What Suits Me Today

How letting go of the meaning of the two piece suit helped me embrace my own personal power dressing

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NY Times Style Section, October 2015, photo of me by Bill Cunningham

I entered the 9 to 5 world in the eighties – the era of Dynasty and the shoulder padded suit. When women dressed like male bankers, except with practical heels and high collared blouses. It was as if, under all that cover-up cover, women were de-sexualizing themselves to best fight the good fight in a man’s world.

So of course, to make the rounds of interviews in New York, I wore a suit. It was in fact a hounds tooth Harve Bernard wool number, with a double breasted jacket and a skirt that went to nearly mid-calf. It was so big – I looked like a geometric patterned petite linebacker.

Suits are not me. Oh, I may have found a bit of groove once I stepped outside the black box – as in everything I wore was black with a bit of color mixed in. But mostly, I felt constricted in them. More than that, however, I felt like a fashion fraud. There was what I was “supposed” to wear and what I wanted to wear. It took me through my twenties and thirties, this “suit = power” belief.

It is all so surprising how long I held onto this belief, because I absolutely love fashion! One look at my shoe collection reveals that. I have three – count them three – pairs of pink heels because – well, pink! The power of color and creative attire to enervate is not lost on me.

And then a few things happened to loosen me up a bit:

First, I got pregnant twice in my thirties. You have to accept “bold” when you are wearing wrap dresses that flaunt a growing belly. Which I did. Pregnancy for me was a wonderful experience. I felt feminine and strong and just joyful – no suit required. Going back to the standard two piecer after those years started to feel even more awkward. I wanted the same swagger I had when I was with child.

Second, I started moving up in the professional world. And it occurred to me that I had less and less to prove, less and less to conform to. I had more authority, and more accomplishments under my belt. It was time to just be myself and own that woman. I had become the grown up that “the suit” was meant to convey.

Third, I decided to spend one year not buying one item of black clothing. It started when I looked in my closet and realized my “neutral” was not even a color (black is defined as “the absorption of all colors”). Of all the things that happened, this was the most critical game changer to my professional fashion life

And so, armed with a commitment to rainbow hues and womanly point of view, I discovered dresses. Where have I been?

Dresses – sheaths and A-lines, maxis and minis, DVF wraps and retro mid-calf length tweeds – are everything that is me. To own a wardrobe of dresses and some fitted cropped jackets is like owning the adult Garanimals of wardrobes – easy to grab and go, everything matches with everything. From what I see, every woman looks taller and sleeker in a dress. And it is far easier to define a waist in a dress than in a suit, which just can’t help but make the body appear a bit boxier (ever try to belt a jacket? Bulky). Who cannot benefit from taller and shapelier?

And dresses come in so many varieties to fit the mood. Business dinner with clients? A neutral colored A-line with a well tailored leather bolero and a patterned silk scarf. Feeling girly? Break out the pleats and add some kitten heels, please. Daughter’s rock band playing in the East Village? How about a black leather number with some metal bracelets?

My final suit misstep happened fairly recently. For the professional shot for my company’s web site I wore – against my gut instinct but upon the advice of googling “how to dress for a professional photo” – a blue pin striped pant suit. I cannot begin to say how much I hate that photo. And I will be retaking it once I get my act together and my hair right (hair is for another article). I have since thrown that suit into the donation bin. It was the last one in my closet.

Nearly every day now finds me walking into the office in one of the many dresses I own and likely one of my many light leather jackets. It was a version of this very outfit that got the attention on a crisp fall morning in 2015 of one Bill Cunningham, renowned NY Times Style section photographer/icon,on the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. who turned his camera my way and snapped a few stills. Four days later I opened the Style section and there I was in the On the Street spread that Mr. Cunningham laid out every week. He observed that the fall had brought with it stylish women sashaying the streets of New York City in earthy tones, displayed in their sweaters and leathers and boots and frocks. And center stage was me, in a cocoa brown fitted knit dress that hit mid knee, a chestnut leather bolero and matching bag, smiling as I saluted the esteemed photographer with a happy grin (yes, that’s me in the photo above.

Not one suit was featured in Mr. Cunningham’s collage. Good enough for Bill, good enough for me.


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