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.