Ask the Grumpies: Work clothing?

Leah asks:

Do you have to dress up for work? When you do, have you found any brands/stores with a good balance of comfortable and work-appropriate? I am a fan of the dressed up look that doesn’t require any pain.

#1 has to wear business or business casual and gets most of her clothing at the Loft outlet.  Loft is way less fussy and more washable than the standard Ann Taylor.  In the summer she goes much lower scale business casual, but it’s still nice fitted short sleeve shirts rather than what she wears on weekends (which is mostly unisex protest t-shirts or DH’s old t-shirts that are too ratty to wear outside but are really comfy for sleeping and lounging around the house in).

#2 I dress from business casual down to “not actually my pajamas.” I have no brand suggestions, I wish that I did. Sometimes Ann Taylor/ LOFT does me well, but it depends on the season. The pants are fairly reliable for me but I haven’t tried the dresses. They last pretty well (the pants).

#1 always gets really really depressed trying on Ann Taylor pants because they were not made for her, uh, womanly figure.  Some Loft pants are ok.


Bridesmaid shoes, conferences, and patriarchy

#2 has decided on bridesmaid dresses that have a bit of an Ancient Greek thing going.  There’s probably a lot of that going on in weddings across the country this year given their popularity at David’s Bridal.

While listening to a somewhat dull talk at a recent conference, I noticed these sandals (in black, not tan) on the conference-goer beside me.  They look much better in person than they do on the website.  And they have just that hint of an Ancient Greek thing going on.

“Where did you get those?  They are perfect!” I whispered.

“Teva,” she whispered back.

“NO WAY!” I said quietly, causing the gentleman on my other side to give me a raised eyebrow.  (He then teased me for shoe-shopping during a talk as I looked up the name of the shoe and emailed #2 to make sure the sandal was approved before purchasing.  A few minutes later I suggested that perhaps that email he was writing was not about how exciting the talk was.  It wasn’t.)

The next day as I told my former seat-mate that I’d purchased her shoes for the wedding, the woman she’d been talking to looked down and said they were awesome shoes and she wanted them too.  Where did she get them?



After we had a brief discussion of their comfort and elegance, she wrote down the exact name of the shoe for later purchase.

As I related this conversation to DH, my oldest asked why these shoes being Tevas had produced such surprise.

Well, I explained, the patriarchy makes it difficult for women to wear the same kinds of shoes as men without facing social disapprobation.  With women’s shoes, usually shoes are either comfortable or they’re fashionable but not both.  Teva is a brand that is known for being extremely comfortable, but not something you can wear to work or a wedding.  They mostly make hiking sandals.

With women’s shoes, the holy grail is elegant shoes that don’t hurt a person’s feet.  When such an impossibility occurs, it naturally elicits surprise and happiness.

It shouldn’t be that way.  Men and women should both have shoes that are comfortable and attractive.  They should be able to wear the same kinds of shoes.  But society says no.  And society suggests that when it comes to formal or professional wear, only women’s shoes should come in styles that damage a person’s feet.  Stupid patriarchy.

Recommendation for a women’s briefcase?

I asked my sister to get me one for Christmas, but she got me one of those cloth grocery bag things instead (a very nice cloth grocery bag thing from a tourist gift shop in Europe, but definitely not a substitute for something I can both carry work papers in and take to a conference.  I’m sure if I were in a less Boston-y field in terms of formality, it would work except that it’s still too tall.)

I had been using my limited edition Medela bag after DC1 stopped needing it, but that ceased to be limited edition so everybody with kids knows it’s a breast-pump bag now and we’re using it as a diaper bag anyway.

I can’t ask my sister to get me another women’s briefcase because that would be embarrassing for everybody.  And I really shouldn’t put it on my Amazon wish-list either because she would know.  That means I have to buy my own.  (I’ll just have to be careful that she doesn’t see the one she got me getting groceries.)

I’m looking to spend under $150, preferably $120 or less.

Does anybody have a bag that they absolutely love?  It needs to look professional, fit papers and manilla folders, not be too heavy, be sturdy, not be a PITA to deal with (as in, you don’t have to fiddle with leather straps and buckles every time you want to put something in or take something out), fit under the plane seat in front of me… and probably a bunch of other things I’m not even aware of.  Being able to fit in a laptop is a plus but not a necessity.  Ditto pockets.

Any suggestions?

#2 loves this one, and for a couple of years was the only person in town with it, but now the local Macy’s has it and so does everyone else.  It has inspired much covetousness from others.  Mine’s brown, not black, but it has the same lovely blue interior.  I think maybe they’re only available in black now?  Anyway, it’s been a lovely workhorse.