What Didn’t Quite Suit Us – Women’s Wear Workplace Circa Some Time Ago

Speaking of pens, I am writing with a new one.  And it’s blue!  (Cobalt!)

And I’m wearing a bright green sweater (chartreuse!) on a day in which I am to meet with a client.

And shortish pants–cropped!

(I actually put on a suit jacket before leaving home, and then a blouse, and then a different sweater, and then the jacket again, and different, longer, pants, and then the green sweater again–instead of the jacket and that blouse–and then an underblouse, and then back with the cropped pants, and then I was really getting kind of late so I had to just keep on what I had, although when I got to the office I did take off the underblouse once more, but kept on the sweater.)

There has been a revolution in women’s workplace clothing over the past twenty years.

When I started as a young (I’ll admit it) lawyer, it was all blue (as in midnight) or possibly black, and cut into cookie-cutter suits.  I am talking jacket and skirt suits.  A woman partner (woman partner!)– there were a few of those back then but they were mainly wealthy women who practiced trusts and estates on their wealthy friends–could get by without lapels and possibly even red , but the lowly first year associates had to stick to the basics.  (As in blue, black/blue-black.)

I bought my first suit at a small dark shop on Orchard Street.  Harvey Bernard, midnight blue, pinstriped—the narrow skirt was a real b—- to try on behind some bolts of fabric and dust.  (For that price, I expected a changing room?!)

I wore the suit nearly every day for several months.  It was a curiously hermaphroditic ensemble with padded square shoulders, mannish lapels on top, below, a narrow slightly slit skirt.  The inside held a curly-q bow and some kind of silky blouse (no cotton).

I remember getting an extremely short hair cut a couple of years later and a senior partner pulling me into his office to berate me on its boyishnesst:  (i) “how could you do this without consulting me?” and (ii) “you might as well wear trousers.”

Trousers were introduced at the firm by a visiting Japanese attorney who would not have comprehended any complaints about her attire.  We all quickly followed…. suit.

The good part was that it was kind of uniform—you couldn’t really worry about whether the clothing was an expression of your inner self .  (What you worried about was whether the job was an expression of your inner self.)   This made for a relatively easy morning—stockings, skirt, jacket, bow, worrying about the job.

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