The Wagon Whisperer (mech eng, Antonia), was the first to bring my attention to Women In Engineering’s Dress for Success event. I was initially skeptical, mostly because I don’t like being told what to do by other people and that the phrase “dress for success” sets my teeth on edge. Why should women have to dress a certain way to be taken seriously in their workplaces? And who is anyone else to tell me what foodstuff my body most resembles? (In a subsequent conversation Antonia identified herself as a hourglass and decided I was probably a fairy floss – generally round with bumps and stuff in random places, but still pretty sweet!)
But occasionally, very occasionally, I do change my mind. The reality is that women are judged on the way that they look. And I decided that until we conduct job interviews and pay rise discussions using the methodology employed by “reality” television program, The Voice, your appearance will affect your career somewhat. So, I accepted that taking advantage of the advice that is offered is sensible, and not a betrayal to my ideal utopian goals of wearing whatever the heck I want without influencing how others treat me.
There were two sessions on offer, one for recent graduates and students, and one for established professionals. I selected the latter despite being in denial about my ever-increasing age.
Unfortunately, Antonia was unable to make it, but sent graduate Kimmie in her place. Antonia also sent me with instructions to take notes for her. We joked about potential topics of interest:
- High vis contouring to set off the colour of your shirt
- How to avoid hardhat hair
Selecting safety glasses to match your face shape
- How best to wear men’s pants without looking like you’re wearing men’s pants
- Are you a Summer or a Summer? (Summer is the only choice in the Central Queensland coal area)
I arrived a little early, just as the first session was finishing up. The ladies were being addressed by David Jones Stylist, Melody, who just oozed professional style. She actually reminded me a lot of Madame Fleuri from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Their pearls of wisdom are almost indistinguishable!
“The most flattering garment you can ever wear is a suit.” – Melody the Stylist
“You can be married OR buried in a quality suit.” – Madame Fleuri
The Suit Look on Site
Melody recommended trying to keep a “suit look” as much as possible when on site by trying to wear a blazer or a tailored jacket and dark denim jeans. The Trenery chino/jean hybrid was suggested, but I wondered how the fabric composition would affect the safety of the garment.
I suppose it depends on what type of site work one is engaging in and whether not having fire retardant clothing is going to be an issue.
You can also get the pockets of your pants sewn shut to improve the way they sit (but decrease the functionality). It depends where your priorities (and lipgloss) are…
Just as an aside, if you are ever around high voltage switching or somewhere where arc flash could occur, DO NOT wear an underwire bra! This is not usually listed as a safety precaution because the patriachy probably hasn’t considered it because it doesn’t affect them, but if you are caught in an explosion wearing extra metal around your boobs, you will end up with extra metal melted into your boobs. This is probably something to avoid. These are on my shopping list for next site visit.
The Power of Red
One of the ladies posed a question about a “f*ck off” power outfit. Melody said to wear anything with red in it – a red top with a suit or a white shirt with a red scarf or red lipstick.
“It’s funny how red lipstick can make you feel powerful.” – Melody the Stylist
I have never agreed with anything more in my life!
Skirts with Stockings/Pantyhose
Another question from the first group of fashionistas was about the best pieces to wear as a petite woman. The answer was skirts with nude stockings and shoes. Having legs of a different shade to the skirt helps to divide the body more into threes (head and torso, skirt, legs), so the more distinction the better the effect in making you seem more well proportioned. (Apparently, I have been making myself even more dumpier with black stockings for the last 10 years of my life. I think I need to buy some nude shoes!)
After some networking, fancy Schweppes softdrinks and antipasto, we began to discuss skirts again. Melody’s advice was to wear skirts as much as possible because they give the aura of formality more so than pants, which are really for functionality and comfort. And that one should never go to an interview without wearing stockings and without a spare pair in your handbag.
The length of the skirt should be at the centre of the kneecap or a little lower if you are trying to accentuate the awesome slimness of your calves.
Another popular skirt style that was highlighted, especially for more curvaceous ladies, was the Anthea Crawford horizontally stripy stretchy skirt, which is super comfortable and very flattering.
“Makeup is the most important tool for power.” – Melody the Stylist
You don’t want to look like a Kardashian, apparently, but you want to look groomed and fresh.
“The most important thing you can own in your wardrobe is sensible underwear.” – Melody the Stylist
Melody went on to clarify that she didn’t mean the dreaded Bridget Jonesesque shapewear but proper high-waisted cotton briefs like Jockey or Bonds, with coverage to avoid unsightly lines.
This is some really basic but sensible advice, especially for working on site or in the tropics.
On a related note, a change that I personally made in the past few years was switching to stockings from pantyhose. This has greatly improved my life from a women’s health point of view and you can really get a lot of bonus confidence from knowing that you’re wearing kick ass suspenders under your power dress! I recommend to all!
Another engineeress complained that button up shirts always revealed her underwear. Melody’s advice was to take the offending garment to the fitters in the Intimate Apparel department and that they would be able to match the underwear to the shirt.
How to Dress for Summer Without Wearing Too Little
Tips for surviving the commute to work in Summer without showing too much skin include:
- Wearing a short sleeved top which can be handwashed and dries quickly (pictured above)
- Choosing shoes that are only half enclosed
- Selecting clothes made of natural fibers
- Leaving a suit jacket at work that can be put on when clients turn up
In the way that women come in all shapes and sizes, so too do quality suit jackets, we were told. One wants to select a jacket which fits across the shoulders without pulling and that drapes down at the arms, without sticking out.
The length of the jacket is also important. The bottom of the jacket should sit somewhere between the hipbones and the knuckles (when the arms are at rest) and the top button should be below the bust. It seems obvious that some jackets look better than others, but unless you’ve tried different lengths, it is difficult to tell if you really have selected the winner or not.
A jacket with details and cinching at the wait will improve and accentuate the wearer’s waist, if it is located at the correct height.
Another tip was not to unpick the pockets of a jacket unless you absolutely require the functionality. A lot of the time, the sewn pocket will improve the way the jacket falls and as the ex-Hugo Boss now floor sales manager co-presenting with Melody lamented, “they are never the same again” after a pocket is unpicked.
Quality suits in the “lower” price range like Veronika Maine and Perri Cutten are generally made of synthetic fibres and can be handwashed. Higher end ones, like Hugo Boss, will be 100% wool and will breathe infinitely more. Another amazing fact which I definitely did no know was that 100% wool suits are only meant to be dry cleaned once every 6 months! In between, just hang it in the bathroom while you shower to give it a bit of a steam clean, sponge out any lunch crumbs and hang where there is a breeze. And when you are dry cleaning, make sure that all the pieces are cleaned together so that they don’t fade at different rates.
Boss and Saba produce suit pieces of the same fabric year after year, so if you have made a (massive) investment in one of these suits, you can add a piece later that will match.
As much as I was enjoying the session and learning lots of practical and fascinating fashion facts, we snuck out a little early from the presentation because I had a dance class but Melody caught me and gave me her card. It turns out that personal shopping at DJs is a complimentary service and I could make an appointment to come back any time and have Melody dress me properly. Now just to save up for a Boss suit…
As my brother always says, especially when commenting on my credit card debt, this is advice of a general nature and not all products will suit everyone.
Some of us take great pride and joy in selecting outfits which convey our personalities. I, for example, began work in the city with a look I called “eccentric librarian” but now have headed towards the bright bubbliness of “rockabilly corporate” (see photos below). This is definitely a reflection of how I have changed as a person and I love dressing up to express myself this way (I also love taking selfies, evidently).
However, some of us don’t actually care about fashion, and are really just trying not to draw too much negative attention to ourselves while not being too uncomfortable. If this is you, follow Melody’s guidelines and you’ll never go wrong.
But, if you do rock your own look and love it, keep on doing what you’re doing! Because you’ll always look fabulous wearing clothes you love with a confident smile! Saccharinely sentimental but totally true!
Also, a big thank you to Women in Engineering Queensland for organising such an awesome event and generally being so lovely and welcoming!