Generally speaking, professional wear and high fashion looks are on two different tracks, with barely a nod from the fashion press to the needs of professional women for office-appropriate apparel. I was delighted, therefore, to see the April 2012 issue of Elle profile in its Elle Fashion Workbook a 33-year-old New York City lawyer, Candice Cook, who explains the facts of legal style to readers: “When clients come to my office, they expect to see me in a suit.”
Cook chooses blouses, bags, shoes and jewelry that make her professional wardrobe interesting and reflect her fashion savvy. The photo center right below shows Cook in an all-black ensemble of jacket and top from Dice Kayek. Cook comments: “This silk blouse has beautiful, feminine details while perfectly blending into a conventional attorney ‘uniform.'”
Cook explains to readers that she adapts what she wears to the clients with whom she is meeting, often comparing her work wardrobe to a strong opening argument: “The right outfit can set the tone and assist me in stepping into character.” Elle notes that no matter the setting, Cook always accessorizes with an oversize handbag and “sentimental jewelry–whether it’s diamond stud earrings from her parents (a law school graduation gift) or an Hermes bracelet from her boyfriend. ‘Personal accessories help me tap into my identity–even if I’m wearing a black suit!”
The jacket shown above right is from Willow. Cook comments: “I love anything with clean, tailored lines. A well-fitted jacket is like the holy grail for a lawyer!”
This is all remarkably conservative stuff for a fashion magazine, although I can say from personal experience that Cook’s fashion philosophy is spot-on and reflects a well-reasoned strategy for dressing professionally.
Alas, turn the page – just one page – and the two founders of Gilt Groupe, the “members-only sample-sale juggernaut,” as described by Elle, who just penned a business advice book, seem to take quite a different view. Elle asked Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, this question: “You’ve interviewed hundreds of applicants [for positions with your company], so you know the toughest part: What to wear?!” The responses:
“A.M.: Don’t shy away from the things you feel good in, the silhouettes and the elements that make you stand proudly with your shoulders thrown back. For me, those are four- or five-inch heels. ”
“A.W.W.: For me, it’s a blazer or a jacket with color or embellishments, whether it be lace or fun buttons.”
“A.M.: In many areas, the kiss of death is the suit. [When I worked in] Silicon Valley, the only people who wore suits were the bankers who were trying to get your business or the salesmen trying to sell you something. A sign of ‘I’ve made it’ was if you didn’t wear one.”
While Elle ends the interview with that quotation apparently dissing suits and taking a poke at bankers and salespeople, Wilkis Wilson is actually saying something quite similar to what Cook says above: Your situation determines what is appropriate for you to wear. In the language of image consulting, this is known as situational dressing. In a creative field, a suit is likely to be too conservative and not edgy enough. But, as Cook demonstrates and Elle magazine reports, even in a conservative, professional work environment, there are ways to make suits chic.
I am still trying to wrap my brain around the suggestion that it is appropriate for a job candidate to wear five-inch heels.