How Can I Update My Power Suits?

May 27, 2022 · 38 comments
Kelly (Ohio)
Unless you live/work in a conservative area, Vanessa is correct that trends are functionally dead. Of course, brands still push "new is better" to entice people to buy...but the idea that what's in your closet already is "out" has become, for many people, a dated way of thinking. The letter writer can keep wearing what she has, what has already been deemed "business attire," without anyone looking askance. Her "stubbornness," to be honest, seems to come from a place of desiring that fashion not change and that others wear what she wears and likes...after all, what's stopping her from continuing to wear tailored styles? The only difference now is that others are wearing sweaters. In my workplace, the sales team (which sees clients) dresses more conservatively, but even they jettisoned the suit jackets ages ago. And the admin and tech teams? A complete mish-mash of styles, some of which only barely meet the mark for business casual. Anyway, business casual as a concept was always going to erode the idea of professional dress. It's in the name: a complete oxymoron! It's why there are endless articles online about "How do I dress business casual?", many of which offer conflicting advice, or advice centered on, "dress more conservatively on your first day, then observe and meet the level of casualness exhibited by your boss." Gee, thanks...just vague enough to work! We're inexorably moving toward a much more casual workplace, and we're all going to have to navigate that.
Gus (Hell's Kitchen, NYC)
What is to be said about cable news anchors dressed as if going to the nightclub: ridiculously long false eyelashes and fingernails; garish makeup colors; excessive cleavage; gaudy jewelry; etc.? There was a time when tasteful, non-distracting attire was the norm for television journalists. What happened?
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
Long retired now, I grew up believing in: Tweed sport coats. Corduroy blazers, blue blazers, khakis, striped ties, cordovan shoes and belts. Tortoise shell eyeglass frames. New Balance 574 running shoes, Converse All-Star tennis shoes. Gant or Gitman button down shirts (blue), in my exact sleeve size (32). Neiman Marcus 100% cotton boxer shorts, white, but only when on sale. A Ball Trainmaster railroad-approved wrist watch, circa 1960. Mine is still running. Always accompanied by a boy's regular haircut, And for women: Dresses, skirts, but no pants. Sensible heels. Simple jewelry, but good jewelry, with no dangly earrings. Always accompanied by Chanel No. 5 and a small touch of makeup. But those things appear to be long gone, so what does it matter in a day and a time when people prefer going to work looking like slobs?
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
Always accompanied by a boy's regular haircut, with no beard or mustache.
Bette (Brooklyn)
@A. Stanton No pants for women? What is the rationale behind that?
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
@Bette I am a traditionalist and just never liked the look of women in pants. My mother and grandmother never wore them. My wife never wore them to work.
Rachel (Canada)
The trend toward oversized, ruffly, and puffy clothing is particularly hard on petite women like myself, who often find ourselves looking even smaller than we are and unfortunately "little-girl-y." Bring back the structure!
Vanessa (Toronto)
Dress in a way that makes you feel confident and good. Feeling good in your clothes is always in fashion!
NycGal (New York)
Focus on fit first then everything else falls into place.
Dreamline18 (Westchester)
I love Betabrand's Classic Dress Pants (Yoga Pants). They have petite sizes, too. You can wash them in cold water and hang them. It looks like they have added shirts and blazers, too.
Francine Flowerette (Custer. WI)
Discover and embrace your own personal style, understand how your clothing can serve you. I tend to ignore advice given by others when it comes to fashion. Fashion advice is big business - the clothing industry always wants us to constantly buy, update and change our wardrobe. I've always been fortunate in that I don't follow a consensus when it come to what I wear. If I feel good, I look good and that has tremendous value. I like to like what I see when I gaze into my mirror.
Algol60 (MA)
Does anybody care what you -- or anyone else -- wear? Assuming it doesn't reveal bits that shouldn't be seen, the only requirement is that it offers insulation, pockets and comfort.
Reader (Californis)
I rarely comprehend VF opinion.
Nam (Cambridge,Ma)
Most innovative, thoughtful companies aren’t looking for everyone to think or look the same. The writer is stuck at in 1992: how do you balance fitting in with your colleagues — demonstrating your membership in the group, which is really what office dress codes are about.” Perform. Drive innovation. Don’t Be a Jerk. Practice Good Hygiene. No one cares what you wear.
BK (Boston)
Be sure to check out Ministry of Supply online or at their flagship store here in Boston. I love their innovative approach to design and manufacturing and it all looks marvelous.
Nnaiden (Montana)
@BK Thanks for this!
RLJAJR (CA)
"Dress for Success" is a personal branding strategy helping to differentiate and express one's persona. Done well it adds value. Done poorly it detracts.
HOUDINI (New York City)
It seems vapid? Unimportant, but...it isn't. I work in theatre and if you look poorly, it just doesn't help things along. Put together doesn't have to mean sharp or stylistic, it can mean utilitarian. Thankfully, some of us have a choice. It comes down to embracing what is good about life, maybe even momentarily. (While this planet falls apart.) Maybe Covid-19 made me cynical; but I feel better wearing my gear; keeps me sane? Line. Color. Material--all make a great hat. When people meet me w/o it, they mention it. Are we how we present ourselves? IDK. I indulge my taste w/o trying to offend anyone.
Martine (Texas)
You can't be taken seriously in "prairie wear". The puffy sleeves of now are just the annoying bell sleeves of a few years ago or the stupid shoulder cutouts. Way to infantilize yourself.
Elaine (USA)
Dear Reader, I agree with you. Skinny pants and sweatpants aren’t for everyone. I still occasionally wear my suits but added some soft jackets. I don’t really who thinks I’m outdated. Wish I could find more tunics in better fabrics.
NYer (New York)
Wear what you want! I moved years ago to wearing structured Tahari dresses and espradille wedges in the summer when everyone else in the large bank I worked at was still in suits and stilettos. My winter uniform was always a sheath dress, a soft sweater bolero and tall boots I could comfortably walk miles in. Now I mostly wear AG stretch sateen pants and Helly Hansen tops - so comfy I take long flights in them! - with short wedge boots or comfy sneakers and will throw on one of my old theory open blazers if I’m meeting a client or speaking at an event. I love jewelry so I’m always accessorized, but that isn’t the point. The point is to do what makes you feel good - in my case that’s clean lines and structure, I can’t stand poufy anything - and who cares what anyone else thinks is fashionable?
Kathleen (Texas)
As long as you don't show too much skin, wear what you want. If you want to quietly say, Don't mess with me," wear your suit. One of the positives about working from home is that clothes are just clothes. Wear what you like and can afford. Referrals for $700 blouses seem frankly clueless right now.
Rachel (Canada)
@Kathleen "Wear what you like and can afford" -- that's the tricky part, isn't it? The most affordable ways of buying clothes (fast fashion, off-price stores) trend trendy, and those with limited budgets tend to be limited to what's in style at the time. I imagine it must be a tough time to be just starting a career and trying to build an affordable, professional wardrobe amidst all the prairie dresses, puffed sleeves, and baggy sweaters.
boilerup (Indiana)
@Kathleen I've found Poshmark to be the answer! If you know what you like, and know that it fits, refresh the wardrobe there. It makes sense during times of inflation and you can get exactly what you want. It fits, you look great, and it didn't cost any where near $700 or the regular sticker price.
N (USA)
How frustrating. The LW specifically asks for something other than the "the unstructured sweaters, ruffles and poufy sleeves that are everywhere" and what did Vanessa do? Send her a link to Anthropologie, home of unnecessary flair, ruffles, bedazzles and puffy sleeves. Those poufy sleeves won't fit in a jacket!
Rena W. (San Diego, CA)
@N They remind me of the "foofee" shirt on Seinfeld Jerry was reluctant to be seen in.
JSW (Seattle)
Folks, prairie style tiered dresses are back. Really back, everywhere. We are beyond hope as a species.
B magic (NYC)
I think due to popular series, Yellowstone, with Kevin Costner, trending western wear.
Ben (NYC)
I WFH, I update my outfit every day with a different pair of shorts, sweatpants, and tee shirts. I save a ton each month on clothes, dry cleaning, not to mention gas and a train ticket
A (Midtown)
I feel like this column skews light and not very informative or impactful - surely there are fashion writers with more substantive points of view that could transform it into something that is more satisfying to read?
Sang Ze (Massachusetts)
Can I wear a dress?
No name (earth)
I am tired of women's clothes that are fine for the club being sold as fine for the office.
CH (Brooklynite)
Are there ways to update my weekday uniform that don’t involve giving up my blazers, slim-fitting power dresses and skinny pants?" Yes -- just wear them today and they will be "updated," and you will be happy.
Marscat (San Francisco)
"I much prefer the tailored styles of yore to the unstructured sweaters, ruffles and poufy sleeves that are everywhere. Are there ways to update my weekday uniform that don’t involve giving up my blazers, slim-fitting power dresses and skinny pants?" Oh geez, if I have clean socks I am winning!
Diogenes (San Diego, CA)
If your socks are clean and matching...Bingo!
Sandra (Northampton, Ma)
I found it weird that the link provided in the article for "teeshirts and blouses" was to Anthropologie's collection of foofy blouses full of frills, cut outs, and bare shoulders. This is the just what the letter-writer said she did NOT want!
Midwesterner (Illinois)
@Sandra I think the idea was to pair frillier or less formal tops with more conservative suits and pants.
Martine (Texas)
@Midwesterner Well then it is like one of those ruffly tuxedo shirts from a 70's wedding!
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