jackets from Scanlan, Zimmerman, Rebecca Taylor and Vanessa Bruno and exactly zero suits.
Next problem: what do you wear under a jacket anyway? I have many wafty tops that suddenly seem unsuitable. Cleavage is not corporate. Neither are visible nipples.
When I started bemoaning my fashion problems to friends, one bit of advice kept coming up: go to Cue. “They do great modern corporate,” a beauty editor told me. “Terrific Prada-inspired pieces,” enthused a fashion editor. “Fabulous dresses and jackets” said my nanny. So off to Cue I went.
There I bought a black skirt. It was bias cut with a thin belt. I can’t remember the last time I bought a black skirt. I’ve always gone for the pretty over the practical. The special over the staple. But my new skirt made me surprisingly happy and was exceptionally flattering. I also bought two knits. I’ve never understood knits. Why wear wool when you can wear sequins? But now I understand they’re what you wear under jackets. I love jackets after not having worn them for a decade. And I love Cue. It’s the Sportsgirl of my new grown-up corporate life. Modern, chic and not a fortune.
A couple of months into this new fashion chapter, I’m starting to get my head around the physical practicalities of my new look. But there’s one thing I hadn’t realised: women instinctively bond over fashion. It can be a handy common language when we’re trying to forge a new connection. Complimenting another woman on something she’s wearing is an invitation for her to tell you a brief story about how and where she got it and thus open up her life to you a little bit.
Without this default entry point into my new male colleagues’ lives, I struggled briefly. Then I discovered that blokes do actually appreciate being asked about their ties. Every tie has an anecdote that gives you a glimpse into the wearer’s life. I never really spoke tie before but boy am I learning fast. Now if only someone would notice my shoes.