1 Our Adult Wardrobe | The Billfold

Our Adult Wardrobe

“Bill may have told you that my beloved wife has recently died,” he said at one lunch. “I’m wondering if you would be kind enough to accept one or two new things she had just bought, that I think would probably fit you. I’m afraid she never got to wear them.” A black princess-style coat with a velvet collar from Best & Co. and an astounding blue wool suit by Pauline Trigère both fit perfectly. Until then, most of my clothes were sewn by my mother or by me, and although my mother sewed well and precisely and had taken a tailoring class, she did not line the skirts or put small covered weights in the hems of coats.

It took a few years before I actually dared to wear them.

Mike: So, that’s an excerpt from Diane Johnson’s lovely essay in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine about becoming an adult and acquiring some grown-up clothes that she eventually passed down to her own daughters.

Logan, do you have a similar memory? Acquiring some grown-up clothes that made you feel like an adult when you put them on?

Logan: Haha, um, no. I remember buying some clothes from J. Crew right after I graduated college, some wool pants and nice shirts, for uh, “interviews.” And then later when I worked at J. Crew I bought some silk shirts and some other wool pants and a wool blazer. All that stuff is trashed now. When I first wore it, I felt like a little kid wearing someone else’s clothes. Then I trashed it, and now I feel like a little kid who can’t take care of nice things. And you, Mike Dang?

Mike: For me—and I think maybe this is true for many people—but it was when I went out and bought a suit. It took me a while to figure out that suits were something that I should spend a good amount of money on. I went through so many cheap, ill-fitting suits that I bought for like, $100 in discount stores until I finally bought one really well-made suit that was tailored to fit me and that I could wear for both business occasions and formal occasions like weddings. I could have saved a lot of money just buying the right suit in the first place, but when you’re first starting out and on a budget, you just go with what you can afford. The two suits that I bought while I was a reporter in D.C. were destroyed in one summer’s worth of heat and dry-cleanings.

Logan: Yeah I never bought a suit. Though I do remember in college buying this kind of classic very Jackie-O black velvet—actual velvet, not velour, this is important—dress to wear to a holiday party of a friend who had a real job, and I was like, yes I will spend all this money on this dress because very soon my life will just be, all fancy company holiday parties, all the time. ALAS, I never went to another fancy company holiday party ever again.

Mike: And did you ever wear that dress again? That was another thing I sort of quickly came to discover, which is that the best kinds of grown-up clothes are the ones that don’t go out of style and you can wear over and over again, and maybe pass down to your kid if it’s well-made enough, kind of like what Diane did in her story (even though it eventually did go out of style). This could be a suit. This could be a coat. This could be a little black dress. Was your classic Jackie-O black velvet dress that kind of little black dress?

Logan: Uh it could have been if I took care of it maybe? It was also J. Crew. Ha all my “fancy” clothes are J. Crew. That’s as fancy as I get. No fancier! I wrote it to New Year’s once or twice I think and always wished I hadn’t. It was classic and beautiful and like, had boning in it? Not whale bones. Plastic. Not my style. Always more comfortable in … literally anything else. Stretch pants.

Mike: I mean, J. Crew can be pretty fancy. Especially since they’ve begun to carry other fancy brands? Hah, I just took a minute to read this post saying that J. Crew was thinking about making sure their prices are fairer in 2014, but that it doesn’t mean lower prices—just trying to explain to customers why things cost they way they do. Anyway! I guess we’re lucky in that we don’t have jobs that require us to dress so formally. It reminds me of that episode of Downton Abbey where Robert wears a tuxedo, and is told it’s not formal enough (white tie was?).

Logan: Watching period dramas is actually the only time when I wish I dressed fancy. Everyone looks so damn good!

Mike: Although in real life, we’d be working downstairs anyway. But even everyone downstairs dresses pretty formally!



12 Comments / Post A Comment

MissMushkila (#1,044)

Oh man. I started teaching hs as a senior in college, and I wore ALL THE SUITS. I was very good at finding deals at second-hand stores, and so that is where all of my quality adult clothing came from; I dressed pretty formally and conservatively at work. My principal had a banner over his office that said “Dress for Success”.

Then I quit teaching and moved into the tech industry, and I either work at home or in a two-person office. I didn’t realize how restrained I felt by my business clothes. I am like “I CAN WEAR WHATEVER – ALL THE RED LIPSTICK AND BADASS BOOTS PLEAZE!!!” This was an unanticipated benefit of my new job. I feel like clothing and makeup are fun again, and I don’t worry about 18 year old boys checking out my butt if I wear jeans.

readyornot (#816)

i look forward to reading this diane johnson piece! i bought an ivory wool suit from the fancy line at Banana post-college on the recommendation of an instyle feature, still have it and wore it recently.

it wasn’t my first suit, though. so…i was a nerd in high school who went to model united nations conferences. because those things are totally scene-y and also maybe a little bit elitist they require buying enough business wear for four days per conference. so my first suit was purchased with my mom and grandmother at the mall, and each year of high school i got at least one new piece. but those trips required so many calculations: how many times can i wear this piece in one conference? is there seam allowance if my boobs grow? etc. some of the items got totally dated. but my mom and grandmother have sharp eyes for tailoring and def. always wanted their offspring to look perfect, so some were pretty classic looks. it did feel like parents’ clothes a little bit, but maybe less by the time i was actually working?

mike i am so jealous of the versatility of men’s clothing for social and business occasions! as a person who does have to go to black-tie holiday office parties (and sometimes weddings), i kind of resent the mercurial and yet totally strict norms for women’s formal wear. i dealt with it in not the best way for a while: fashion district (potentially unfair labor practice) gowns, rewearing dresses until my mom said they showed up too many times on facebook. i have since relented and gotten some banging gowns, but it seems like such a waste! meanwhile my husband wears the same, gorgeous, high-quality tuxedo to everything.

moreadventurous (#4,956)

@readyornot I too did nerdy MUN in high school! I had this one great pencil skirt and some ridiculous “power” heels I wore. By the end of college when I actually might have used the clothes again, the pencil skirt was too big/generally awkward fitting and the shoes were too ridiculous to use. I do still have one sharp blazer from those days! I did have a suit too, but it was not very nice and I mostly felt like I was playing dress up in it.

In my professional career, my work places have all been very casual. I tend to wear dresses and cardigans or jeans and nice-ish blouses. Not so different from my day to day.

Also, can I say I’m super jealous that you get to go to tuxedo-fancy events!

readyornot (#816)

@moreadventurous MUN nerds represent!

I wrote another comment but the system ate it, and I think the gist was these black-tie work parties are nothing to be jealous of. Lots of chit chat small talk, lots of long speeches, some moderate I-can’t-believe-you-said-that-we’re-in-the-21st century-here. I mean, sometimes there’s some carousing (elegantly, of course) with friends our own age, but it really is a mixed bag. You can have just as much fun with a bottle of cheap bubbly and a stoop.

yttri (#1,658)

I bought a lot of business-y clothing for my first job because that’s what I thought people did. But I didn’t do a lot of client-facing things, mostly research. I did dress pretty sharp for two years, even on Fridays. Now it is Friday and I am in black jeans and a plaid shirt and feeling fine.

ceereelyo (#3,552)

My first job out of college was a start-up so I never had any adult clothing. Then next job was at a Kate Spade boutique, so I kind of got adult clothes, in the sense that I got fancy clothes (at a discount). I have gotten a lot of mileage out of them, including several pairs of shoes that are pretty solid.

Now I have a corporate job, but we are pretty business casual – no suits and casual Fridays, and the closest thing I had to a suit was a kind of similar skirt and blazer (also known as party blazer when worn with jeans and non-work appropriate dress). I’ve invested in four pencil skirts last fall and a pair of pants that I kind of just rotate with several J. Crew Tippi sweaters, cardigans, and accessories. Along with some other dresses I just rotate so it’s easy to pick out what to wear. I like clothes, but now I realize that I don’t need a whole bunch, especially for work. I buy good quality pieces that are versatile, and own a lot of the same thing in several colors so I can just mix and match. By good quality I mean J. Crew really, with like maybe some pieces from Nordstrom? I still don’t have a suit, oh well.

Beaks (#3,488)

I worked at Ann Taylor Loft in high school, so I basically built an entire business casual wardrobe on an employee discount. Picked up some formal businesswear doing DECA in highschool, but really, outside of interviews my entire working life has been 100% business casual anyways.

allreb (#502)

For me, the only real fancy grown up thing I own is my winter coat. I got my first nice winter coat about five years ago, at Espirit (sob! I miss Espirit, I bought like 85% of my wardrobe there) for about $200 – I had to psych myself up to spend that much on it, but it was gorgeous, super warm, and I always felt awesome wearing it and got a ton of compliments. After four years it was finally a bit too tattered and stained so I retired it and went looking for another amazing coat. This one came from J. Crew this winter, and was $320 (marked down from $400, oy) but I love it and will hopefully also use it for four years.

Other than that, I don’t really have much of anything. A set of pearls that I inherited (from a great-aunt, who passed them to my mom, who left them to me) but I can’t imagine ever wearing them. Clothes wise, my workplace is business casual leaning to casual casual, so nice jeans + cami + cardigan most days (and sometimes, eff it, sneakers, jeans, t-shirt, hoodie), so there hasn’t been much need. My work wardrobe is also my outside of work wardrobe.

Allison (#4,509)

I wear jeans every day that I wear pants to work, but I’m really trying to find nice tops/sweaters/blazers to wear with them. I have like, three sweaters that I love and it’s a struggle to not wear them every day in the winter when cardigans are too thin. Blazers are great though, but I’m really picky. I’m trying out Stitch Fix to see if they can make me a more adult looking person.

I have cute dresses that work too, but skirts are a challenging line to walk between “I don’t hate this/too short for work”.

francesfrances (#1,522)

For me, it’s all about Gap Slim Crop pants, in black. Those are the difference between professional and casual. I can wear whatever on top and with those pants, I feel put together. Buy them on sale, buy them often, go to work.

The biggest shift for me has been suddenly finding H&M and Target pieces very unattractive. There are some good basics, but some of the trendier pieces are made with such terrible fabric. I’m 26, and it was really this year that I started finding things I’d normally buy totally unacceptable.

AlliNYC (#1,725)

I decided back in college that the hallmark of being an Adult with a Real Job was a suit from Benetton. I finally saved up and bought one, wore it once, and now it’s been stashed in the back of my closet for 5 years or so. I don’t think it was that crazy-expensive either, and I should just take it to consignment, but some part of me keeps thinking I’ll need it. (I will not need it.)

guenna77 (#856)

one day i just woke up and realized that slacks had overtaken jeans as my wardrobe staple. i only have a couple pairs of jeans now, but at least 5 pairs of black pants alone, in different cuts and slightly different sizes.

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