Fashion Faux Pas or Face Plant?

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Coming of age in the 70s I was more than a fashion faux pas, I was a fashion face plant. Nothing can explain away the dress I wore to the junior prom. I looked like a picnic tablecloth on the bottom with a matching place mat on top. Since I can’t find the picture, which I know I saved, you’ll have to use your imagination.

Large red and white checked gingham fabric. Long skirt accented with a ruffle. Halter-top attached to the skirt, also accented with a ruffle. Straps crisscrossed in the back and buttoned into the top of the skirt. My father made me dance around the living room to make sure nothing fell out of the square piece of material over my chest. Since my chest amounted to nothing at the time, I was safe.

Ruffles play a major role in my best wardrobe worsts. My early choices for formal dances at college all had ruffles on the bottom and unfortunately a few had gathered sleeves with ruffled edges. And there was the ruffled yellow dotted swiss bridesmaid’s dress accessorized with a matching floppy hat. Of course that was chosen for me and truth be told, the whole time I wore that dress I squelched the urge to cry out, paraphrasing Scarlett in Gone With The Wind, “I’ll never go dotted swiss or ruffles again.”

Of course it took a whole new decade and career before I found my ruffle replacement. Half the fun of going to work in the mid-‘80s–for me¬–was wearing the businesswoman’s bow tie. Floppy or stiff. Bright red, blue or black. It didn’t matter. I simply liked the ritual of tying it. And it announced my competence without me saying a word.

I first learned about power dressing from The Women’s Dress for Success book written by John T. Malloy. His advice to women hoping to be taken seriously by others (men) in the workplace: look like those others (men) as much as possible. My closet was full of men’s styled dark colored suits that I wore with white, blue, or an occasional pink shirt, when I felt rebellious, and a bow tie. Simple jewelry, gold or silver stud earrings and maybe a pearl necklace rounded out the corporate career gal’s look.

I took all of Mr. Malloy’s advice and added my own twist. Looking at my first-day-on-the-new-job picture I wish I had applied Coco Chanel’s advice: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” I wore a dark gray pinstripe suit with modest shoulder pads and a light blue wing-collared shirt with pleated front. A bow tie in the same color as the shirt flopped under my wing collar more than it stood at attention. A necklace of alternating silver and lapis-colored beads lay under my tie. Thank goodness I just wore matching silver studs.

In the 90s my bow ties and starched shirts gave way to flowing scarves and silky blouses. Then I went casual, business casual and then work from home casual. Today the most flounce in my wardrobe is found in the pashmina-style scarves warming my neck in overly air conditioned and under-heated environments. I am aware of the return of the bow blouse to the workingwoman’s closet but have resisted. Much as I have resisted anything in red and white checks. Neither bows nor gingham fit my style anymore.

41 Comments

  1. I still have an aversion to plaid…after a pair of wide legged bell bottoms in a mad plaid, so I know how you feel!

    Luckily I was never one for ruffles or bows…

    But I have to say, I think you look stunning in the picture!

  2. Julie (Author)

    Thanks Bonnie. That picture is such a statement about my life in the 80s. And don’t get me started about plaid. Too many year of wearing black watch plaid school uniforms for me.

  3. Though I never had to wear a suit and “tie” to work when I started my career in 1983 (I worked in the fashion industry), I did wear one to all of my job interviews pre-graduation. We were truly victims of the fashion industry. Thankfully, living in LA, I never had to do the sneaker and suit thing!

    • Julie (Author)

      I was in Dallas and sneakers were a fashion don’t. And when I moved to Chicago I just couldn’t do it. I wonder what fashion trend I’m rocking now that I’ll write about later!

  4. You nailed the Dressed for Success look, and it seemed to work for you. I bet you rocked the dotted swiss, too.

    Sneakers and suits are still seen on DC area commuters. They aren’t as prevalent as they were in the 80′s, but they’re still around.

    • Julie (Author)

      If you mean I looked like Little Bo Peep without the staff then I nailed the dotted swiss!

  5. Ooh, I think I have a picture just like yours. I’m experiencing deja vu — or post traumatic stress syndrome — just reading your piece. I can so relate!

    • Julie (Author)

      You made me laugh, yes, post traumatic stress syndrome. Gives me the willies just looking at the picture!

  6. Dang, I remember all of those ruffles. It was due to the resurgence of the prairie-style dresses which were likely a backlash against bra-burning and the women’s movement. And who can forget that bow? I never had a corporate job, but I did have plenty of blouses with attached bows. Yes, I’m sure you and I both looked like men with those bows tied around our necks.

    I’m glad you gave up the ruffles. Petite women like you (and me, although I’m not as petite as you) cannot afford a whole lotta frou-frou attached to their attire.

    Whatever fashion disasters you’ve been through, you are very fashionable now though.

    • Julie (Author)

      Oh I wish I had a picture of that prom dress – still looking. Glad boys went away and casual dress came in b/c I’m now back in the corporate world.

  7. I think we shared the same closet and bookshelf. I too left my haltertop prom dress and bought that book when I started my first job. What were we thinking?!

    • Julie (Author)

      What was my mom thinking allowing me to buy that prom dress? I remember that we found it in the last store of a long day of shopping. She was probably worn out. She did give me that book too, hmmm, maybe she thought I needed professional help! Glad to have a sister-in-fashion-mistakes!

  8. Helene Bludman

    Haha! I did the suit and sneakers ensemble in the 80s as well. And wore the skirt suits with the bow tied blouses. What a hoot!

    • Julie (Author)

      I did it all except the sneakers. Living in Dallas, sneakers were never seen outside of the aerobics studio!

  9. There most have been half of a moment when red-and-white checked was in because I had that skirt — I think my mother made it for me. And it had the ruffle, too.

    I also had a copy of The Women’s Dress for Success book although I was fortunately able to ignore most of it because I worked in an engineering firm where corporate-style dressing was given much disdain.

    • Julie (Author)

      I can’t believe there was another picnic table dress out there! Ha. Good to know that I’m not alone.

  10. Karen

    I so remember swiss dots…but never had those ruffles all over that I can remember. At least you were going to the dances….wonder what the girls of today will be calling their fashion disasters?

    • Julie (Author)

      I can think of some future millennial fashion disasters!

  11. I had a red gingham two piece bathing suit. I thought guys were attracted to me, but I actually think I made them their sudden desire for pizza was making their mouths water.

    • Julie (Author)

      Oh you made me laugh and remember my pink gingham bathing suit. Last true two piece I ever wore!

  12. That was my look in the 80′s with a bow on the blouse in a suit too! You pulled it off!

    • Julie (Author)

      We were so original!

  13. Oh Julie….I see what you mean about the buttoning-down of the creative spirit. I suspect we’re kindred ones, you and I. Although I never read that book about dressing for success, I remember the look well. I don’t think it did women any favors. And I never realized that a man wrote that book. Well, it all makes sense now! Great post. And yes, I can visualize the prom dress, thanks to your vivid description!

    • Julie (Author)

      Only a man would recommend tightening a noose around a women’s neck, not realizing that panty hose already had her waist!

  14. You are cute as a button, even in an 80s power suit.

    • Julie (Author)

      You are do nice! A button on top of a bow!

  15. My daughter (age 11) is just asserting her own style–except she’s not. She wants to buy clothes that look just like her peers. I was trying to explain that as women get more mature, they actually do more to create a style that is unique to herself. I, too, wore the blouses with the ties with suits. I was worked and lived in Georgetown (DC) where I first worked my way up the ladder in tech pubs: copy editor –> graphics coordinator –> then technical writer. I drove a SAAB and fancied myself a yuppie. I was trying to wear the “DC professional uniform.” Oh, how I wish you could unearth your “gingham style” pic. But you paint a picture with words pretty effectively!

    • Julie (Author)

      I too drive a Saab! I’m going to find the pic of the gingham dress if I have to recreate it and take a new picture.

  16. I can really picture the gingham dress….sounds like something from Young Edwardian. Do you remember that brand? You look really sweet and professional in your photo! I love scarves – thank goodness I don’t believe they will ever be out of fashion!

    • Julie (Author)

      I don’t remember Young Ewardian. I think the dress was more Petticoat Junction!

  17. I too once had to wear a yellow (horrible) bridesmaid’s gown with a matching floppy hat. I rebelled so much about having to buy the hat that the bride got sick of it and bought it for me herself. I actually think you looked very pretty in your 1st-day-on-the-job photo. You were in good company–we ll looked like that in corporate America back then.

    • Julie (Author)

      Okay, I will have to post the yellow dotted Swiss dress. All I needed was a parasol

  18. OMG! So glad that we can laugh about this now!! I had a few business suits like that… With the silk ties! In every coordinating color. Probably with a scrunchy to match too. And lots of eye makeup. Just releaved that I won’t be posting my photo. ;-P

    • Julie (Author)

      Scrunchies! Just the name is a fashion mistake!

  19. Loving the 80′s power suit :>) You look cute!

    • Julie (Author)

      I was trying to look serious – oh well, I’m happy to be cute!

  20. I can’t look at a ruffle now either! Neon is another one. Such bad memories.

    • Julie (Author)

      Tie Dye!

  21. Didn’t read the book Dress for Success but I took the lessons to heart too; in my early career i ONLY wore suits; I even wore ties (with not quite as much style as Diane Keaton in Annie Hall). Never was big on bows or ruffles and after reading your post, pretty sure I dodged a bullet.

    • Julie (Author)

      Keep ducking, there are more bad fashion trends than good ones, as far as I can see!

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