Over the holidays my sister and I were wandering around a bookstore when she picks up, “Dress Like a Woman: Working Women and What They Wore” by Roxane Gay and Vanessa Friedman. Sold.
I finally got a chance to sit down with it. In the introduction I found a gem of a description of women’s work clothing. Friedman is describing the wave of responses to Donald Trump’s comment about his preference that female members of his administration “dress like women.” Women responded by submitting photos depicting the diversity of attire in the workplace. Friedman observes:
“…There was another deeper truth underlying the response… It was about what the clothes symbolized: the choices made, the dreams and aspirations implied, the contributions represented, the social progress (or not) made. It was about the fact that the question of female identity is illustrated in all its complexity by the question of what women wear to work.”
Vanessa Friedman captures the passion, awe and depth of my obsession with women’s work clothing in one sentence.
What if we were to acknowledge the truth in this statement and take our work clothing seriously, as a representation of our “dreams and aspirations”? …Wipe away a whole history of uncomfortable footwear and restrictive pencil skirts and start afresh. What would you wear on your feet? What would the garments look like on your legs, arms and torso? What sort of features would be strategically placed on them to meet your work needs?
What if your garments were an offering for your body and the work you create together? What if they were a mirror for your highest aspiration in life, if they stood for the YOU, you dream of becoming? What would they say about you and your role in the world?
For each of us this would be different. This summer I have the privilege of attending an intensive pattern making camp at Penland School of Crafts in the mountains of North Carolina. My instructors are Libby O’Bryan, the owner of Sew Co. (the high-end and socially-minded sewing group that was our sewing partner for the made-to-measure Riding Jacket testing) and the co-founder of her in-house apparel line, Rite of Passage, Giovanni Daina-Palermo who made patterns for Oscar de la Renta and Caroline Herrera. Our task: to make a pattern for our dream uniform. Yep, I’m freaking out.
Over the next several months I am playing around with designs for my work uniform and I have been pondering the above questions.
What makes something your work uniform? How would you go about reflecting on what you needed? I would start with what I was doing during my days: plenty of sitting, bike commuting to meetings, sewing, making a mess with my drawing supplies and in the kitchen (no white pants or blouses for me!).
I have been playing around with designs that straddle my current work needs with my dreams and aspirations of who I want to become. For example, I am a writer on the go: durable, breathable, movement friendly clothing with a readily available pocket big enough to hold my notebook. Pants that are comfortable and flatter the feminine form. A tailored look. No ovary crushing waistlines! A collar that holds a tape measure. Natural fibers throughout, no plastic clothing on my body or traipsing around the world.
I have taken to experimenting with different outfits when I’m working around the home. I have tried wearing Drew’s work pants and thinking about how to modify them. (Don’t worry, Drew! I’m not modifying your ACTUAL work plants :).
What would your “uniform” look like? Have you ever dared to dream about it? For most of us, our options have been so limited for so many years, why bother with this question?
Please feel free to share your dreams in the comments below. Perhaps, as my friend put it, you would not have a uniform, but a series of garments that represent the way you are feeling, what you want to express at the moment. Please share anything that comes to mind if we shared a world together where the sky was the limit :)