The acceptable garb of my former workplace was one step below “business casual”. No suits on either men or women; the Director and Assistant Director (both male) came closest to the suit thing by wearing shirts and slacks without ties. No one wore ties. When you really begin to think about ties, why are ties? They don’t hold anything in place. They don’t keep you warm or cool. They can be colorful or bland. Congressmen prefer yellow or red, depending on which side of the aisle they sit.
Women don’t wear ties, except if they’re rocking a tux or a Brooks Brother. I used to own a few bow ties but that was in the eighties, when bow ties, bolos and other collar ornaments were popular. Women have their own female version of the suit. Open collar shirt, jacket and pencil skirt – or slacks. The jackets can be tailored in multiple ways. Thank Coco Chanel for that.
Until my last lap in the workforce, employed by a major research center, I never had to worry about work clothes. All I needed was a uniform or scrubs. I ditched my nursing cap the moment I moved to back to California where none of the other nurses wore them. (You might also ask the question: why nursing caps? The male nurse didn’t have to wear one. I’m not in touch with current nursing curriculum but I don’t think it includes caps any more.)
I stuck with the white tights for a while, but as most California nurses wore pants, I was quick to adapt. My biggest expense was comfortable shoes, settling on clogs. Scrubs or their equivalent are pretty much the current style. Through the eighties and nineties hospital dress codes were lax, and boundaries were ignored. Hospitals now require a comfortable adaptation of scrubs, only restricted by color. Navy and white for nurses, purple for transporters, green for housekeeping. Luckily the only restriction on shoes is no open toes. Duh.
When I entered the realm of research, I needed real clothes.
While I love looking at fashion, and am keenly aware of trends, I never spent a lot of money on it. My clothing purchases have been on a curve, however, relative to income. I did, finally, buy a pair of boots for over $100. Ten years ago I would have scoffed at this price. One might buy hiking boots for that kind of money but dressy boots? No way. That was a real splurge, that and the REI rain jacket I bought for $80. That jacket has turned out to be tough and long lasting. Under certain conditions, price equals quality.
Over my years in research, my clothing purchases moved from thrift stores to mid-scale catalogs: Sahalie, North Style, Duluth Trading Company, Etsy, Crocs, Zappo. I dislike shopping in brick and mortar for clothes. I entered the chaos of a Nordstrom Rack a few times, and haven’t been back for years. I’m a brave catalog shopper, especially for shoes, but for shoes I stick with brands I know to be comfortable: Clarks, Dansko. A more recent splurge was a stylish pair of Merrill trail shoes that took me through Bryce and Zion.
I think of myself as a sensible clothing buyer. I did, however, own several pairs of shoes, an array for winter and an array for summer. I also love scarves. I own dozens.
Upon retirement, and moving, I had to purge. Away went shoes I knew I would never wear again. I have no occasion for them any more. Away when anything I bought for a single use. Away went anything, dammit, that was never really comfortable.
I had a cardinal rule: when I got home from work, I changed my clothes. Dogs, dust, detritus demanded that my work clothes went straight into the wash. I had sets of comfy “play clothes”, I called them, elastic-waisted yoga pants, stretchy pull-on tops, layers of fleece vests. I had my gardening clothes. I had my Jules Mae Saloon clothes.
Now, features of our living space have changed, along with my expectations. Every other day, I tug on leggings that used to be work-only. I slide tunics and tops that were reserved only for the casual office. I feel happy and proud to have a nice wardrobe transfer from off-limits to wear-whatever-the-hell-I-want-to. In this town, I get so many complements on my red Dansko maryjanes, it adds to my contentment. Those and the silk paisley scarf I bought in Dubai, on my way to South Africa for a research conference.
No pink leisure suit for me, although the AARP ads are filled with older women in hiking shorts or tank-topped exercise gear. I’ll fly my own style, grateful that I can do it without spending money—social security and the odd book sale curtail fashion browsing, except maybe at St. Vinnie’s.