Privilege Blog

What We Older Women Hope You Younger Women Wear To Your First Big Job

I am at Corporette today. A topic dear to my heart. The starter wardrobe for corporate jobs.

In which we learn:

a) Your clothing sends signals about who you are. Into very distinct cultures. Which vary from corporation to corporation because CEOs want it that way.
b) Your professional image is your brand, and it’s got to be one you can deliver.
c) The women senior to you are hoping you succeed. Just don’t talk about shoes in front of the guys.
d) Shy away from too much fabric, as well as too little.
e) Extra points for knowing that, on TV, we all look best in earth tones.

Corporette is a great site, one I’ve subscribed to for almost a year. Woven throughout talk about cute shoes, or cowl neck sweaters on sale, is a rational and amused discussion of corporate workplace dynamics for women. What could be better?

28 Responses

  1. Oh the ridiculously over casual things I wore to my first corporate job in Manhattan…. thankfully, I learned my lesson quickly… But seriously if any of you are college students, invest now in a few nice suits, some button downs, a sheath dress or two, and a cardigan…. trust me YOU Will need them!

  2. Fantastic post! I love that site, even though I don't work in a corporate environment (sometimes I wish I did, but I'm really not cut out for it).

  3. This was a lovely post at Corporette that I wish I'd read seven years ago. What I learned via trial, (a lot of) error, an unfortunate and unexpected annual review, and serious study of What Not To Wear is what I try to pass on to the younger women in my office now. I was entirely unprepared and was too headstrong to realize it.

  4. So proud of you! Can't wait to read further future contributions at Corporette from the desk of LPC!



  5. A Hello Kitty necklace, huh? Heehee! I love it, you rebellious lady, you!

    Congrats on the feature, dear.


  6. I am sure you came by all this appropriate attire wisdom by observing your WASP family and peers from a very young age, I get the sense that you live and breathe this sensibilty…and HELLO KITTY diamonds, I am gobsmacked, and need I say it, impressed again. Applause.

  7. On TV we all look better in earth tones? Who knew?? I will keep this in mind, hoping I need this info one day. Shush, just let me dream.

  8. That post was BRILLIANT. I'm past my starter days, but I am starting in a new office soon and much of your advice still holds. I will be linking to it, thank you so much.

  9. Sigh. In corporate jobs older women want you to succeed? That's nice. I'm not sure it's true, but it's nice. In creative jobs older women actively work to get you fired. My experience of corporate jobs is that older women will be 50% harder on you than on the guys.

    It has literally gotten so bad that I won't take jobs working for women. That is always the tie breaker for me. Female boss? F*ck that.

  10. Hostess, it's not that my High WASP upbringing taught me how to dress, only how to be acutely sensitive to codes of conduct. Maureen, I'll watch you on TV. Maria, thank you. Kristen, thank you. Everyone, thank you. Meg. Meg, Meg, Meg. Do you doubt that I want you to succeed?:)

  11. Meg: really? My best bosses have been women! But I'm not in the corporate world, so maybe it's different out there…
    Perhaps it's also that I have been lucky to work with women (especially my last boss) whom I admire very much, both as professionals and as human beings, women who have fought really hard to make their ways in a rather difficult environment-that of International Law. Just as a proof of how difficult it is check the statistics of the composition of the International Court of Justice: only 1 woman has been elected Judge, Dame Rosalyn Higgins (since the creation of the Court!) Not a single woman has been appointed as Registrar. Only since 2008 a woman is acting as Deputy Registrar.
    But maybe I've just been lucky.

    I loved today's post. Fortunately where I work it's not so strict as to the dress code, but one thing I have learned is this: looks do count. A suit makes a difference. A polished, professional outfit opens doors. Smiles too. And I agree, hot is definitely off the table!

  12. I suspect women bosses who are harder on female subordinates are sometimes motivated by the knowledge that in traditionally male fields, an underperforming female makes us all look bad. Sad, but still true.

  13. I'd like to repeat a remark I made on Imogen's blog (Inside Out Style); Young women sometimes dress casually because they *can* in their industry. They also think that b/c their hip tee shirt cost $140, that will do. Not if you are looking for a promotion and are being considered by someone quite senior. You don't necessarily need skirted suits, but a shirt not made of interlock is a good idea even if you're in a dressed down sector.

    Also, I have a different opinion about dressing for TV. (I have prepped many women for TV appearances including fashion industry.) Pale earth tones do not look good on everyone, especially if the hair does not provide enough contrast; more saturated neutrals need a scarf or necklace. Jewel tones such as vibrant sapphire in fact look better on more women, but I can't convince hip types to wear them. Black removes 10 lbs but adds 10 years.

  14. Great advice! My office is extremely unfashionable and I can't believe what I see people wearing.

  15. Love your advice, there. Especially not to go mad buying new things out of nervousness ahead of time.

    I'm in my thirties now and if I need to smarten up for work I wear a silk dress, cashmere cardigan, and whatever shoes I fancy. I intend to never wear a suit again. (Unless I find one I really, really love!)

  16. Duchesse, interesting. I took that advice from the people at Sun Microsystems responsible for the corporate TV programs. Perhaps they had hidden motives:).

  17. Such good advise. Thank God I no longer have a panty hose job.

    Duchesse, my younger sister is quite senior at a huge entertainment company, (I'll give you a hint, the initials are MTV ;-)) and that's what they wear. $140 t-shirts, $300 jeans, $400 haircuts and $1000 boots and it looks like a very expensive college newspaper staff meeting. Crazy.

    Underwear through white? Yikes! Top or bottom?

  18. Great post! Thanks so much, LPC. This is almost exactly what I needed six months ago, when I started my first professor job, and I wondered how to transition from the grad student in jeans-tees-hoodies-and-clogs to an authoritative-looking professional. Grey flannel, heeled boots, and soft jackets have taken me a long way, as has observing my (very few) female colleagues. I still find the space between corporate-formal and weekend-casual a bit confusing. I know that wearing a navy suit would not go over well with my students and colleagues – but neither do flat shoes or cotton trousers. There is a subtle, but strong, expectation about how female faculty are supposed to look that I'm still trying to divine…

  19. I don't know if I found you through Corporette, or Corporette through you. Either way, I am eternally grateful. Even though I am retired, I am tired of being schleppily dressed. (Yes. That is a word. I decree it.)

    So far, your advice has pushed me into more cashmere, more pearls, and better underwear. Hovering around in the back of my mind are navy, monograms, and expensive shoes.

    While only Middle WASP, one can aspire to Highness and Grand Damedom, yes?

  20. Top AND bottom. Yikes is right. Walking Barefoot, my sister agrees with you. The signaling for academics is there, subtle, but definitely there. And Louise, thank you so much for your comment. You can totally and completely aspire to High Damedom. Especially if you already know how to pronounce and decree:). That's the advanced course.

  21. I'd love to hear your sister's perspective on fashion signaling in academia… maybe she'd do a guest post or a co-authored post with you???
    (psst: formerly One Barefoot Bride)

  22. Haha, where were you in grad school when I wore a mini-skirt and motorcycle boots to my meeting with a headhunter. Luckily she laughed and I explained I had corporate gear to wear to the real job. Even more stunning–she actually got me a job :) Lord, I think of what I used to wear back in the day! Anyway, this site sounds like a great idea and I will check it out! Hope you are having a great Saturday!

    xo Mary Jo

  23. Great post! I'm surprised to hear that navy suits are not popular amongst the commenter's workplaces. I have a pinstripe navy pantsuit that I absolutely love, and wear with black shoes all the time, no problem. I don't like solid black or any brown suits though. Maybe brown tweed, but brown is just such a drab color on me.

    Something funny from a handout distributed by my law school's career development office: "Wear a work appropriate top underneath your suit. If you were wondering, a lycra tank top is NOT work appropriate." Yet these girls still wear them with their suit jackets…

    1. Oh no! My first suit (purchased a few years ago) was a Banana Republic skirt suit, absolutely gorgeous, dark gray with a thin blue pinstripe. The saleslady talked me into buying two stretchy tank tops to go underneath, and that’s what I wore to my first few interviews!

      Well, live and learn.

  24. Hi december 3d, one of my clients, a global pharma, has but one policy re womens' attire: "If you can see up it, down it or through it, don't wear it."

  25. What a thoroughly perfect post! Appropriate as well, since I just bought my VERY first business suit last week. This is all very new to me and I am glad I am armed with more knowledge now (especially since I need to buy another one very soon!).

  26. Found you through your post on Corporette. The post was brilliant. The conversation you started was great too. Looking forward to reading more!

    Thank you for being a professional woman in the blogging world. I've been looking for you.

  27. Erica, thank you so much. Please feel free to send me your thoughts on what I should write about. I love suggestions.

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