Privilege Blog

California Business Casual, Jeans, Cashmere And A Button Front

Whoever invented uniforms was a pretty sharp sort. For business casual, uniforms simplify the “What is appropriate?” problem, all the while helping build a Consistent Personal Leadership Brand. Or, you know, generally looking like yourself from day to day.

I see an early pattern developing in this California Business Casual wardrobe. One uniform schema involves knit blazers with a tee. The other, cashmere v-necks and button-fronts. The knit blazers, as we have discussed, provide comfort and implied informality. V-necks, on the other hand, offer visual contrast for broad shoulders, and frame a smidgen of collar. Very helpful for the natively scarf-avoidant.

This v-neck is new, from Brora. Worn with a J. Crew suckered striped shirt, in pale blue, and a pair of 7 for All Mankind jeans. What? The pants almost fit. But most notably, the sweater is purple.


Purple represents a veritable tectonic shift for me, caused either by the graying of hair or that joyous process by which older women decide they are No Longer Embarrassed. You see, High WASPs, despite popular mythology, rarely wear color except when en vacances,  at Alumni Day games, or Christmastime. Purple sweaters shake one up, after a lifetime of navy, black, and khaki.

We’re silly, I know. Your culture has surely long since embraced purple, lavender or even orange. We will catch up. But in the meantime, you’ll rarely find us inappropriate in our various and widesprung offices.

Estate Jewelry, Cufflinks

To counterweight the slightly collegiate effect of a v-neck, I wore my grandfather’s cufflinks. In my ears. My dad had these made for his three daughters, and even though the 80’s love for large button earrings is but a distant memory, I pull them out when I feel the need for to bump up otherwise non-notable garb.

It’s an ongoing project, this What To Wear When You Return To Work. Just as I started here, when I retired, and wound up here, I will improve my business casual over time. But last time I made a transition I neglected to take pictures and invite you all along. How rude. All kinds of behaviors can improve with effort.

A lovely Wednesday to all.

65 Responses

  1. Nice purple – not too saturated. Almost eggplant. I always wear a crew neck tee with v-neck sweaters – somehow the shirt and sweater never move around my body at the same speed, and I’m always adjusting something. Love the cufflinks – what a nice way for them to be passed down. I might have them changed to French clips though, rather than studs?

  2. Your observation about purple and white hair is spot on. When I was a ginger (either naturally or in the range of reds that covered the early onset of white hairs) I stayed away from purple and most colors and stayed with the neutrals: black, taupe, navy, khaki, white. Since going au natural and sporting the white hair I find I am drawn to a more colorful palette: teals, purples, even red on occasion. And age, or comfort in one’s own skin, may be a factor too.

    Love your blog.

  3. Love the purple, it has become one of my favs lately and how clever with the cufflinks!
    Can I tell you that I had to do a double take with your picture! Upon first glance I thought you had wrangled your daughter to pose for you. You look marvelous, my friend!

  4. You look gorgeous! Simple, elegant, blending professionalism with casual warmth. Just perfect. And I love the earrings, what a great way to incorporate family memories/heritage.

  5. you look radiant in purple! it’s one of my favorite colors, actually. whoever invented biz casual also enjoyed playing sartorial tricks on younger, less experienced professionals. i still think it is one of the trickiest workplace dress codes to navigate!

  6. LOVE the purple! Would look great with that wonderful purple gingham check they’re showing everywhere these days, too, and some amethysts (or are amethysts too “low prole”?).

    I do know what you mean about ambivalence about the color purple, though, which I think goes even beyond general objections to COLOR. Can’t find my old beaten-up copy of Paul Fussell’s “Class,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ruined purple for me along with just about everything else. :-)

    But to hell with that curmudgeon Fussell. We’ll wear purple whenever we want, thank you very much. It looks so lovely with your silver hair, LPC. Speaking of which, I’ve been meaning to ask you if you have any suggestions for brunettes interested in growing out their dyed hair and going au naturel? It’s a dastardly conundrum!

    1. Hi Lee,

      I completely forgot about Paul Fussell’s Class until you mentioned it right now, and I’m inspired to pull it off my bookshelf again all these years later. Thanks for posting the Atlantic article, too.

  7. A+ on your Consistent Personal Leadership Brand!

    My mother has cuffinks turned earrings just like that – I wonder if I could have, er, borrow them…….

  8. I know Preppy isn’t necessarily the same as High WASP, but I do remember long ago reading The Preppy Handbook and it specifically said–NO PURPLE. Ever. I lived in Texas, though, and there as in all parts of the South, even if one dresses conservatively, we generally embrace color. It looks terrific on you! I also love the button earrings…very chic with hair pulled back.

    1. Oh, maybe that’s where I got brainwashed to avoid purple at all costs. “The Official Preppy Handbook” came out in 1980 when I was in college. Fussell’s “Class” came out in 1983, the year after I graduated. (Fussell, coincidentally, came to teach English — my major — at my alma mater in 1983 too! I think I would have been terrified of him!)

  9. Getting ready for work is soooo much easier with a uniform! My daily wares – black trousers, white long sleeved blouse with stretch and a long lightweight cardy (assorted colors). Add black pumps & switch up the jewels for fun! Add a wrap and really get crazy! Absolutely love the uniform!

  10. Those Sevens are a fantastic fit on you, just perfect.

    I hear you on the color thing; funny enough, moving to Texas has helped me branch out there. These women, WASP-y or otherwise, are unafraid of a bright color.

    I also love love love that your dad gave you all family cufflinks, and the idea of re-purposing them as earrings. Genius.

  11. That color is one of my favorites and just perfect for you.

    What is your workout regime? I’m trying to figure out if the answer “good genes” will make me feel better or worse!

  12. You are a summer on the color chart? Me too. Purples, certain purples fit us. I have had trouble finding just ” the perfect purple “. Your knit looks nice. I like this outfit better than the last one. But wide jeans, are you really sure?
    Business casual is really casual in SF : )

  13. Bora is the best for cashmere, I have one in blueberry sort of navy/purple colour 6yrs old,no bobbling!!

    Purple with grey,shiny hair an elegant combination.Ida

  14. The best feature is for any outfit a slim body! You rock any outfit, since you can tuck the shirt in the waist of the pants without looking like an inflated something. Getting dressed must be a pleasure when living in a body shaped like yours. Because when you are slim, you hardly ever look sloppy.

    I know, curves are sexy and so … but you combine both: curves and a slim shape. Perfect, perfect …
    I guess the WASPy diet that ruled on your plates for decades really pays off!

    Even though the colours in your today’s outfite are muted, you present a bright, glowing appearance.

  15. Lisa, a great look. I like the earrings from your grandfather’s cufflinks and your ponytail holder.

    Interesting that I just ordered a purple top from Talbots!


    Art by Karena

  16. Lisa,

    You look terrific. I know blogs out there are for all types of readers and I appreciate that; but love your blog showing a woman of 50 with power and drive and also compassion.

    You are showing the value of a 50+ generation. Thanks.


    Thanks so much.

    1. The Laundress “Wool and Cashmere detergent” contains cedar extract, it keeps moths away. And makes the sweaters really, really soft!

  17. I love the purple, it’s a perfect shade on you. You are lucky you can dress in such comfortable clothes for work. I am in the legal profession so my “uniform” is almost always a suit, either with skirt or pants, and various kinds of tops to mix it up so I don’t get too bored. But I still get bored with it. I wish desperately that I could wear dark wash jeans to work, but that will never happen in this lifetime! :)

  18. Yes yes yes to your purple! (Brora is a marvelous source!) And think you can do lavender, in spring. An assertive, lush lavender, not the washed-out one. Beautiful earrings and I see the edge of a pretty tortoise clip. Thank you for showing the world tat business casual can look elegant and thoughtful.

  19. If I have to wear one look and one look only every single day, I’d pick business casual. When I was still working in the advertising, business casual was my look.

    I love the idea of cuff links as earrings.

  20. I’ve been sporting the same work look as you recently…not just for style but for warmth. It’s too cold here for little black dresses and high heels.
    And, I love the idea of cufflinks as earrings. That is an amazingly personal and clever gift from your father. Wonderful.

  21. Dear Skye:

    Those born to the purple should embrace it. Its royal association comes from the cost of dyeing fabric with wine. Northern Greek women also used wine in the classical period to dye their hair so that they would not be seen as blond barbarians.

    Now that we are on the subject of hair color, have you ever considered the statement that a combination of hair color and clothing style might make? Could it possibly be that some people might think either consciously or subconsciously that a person with grey hair was wearing “Disco” flared jeans because they wanted to live in the past? Would that thought even occur if the person had a different hair color? Might they then think that that person’s ideas were not current and therefore that person should not be listened to? So, perhaps one or the other, but not both?

    Amethysts, of course may be worn with purple or lavender, just not at work. They should not be worn at work, because they make a different statement. They are what the owner’s wife wears to the firm. They will also be heirloom “Russian” amethysts; in the family from before the vast South American finds made them “Plebian”.

    There is a subtle difference between “Executive” and “The Owner”. I became aware of it when my wife wore one of her mother’s hand-me-down Escada suits to work. She came home and told me about the reactions that it engendered. While the secretaries thought that it looked great, the other executives of both genders seemed uneased by it. It was just a grey tweed suit, with a pencil skirt and short jacket. We finally realized what made it different. It had black piping on all its edges. That was all it took to take it from Executive to Owner.

    In the realm of business casual, the difference can just be in the accessories. With the same slacks and top, the “Owner” will wear a bejeweled Cartier watch, the amethyst necklace (Or the 9mm south sea pearls), and three-inch heels. The executive will wear a Rolex (Yours is perfect), no necklace, and two-inch heels.

    While work is not a fashion show, it is a place where you show that you are part of the “Team” by dressing the part. “All the world is a stage…

    All the best,

    Prep West

    P.S. Are you planning your trip to China yet?

  22. “Could it possibly be that some people might think either consciously or subconsciously that a person with grey hair was wearing ‘Disco’ flared jeans because they wanted to live in the past?”

    Hmm. Such an observer would have to be of a certain age, one such as myself. Birthday today, just turned 65, ooof, so at this age the combination of purple and bell bottoms telegraphs Cher, Cher in her undisputed prime. Even calling them “boot cut” seems like a big fat fib, they’re bell bottoms. I take a finger and hold it up to the computer screen, something in me, something serious and urgent, something as slight as the side of my finger MUST mitigate those bell bottoms into a straighter leg. Guilty. Busted. OLD, and most likely, has completely missed the point that these trousers have not so much returned but are born anew, as such they deserve brand new consideration from crones like me with crooked fingers.

  23. last night in my dream i was late, trying to find my seat in a large lecture hall. i plop down , look and i am sitting next to you! i said ‘oh its privilege’! i even told you of a comment i made one time about your travels and me wearing anklet bracelets. you remembered….i had to leave early and when i got home i had on one of my shoes and one of yours….oh dear, no more blog cruzing before bed!

  24. Great outfit! Purple is a tricky color and as my mother warns “purples are very hard to match.” I think that a dark purple is similar in effect to navy blue. In an quality fabric like cashmere, it looks regal and authoritative.

  25. Beautiful purple!
    I’ve a question: how do you handle such soft (almost floppy) collars in business context? The few times that I’ve tried, I kept fiddling with the collar throughout the day. I have either given up soft shirts or starch the collar.

  26. I like the look on you very much. (Even though I’m still not quite sold on the whole jeans-at-work-for-the leadership-team-members. And yes. I’m over 40 and fairly classic in my personal wardrobe.) As noted by earlier poster, you are indeed fully rocking these Sevens and your overall look is right. Right for your environment, right for your body-type, right for you. I’m so glad you tried the wee bit of shirt cuff peeking out from your sweater’s cuff. Do you see the difference?

    About the purple, I tend to avoid it. Possibly some silly subconscious TOPH or Class (Fussell) seed planted decades ago. I have enjoyed an ocassional lavender or dark plum. I agree that your shade works. I’ll have to give it a try.

    Lastly, let me join the chorus in singing the praises of your father’s creativity and effort regarding your grandfather’s cufflinks. This is genius – plain and simple. Bravo!

  27. Cathy – I can imagine little else I would want more from a work persona:). Thank you.

    kathy – What is a French clip? These have been this way for 35 years – I never thought of doing anything different. Kind of the way with family stuff, no?

    TB – Thank you. Very nice to meet you. I feel that we are collectively mapping out aging in a very new way.

    LIly- Ha! Why thank you ma’am. I feel younger since I started working and walking again. My actual daughter is tall with red hair, which I enjoy enormously.

    Cynthia – Thank you. Dad’s a good guy.

    mater – Aw. Thank you. The more we bring warmth to professionalism the better, I feel. As you do.

    1. I sent a photo of French clips to your email. Yes, true about family stuff. Currently trying to figure out how to re-work a strand of white pearls from my grandmother, so I’d wear them more often, or actually, at all. Any ideas from anyone would be greatly appreciated. They’re probably about 8mm, and a 16″ strand. They’re looking a bit geriatric on me at the moment.

  28. miss sophie – Thank you! And yes, business casual is the devil. Unquestionably.

    Kirsty – I know! I had that poem in the back of my mind as I wrote. Such a great sentiment indeed.

    Lee Rosenthall – I suppose that Paul Fussell book called out much of this. I’ve got to read it. Amethysts, in vintage jewelry, yes. They tended to be more faded then, and looked really cool against the 10K gold, and ornamentation. Although one does have to watch out for too much matching, no?:).

    Susan – Thank you. Happy Friday to you in turn:).

    Patsy – I’m thinking your mom might love to see the earrings wandering about:). Thank you.

  29. priscilla – The original Preppy Handbook sure called out some of this stuff. I remember I kind of hated it, who likes to be found out? :)

    Mary McCarthy – I have a very clear picture of your uniform in my mind. I think it’s the long cardigan that elevates it to uniform status, also the jewel-switching:).

    Melissa – Well I thank you! And I imagine Texas must have all sort of impact on the High WASP background.

    Dawn – Ah. Well. Thank you. I’d say my silhouette, for so I will refer to it, is a result of genes, lifelong sensible nutrition, light weight-lifting, and as much walking as I can manage.

    Mette – I didn’t know what color I was on the chart – I’ve always struggled than typing. So I have a question you might answer on your blog, if you don’t mind. Why are wide-legged jeans less formal than skinny jeans?

    1. I decided only to reply, as I have no plans to write about wide jeans on my blog for now.
      I don´t think that skinny jeans are more formal than wide jeans.
      I just happen to like the look of straight ( closer to the skinny side ) more. The wide jeans are s o seventies. I did not like them then, don´t like them now and have a feeling, that I won´t like them in the future either.
      I don´t think that they are flattering on any body type.
      But then, this is only my personal opinion

      1. Mette – Exactly. Two people with defined and reasonable aesthetics can disagree. To me skinny jeans seem s o 2005, and while I believe they look good on the long of leg, they make me look, or at least feel, like a bowling pin:).

    2. Lisa and Mette, Jeans (for me) are so much like a “second skin”, that I think you have to go with whatever you feel totally comfortable with. I have never been able to get used to a very dark wash, no matter how many people tell me that’s what’s “in”, or would look better. I like a straight (not skinny) leg, and a medium wash. Nothing else feels right for me.

  30. Ida – Yes! This is blueberry. And I sense that the cashmere is made to last. Not too slick to the hand. Thanks.

    Laura – Thank you! I wear these jeans because I have short legs. Trends come, trends go, my legs are what they are:).

    Paula – Well thank you so much. I think I owe a lot to generational good nutrition, and if I think about it, a culture which loves its delayed gratification big time.

    Sarah – Thank you:). I just couldn’t resist the recommendation of wise blog friends.

    Karena – Oh, thanks for noticing the details! Ponytail holders rock, don’t they? And maybe you and I are just purple trendsetters:).

  31. Ann – Ah. You are welcome. Thank you. I think what you are saying that privilege and achievement should make us more grateful, not less. And I’m grateful for you and your comment.

    FF – Crosses fingers – we don’t have too many moths out here in California. I think it might be lack of humidity

    Whitney – Thank you!

    Mary Jo – Thank you very much!

    Jacqueline – Oh, I know. I’ve worked in much more formal environments, and I admit that the more constricted clothing always kind of bothered me. Sure looks good though:).

  32. Duchesse – I’m honored by your remark. And I’m loving the idea of a lush lavender.

    Buckeroomama – It’s such a hard look to put together well. I imagine your design eye helps you do it right.

    Belle – Family vintage:). Thank you. Hope you get some more Socal sun soon.

    Prep West – See my amethyst comments below. You are not wholly incorrect in your presentation of the traditional High WASP attitude towards that gem category. However, in response to the rest of your comment, I have to ask you one question. I ask in the spirit of civilized banter, mind you, expecting with great glee a witty reply. Let’s say if I have fake hair color, and am clearly trying to look young than my face will confess, then I’m allowed to wear disco jeans and will be taken seriously? Or do the jeans preclude authority, on their own? Also, additional data for this discussion, flared jeans are making a comeback in an inevitable nostalgia play. Disco is not. I await your thoughts.

    P.S. Why on earth would I go to China? I went in 2004 or 5, too many times.

    Marilyn – Well do ask if you have cashmere questions. I’m developing quite the background knowledge:).

  33. Stephanie – Thank you ma’am!

    Flo – Et tu, Flo? Hehe. And technically, you are right. They aren’t boot cut they are flared. Not quite bell bottom, je te promis.

    Barbara – I LOVE this! Which pair of shoes do you want to share:). Heck, I dream about online people too. Amazing how vivid language is, to create full people in our minds.

    Linday – Thank you. And you hit the nail on the head – this purple felt as homey as navy to me.

    Yulia – When I was in a formal business environment I relied on the Brooks Brothers no-iron shirts. I would have feared the fiddle, just as you say.

  34. Sylvie – I have to combat some inner formality to dress like this every day as a manager, I agree. On the other hand, it’s fun parsing the old constructs. I HUNTED like crazy for just this purple. Anything verging on fake grape gives me hives. Thank you for the kudos on the family earrings. Thank you very much.

    Jennings – Well hello! Hello and thank you:).

  35. Flo, just why would someone have to be old to see flared jeans as dated when worn by a person with grey hair? Could not they be a twenty-something that had attended a 70s party while in college and sees them as dated when worn by someone over forty. I am just pointing out that you have to be careful with retro styles for the workplace.

    In the workplace, the flattery of imitation works well.

    Prep West

    1. “Flo, just why would someone have to be old to see flared jeans as dated [when worn by a person with grey hair]?”

      First, Lisa’s hair is not grey, it’s a glowing silver, her hair doesn’t convey Old to me at all, my mother had that same hair in her 30s. So, as you can see, I parenthetically removed hair color from your jeans:old question.

      Second, a person who is 65 years old actually bought and wore those jeans when they were in style, when they were the only style. So it’s by experience on the ground, at the time, that one may authentically refer to that jeans style as dated [as opposed to checking Wikipedia or google.images].

      Third, Lisa: I am SO sorry to have offended you and your readers by my toxic Cher allusion when a simple thank you would have sufficed.

      1. Flo – I was not offended. Any slight twinge of shame I felt when I read your Cher reference was old, historic, conditioned. You know it well. Friendly fire like yours just serves to roust it out and burn it dry a little more. Cher becomes a hero, at some point. I am honored by your intelligent comments here, always.

  36. Dear Lisa:

    I had not refreshed the page when I wrote my previous reply.

    The situation is one of impressions, if your hair is colored skillfully to the true range that it once was it most likely would give the impression that you still care about your appearance, if it is noticed at all. The greater issue is what the impression will be if you do not. Will some people think that you have decided to, “Let yourself go” because it is the norm for most women to be very attentive to their hair? In your private life, it does not matter what message you seem to be sending. In the workplace, it may. In the current economy where men are having their grey blended in, aren’t you taking a chance?

    Jeans may or may not preclude authority, depending on the workplace. What might have a negative effect is following current fashion trends to the point of being noticed for doing so. Of course, that would not matter for someone in the rag trade. It is all a grey area.

    I find myself feeling like “The Messenger”… As the Arabs say, “Tell the truth and run”.

    My hint about “China” was a suggestion to think about adventures to come. It was based on your adventure in India. I have not read all your archives, so I am not aware of your “Too many trips” to China, if there are mentioned there. Just trying to say something nice.

    All the best,

    Prep West

    1. As I used to say on this blog, “This is as true as I can make it.” That’s because we’ve all got our own truths. Right? In any case, I am glad you comment, and am glad to hear disagreement. The one thing I’m going to add here is that you can make the assumption that I am appropriate in my work environment, due to the San Francisco Internet factor:).

  37. You look so beautiful and healthy! Love the “Aubergine” purple color and your lobes bedecked with an heirloom.

  38. Much better look, I think – a great one, in fact. The sweater is neater than the beige one in the other post and you’re hair, whilst obviously long, is still not flying around loose. The flared jeans say ‘I’m into fashion’ whereas the neatness about your hair and your top say ‘I’m in control’. Works for me.

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