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Identity

I Have No Idea How to Get Dressed for Work

Looking professional is a job in itself.
August 11, 2015, 10:00pm
Illustration by Amanda Lanzone

It has recently come to my attention that I do not dress like an adult. This has actually been suggested to me for years, by my mother, boyfriend, and every job interview I've ever been underprepared for (all of them), but I only realized it yesterday, while attempting to put together anything remotely resembling a 26 year-old professional's outfit for an author photo.

I own racks of aggressively patterned button-downs and too-small, too-short cut-offs, a shocking array of thin belts (for "cinching the waist," a direct result of watching too many hungover episodes of What Not To Wear in college), and a footwear collection that looks like I did that thing where you have a child and let it shop for you. Observed as a unit, my wardrobe says nothing if not "shorts with tights were at one point very important to me." It's bad. In my author photo I look uncomfortable, hunching nervously in a cotton jersey crop top illusion dress with a slight crew neck. I also didn't brush my hair. The whole thing is very 26-going-on-my-own-idea-of-26-at-age-12.

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I pin the problem firmly on my aggressively vintage phase (2006-2012). After years of a school uniform, I--like many women above a size 6--fell prey to the lure of secondhand clothes from a bustier time. "Your body is so fifties!" shopkeepers who looked like they sustained themselves by selling pottery they made on their houseboat at vintage fairs would tell me. Seventeen years old and fresh off a round of Sorry, that's the largest size we make's at American Apparel, this felt like a gift. And so I dropped down a Zooey Deschanel-y rabbit hole for a few years, tying scarves in my hair and winging my eyeliner and generally looking like a deranged extra from a Guys and Dolls remake set in a dystopia where you have to be wearing loafers or you'll be put to death. There was a short-lived but very intense period where I tried out a jeweled turban as a night look.

My footwear collection looks like I did that thing where you have a child and let it shop for you.

Moving to London after my undergrad only worsened things; I bought a cape almost immediately after getting off the plane, soon to be joined by a furry (!) leopard print (!!) hat (!!!!!). Basically, if it was jaunty, I wore it. Throughout this period I had a number of conveniently jaunty jobs--working in a pub in the basement of the BBC, writing useless content for a student website (hits include: "Pumpkin: The King of Foods?" and "Scarves, It's Time To Put One On Your Body"), and mostly getting dressed up to serve drinks in different recreations of movie sets for an events company that put on "immersive film screenings" at found locations around the city.

Read More: The History of Black Lipstick

And now I find myself, years later and in another country that is not my home, with a job and a husband and an office I have to go to every day. In what, I ask you. In what. Seriously, what does everyone wear to work? I interviewed for this position over Skype, wearing an adult-looking cashmere sweater and no bottoms. Not even underwear. Just a bare butt on a kitchen chair, luxury wool draped across some free-hanging boobs. (Highly recommend as a job interview outfit for a relaxed-professional vibe; it has a 1:1 100% success rate so far.)

In the world of Professional Women's Clothing™, it seems like everyone is just constantly removing a blazer to reveal a cocktail-ready sheath dress, or applying a dramatic lipstick to "take their look from day to night." People are elongating their legs with a nude pump and updating old wardrobe staples with new accessories. People are "shopping their closets." Some are even wearing boots with skirts. The whole thing is very upsetting, and there's not a sleeve to be found. We gave Michelle Obama all that shit about her arms, and now look at us, sweating at work but unable to take off our cardigans because we don't feel comfortable with Gary at the other desk looking at our armpits. (He's too into it.)

Basically, if it was jaunty, I wore it.

But of course, no one's really using "18 Ways To Take Your Shift Dress From Desk to Drinks" as a fashion road map. No one's even wearing shift dresses. Work attire now is some kind of business-casual Frankenstein, a relaxed but put-together look that says, I could be involved in a startup, you don't know. For every woman captured by the Sartorialist laughingly gliding to work in perfectly cuffed jeans and a somehow-not-stupid tiny hat, there are untold multitudes who abandon full Net-a-Porter shopping carts in fear and confusion.

And maybe that's not so bad. How long can the Immaculate Mature Woman reign supreme? Probably not that much longer. Maybe I just have to ride out Health Goth and Beach Goth and Seapunk and whatever else until Hunchback Witch With Rice Cake Crumbs On Her All-Black Ensemble becomes a thing. Soon it'll be everywhere, offices full of women coming to work in a cashmere sweater with no pants on, or trying out high-waisted sweatpants "just to see." Maybe jeweled turbans will finally have the renaissance they deserve. Just remove your blazer to take those rice cake crumbs from day to night.