Thrifted Should-Have-Been Saturday Dress: How A Lady Professor Ought to be Garbed (by HMK)
What: Stunning vintage black and white dress, via Goodwill
A brief list of things that I hate, when it comes to guidebooks which are intended to tell women how they are “supposed” to dress for any given occasion:
-Everything (I told you it would be brief.)
I really do hate the idea that there is one specific way (or even a small handful of pre-ordained ways) that you are “supposed” to dress for anything, apart from the basic rule of being respectful of your own and other people’s feelings, when considering what you wear out the door. For example, I love the idea of a funeral to which one might wear glitter—I hope that people wear glittery garb to mine, for instance, magpie that I am—but I suppose that it is in general best avoided. And unless invited to do otherwise, I do like the idea of dressing up in suitably festive, celebratory clothes for festive, celebratory occasions. That crank you heard muttering crabbily about the gent who chose to wear a ratty gray T-shirt to the last wedding you intended? That was me.)
But otherwise—rules about what we are supposed to wear seem to hem us in and hamper us in ways which, to me, do not seem terribly productive. I have read more style guides than I can count which have told me not to wear heels (as I am beanpole tall), figure-hugging shirts (as I am Midwestern-fields-flat), or anything of an even-slightly-reddish hue (as I am rather reddish of hair, myself.)
But the thing is, I like heeled shoes, even if they do make me taller than most of the surrounding populace. I like close-fitting shirts, sometimes, even though my dimensions are invariably and unalterably those of a twelve-year-old boy. I like red clothes, even though I am myself a ginger. And I do not like the idea of being told to go against what I naturally and intuitively like, for any (especially, seemingly entirely arbitrary) reason.
The style advice given to Lady Professionals, in particular, always seems to me to be especially fraught. “Highlight your femininity! Wear skirts sometimes! But not too short, you slut! But not that long, either, who are you, Laura Ingalls Wilder? Is there butter somewhere which needs churning that I am unaware of? I don’t currently see any cows around which need milking! So put that bonnet away! Stop dowdying it up! And maybe join the 21st century and try wearing some pants. But not mannish pants, this isn’t the ’80s. No more power suits! But do your pants really have to be THAT tight? Do you really want your employer to be fully aware of your underwear preferences? Try being a lady for a change. But have fun!” Sigh. It all makes me, as so many things in life do, feel rather tired.
As I contemplate the start of a new semester, the question of What to Wear once again begins to take on just such a new significance. Must wear something which is professional, but which expresses personality. Must wear something which I will not have to fret over, in terms of tightness, neckline, hemline, but also something I love. Must wear something which makes me feel authoritative, but which also lets me be comfortable. [Sinks down in front of closet and stares at it, glassy-eyed and baffled.]
Faced with these conundrums, finding a dress like this one feels like a godsend. Its hemline is suitably modest. Once I slap another layer or two under it, the neckline will be, likewise. Its muted colors and flowing fit seem suitably professional. But this is a garment which will also allow me to move, and in which I feel like myself—something in its slouchy ’70s-ness would appeal to me, whether I had designated it for the classroom, or no.
It can be a tricky thing, to be a Lady Professor, sometimes. Thank goodness for dresses which, much as those persnickety style guides might hate them, we can wear, and can love.