If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I had a meeting with a potential new client today. So yesterday, I was somewhat frantically sorting through my wardrobe, trying to find something appropriate to wear.
This is a surprisingly fraught decision.
Unlike my male peers in my particular line of work, I can not just wear khakis and a dress shirt. First of all, khakis are seen as more casual on women than on men. I have several pairs of khakis (my personal favorites are the Broken In Straight Khakis from The Gap), and I frequently wear them when working onsite with a client. They are fine for daily wear in my line of work, but not for a new client meeting. I could possibly get away with black khakis, but only if they were new enough to be unfaded and crisp.
However, my male peers can wear khakis for new client meetings. I know this, because they do it, and they get business. (And hooray for them!)
Then there is the problem of the dress shirt. Given my bra size, I simply cannot buy an off the rack dress shirt and have it fit. It will either be too big around the waist, and therefore look sloppy, or be too tight across the chest, and therefore look awkward, at best.
There is also the question of the degree of formality. One simple solution to the need to look professional is to wear a suit. I like this option, because a suit jacket hides a lot of flaws, including shirts that don't fit completely right. However, in my industry, that is really not done, except for during a full job interview (and even then, it is not necessarily required).
If I had worn a suit today, I would have betrayed a lack of knowledge about the industry. The people I met, it turned out, were wearing jeans or khakis and casual shirts.
So, I needed something professional but not too formal, and I needed a top that would work on my body type (I am a classic hourglass).
Plus I needed to be comfortable, so that I could concentrate on the meeting, and not on my clothing.
And then I needed shoes. They needed to match my outfit and again be professional without being overly formal.
Here's what I came up with:
I am quite happy with the outfit. The skirt came from a Stitch Fix box. I would probably not have picked it for myself, but it is a nice skirt and is very comfortable. The top came from a shop in Wellington, New Zealand. I always do some clothes shopping when I'm in New Zealand, because I find the clothes there are more likely to be cut in a style that flatters a woman of my body type. I don't know why that is. This particular top is from an Australian brand called Veronika Maine. The shoes are a testament to my policy of buying quality: they are Munro pumps that I bought roughly 12 years ago.
The necklace is a strand of silver "pearls" that my husband gave me for our anniversary this year, despite having assured me that the trip to France was our anniversary gift to each other (so I didn't buy him anything).
There is a funny story behind that necklace. It is from Tiffany's, and is the only thing I own from that store. He specifically wanted to get me something from Tiffany's this year because we had recently been reminiscing about the following story:
Back in the early 2000s, when I was working at my second biotech company, a male colleague went to Tiffany's to buy a gift for his girlfriend. The salesperson asked if he wanted it wrapped, and he said yes. Then the salesperson asked what color ribbon he wanted, and he said: "I don't know. What color is the box?"
Several of the women at the office were teasing him about how shocking it was that he didn't know what color the Tiffany's box is, since it is such an iconic thing in the US. So everyone was asked if they knew what color the Tiffany's box is. All of the women did. Not all of the men did.
That night, I went home and asked my then boyfriend if he knew what color the Tiffany's box is. He said: "What's Tiffany's?"
Clearly, I didn't care about this gap in his knowledge, although it did get a good laugh when I mentioned it at work the next day.
And now, almost 15 years later, it is the reason I had the perfect necklace to wear with my outfit today.
The meeting with the potential client went well, by the way. I don't know if it will lead to new work in the short term, but it was a chance to meet some new people, and given the small world nature of my industry, that is always a good thing.