Wednesday, March 29, 2017

That Time I was Sent Home From Work to Change

I had a nice, happy blog I planned to write this week, and then United Airlines created a firestorm by saying no to leggings. My Facebook wall was inundated with posts and comments because my friends know I don't think leggings aren't pants. Correction: friends don't let friends wear leggings as pants. It's a public service really. In fairness I think banning children for wearing leggings is harsh even to me, but it brings to light the bigger issue of how we've stopped dressing appropriately as a society. It's not about leggings but about how people generally think of the world as their living room. It's not okay.

I've gotten a lot of push back about my extreme fashion views over the years, and that push back only makes me dig in my heels. What people wear matters. You don't wear sweatpants to an professional office. I was getting ready to write you don't wear running clothes or a baseball cap at dinner but I see lots of people doing that. It's gross. If the way we dressed didn't matter there wouldn't be an entire website devoted to cataloging the way people of Wal-Mart dress. You wouldn't go to a job interview in your pajamas would you? Or in leggings without a dress over them? I didn't think so. At some point we went from a nation where people wanted to look put together and appropriate to the world being everyone's living room. Please stop. I don't want to watch what's on your TV, and I don't want to see you in your pajamas unless we're having a sleepover.

Remember when people used to wear their "Sunday best"? People used to have play/work clothes and then nice clothes. My two year old wears comfy pants to school all the time. If we go out to dinner he changes into real pants, either jeans or khakis. I don't care that he's two years old. We dress appropriately for dinner. Period. I should note that he is obsessed with his dinosaur rain boots and takes them off in the restaurant, but I can't pick every battle. Dressing appropriately is part of general appropriate behavior. I expect him to say please and thank you. I expect him to be kind. I expect him to dress appropriately for the occasion. Also if you think I don't know this means he'll likely rebel at some point and dress like a slob you're wrong. I imagine that will happen. I dread the day.

Just lounging around, eating his snack in khakis and a sweater.
I work from home four days a week, and some days I don't have a lot of meetings. I'll admit I've struggled with getting super dressed up when I'm walking downtown for one meeting. I wear workout clothes to drop off my son at 7:30 am. Then I work out and dress for the day. If I don't have a lot of meetings it's usually jeans. If I have one meeting that's the hardest situation. What's the point of getting dressed up for one meeting? The point is that I work in a professional world. The men wear suits, and the women wear suits or dresses. Even if it's only for an hour, I put on professional clothes. It's appropriate.

Early in my career I had three instances of being chastised for my professional attire. My third year of law school I worked as a family law paralegal in a law firm. I had a black dress with a purple plaid jacket that I loved. It was my favorite. I'd had it since college and often wore it for debate tournaments. I went to college in the 90s, so my "professional" clothes were often too short and accompanied by horrible chunky shoes. (Think Jennie Garth on Beverly Hills 9020). I wore my favorite dress to work one day, and my two supervising attorneys pulled me into one of their offices and told me my dress was too short. They were very kind, and I was very mortified. I never wore it again.

I found a picture of the dress! This is from the U.S. Naval Academy my senior year in college with my debate partner. It's *slightly* short.
A year or so later post law school I was working for a sole practitioner attorney. It was a small office, just the two of us, and we would often go out to lunch or he'd take me with him to meetings out of the office. I was a sassy 25-year-old, and one day I wore panty hose with a seam up the back of each leg. They were from Victoria's Secret, and they were pretty sexy. He told me in no uncertain terms that I shouldn't wear them to work, and I never wore them to the office again.

I often plan my clothes weeks in advance, and that has been the case for years. When I was working for the Mayor of Norfolk, Virginia I had a really cute outfit to wear for St. Patrick's Day. It included super cute green cropped pants that had a scarf-like belt, an orange blouse that matched the flowers in the belt and a white jacket. I wore it with open-toed slingbacks, and I loved that outfit. It was also professional. The problem is that on this particular St. Patrick's Day the temperature happened to be in the 20s and snowing, very unusual weather for Virginia in March. I insisted on wearing it, and the Mayor was not amused. We had a meeting at NATO that afternoon (yes that NATO - its only North American post is in Norfolk) and he made me go home and change. I changed into my favorite tweed suit, perfect for a wintry day. I was irritated by not being able to wear the outfit I'd painstakingly chosen, but it was not appropriate for that weather.

I haven't always gotten it right, and I won't pretend like I always do. Style is relative, and what works for one person doesn't have to (and shouldn't) work for another. But the impression you give in the world is real. It doesn't mean you have to wear a ball gown every day (although I'd love to wear a ball gown every day), but it's important to dress appropriately for the occasion. Those who think it doesn't matter how they dress are the ones whose attire is holding them back. Trust me. And trust me on the fact that leggings alone, without a tunic or dress over them, are still seriously not pants.  


  1. 3 thoughts...1) i LOVE this entry! and I will re-read this a few times. 2) good for your mentors who actually took the time to tell you to change your clothes--too many times we discuss what others wear in our environment and do not "help" them by mentoring...3) in our home, we ride the struggle bus when we try to leave for an outing--many minutes are spent "explaining" why sweatpants and (gasp!) slip-on shower shoes are not appropriate dress for dinners out. we are seen as the "strict" house because we require a "presentable" look when leaving our home. I do not apologize for that...first impressions are important. get into the habit now, i say, because dressing for professional days (interview, ordinary day on the job) is important!

    1. Thanks lady! I love that you're instilling dressing well with the kids. Nicely done. :)