Office Attire

Dana, Diane and Donna once inspired me to get dressed in the morning. Walking through Bloomingdale’s, I found myself in their houses—admiring the texture of sweaters, the cut of dresses and the movement of skirts—and daydreaming of wearing their clothes.

Raised in the world of retail, I learned clothing was an extension of personality and my mom was my teacher. Always the trendy fashionista, she never could figure out where I got my conservative ways. During the ‘80s, she sought Norma Kamali’s mod-punk designs while I fell in love with Ralph Lauren’s Polo ponies. Laid-back, retired style reined in my hometown of Palm Springs and dressing up meant wearing your best pair of jeans and a nice shirt. I was introduced to more fashion-forward ways when I attended college in Los Angeles. During these years, I learned that your appearance formulate people’s opinion of you. Quickly I adopted the philosophy that if you wanted to be somewhere in life, you had to dress the part during your journey there. As an intern at a fitness magazine, I was lucky enough to get hand-me-downs from my mother — her Dana Buchman suits. Dana was the first to teach me what well-made clothes and high-quality fabrics felt like. So as I climbed up the corporate ladder, I craved more and that is when I met Diane von Furstenberg and Donna Karan. These women provided the staples to make my executive style effortless: wrap dresses, beautifully-tailored pants, soft sweaters and richly-colored suits. And I shopped like a costumer or a stylist buying for a particular character whether it was the student, the athlete, the dancer, or the star—the executive.

Now the roles have been stripped away from me and I need to dress me—just Carey. What started as a professional adventure turned into a year-long journey to search for who I am and how that translated to my closet. When I decided that instead of reporting to the office each day I would report to my home office to write, little did I realize I was separating myself from one of my most favorite closets—the executive one. Each night as I tried to fall asleep, its contents would reveal itself in my mind so I could plan the next day’s outfit. I couldn’t fall asleep until my ensemble had been determined. With my new venture, this sequence didn’t work. Imagining T-shirts and jeans wasn’t as fun as arranging outfits for leading a staff meeting, flirting with the cute boy in the office or lunching, although rarely, with the CEO.

Instead of designer duds, my office attire morphed into pajamas and sweats. I was uninspired and my work habits reflected it. The frumpiness had to end and somehow my executive character needed to re-emerge only in another form. For a person once defined by clothing, I didn’t know who I was. I’d go to the mall to seek the answers. Wandering its halls, my soul craved the clean lines and beautiful fabrics of Theory, as well as the fun whimsical illustrations of Custo Barcelona. Instead I picked up the T-shirts of my boyfriends: Michael Stars, James Perse and Vince.

After months of wearing jeans, T-shirts and flip flops, I felt like everyone else. Getting dressed no longer was a creative endeavor. It was time to find my style.
So I fled. Normally, when dealing with a bad situation, I flee the scene to gain insight and in this case the farther the better. This Angeleno left the laid-back style of the left coast to seek refuge in the style capital she only dreamt and read about—New York City. Decked out in cargos and cross-trainers, I explored Fifth Avenue. It was within Henri Bendel that I found a style labyrinth—a great circular staircase that weaved through floors of clothing and accessories.

With each step and every floor, I studied the clothes. I gravitated towards T-shirts and tanks, but also to pants with interesting design elements and skirts with fluid styling. But I found myself asking, “Where would I wear this?” I was dejected. All of the clothing I loved would be wasted in my home office. I left New York with four pairs of shoes, two messenger bags, a T21 skirt, a Kenneth Cole T-shirt and feeling no closer to creating a clothing identity. One thing did occur: I remained true to my unrelenting shoe fetish that began as a young girl.

After my east coast adventure, shopping depressed me. Even looking at shoes became uninspiring after awhile. I started wearing bracelets collected during my travels. And as I tired of them I started to seek more. To me, jewelry is wearable art and each piece has its own personality—whether designed in Jamaica or Santa Monica. I started to realize that just putting on a bracelet, transformed my white tank and jeans uniform.

During one of my mother’s visits, we went on her ritual Nordstrom pilgrimage. While looking through a rack of T-shirts, I found a chocolate brown one, the perfect Hershey color, and exactly what my closet needed. It was the last one and it was my size. While I lamented about how I couldn’t but another T-shirt, my mother stopped me and said: “Your style is T-shirts and jeans. You need to realize how you wear them is your signature.”

It took her to vocalize what was right in front of me to realize that I had been styling the character of Carey all along. I had been trying to cast myself as the fictional, trendsetting writer Carrie Bradshaw when my personality didn’t fit that role. That day standing in the TBD department of Nordstrom, I came to terms with my white tank top and jeans way while my shoe obsession and jewelry collection served as my mark.

Today, my closet is full of white tanks, jeans, shoes and jewelry. I can accept that my style is straightforward and that the occasional appearance of a Custo Barcelona turtleneck is not wasted in my home office because it inspires me. I accepted my relationship with Michael, James and Vince and even made a new friend, Classic Girl, who fits me to a tee.

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Office Attire

4 thoughts on “Office Attire

  1. Mo says:

    I love this post. When you and I first worked together I was still in my business dress mode. Sort of. I had ditched the suits long ago, but made the effort to look professional and pulled together. Gradually, I lapsed back into my jeans and T-shirts uniform. It’s what I’m comfortable in. It’s what I like. And like you, I realized it’s how I wear it that makes it my style.

    Jewelry-wise I usually stick to my wedding ring, small diamond earrings and my Tag watch. Lately, though, I’ve been adding a twist. I’ve discovered big chunky wrist cuffs and multiple necklace strands. I like the funkier version of my uniform. I like I how I feel inspired to take more risks and how it makes me feel more creative. Who knew?!

  2. Sam says:

    You go through stages, though: My friend Kathy still remembers when she visited me in Colorado and all I had was rows of long-sleeved white shirts and tan pants, and a rotation of ties and sweater vests…

  3. Well, the dress code in Phoenix is a bit different than Colorado. But I do agree. When it’s cooler, I tend to wear a scarf around my neck (I did this before it was the cool thing to do. Now it just helps me clean up after Baby A.) Actually, moving to Phoenix has me rethinking my uniforms again. Jeans are harder to wear when it’s over 100 degrees.

  4. Thank you, Mo! That means a lot to me.

    It’s amazing how jewelry (and even a pair of shoes) can inspire. Now the jewelry keeps Baby A occupied when we’re in public places and the way he treats shoes, you would think he is a puppy.

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