Working Girls: Dressing For Success When Your Success Starts At Home

For the past few years, I've had what I refer to as a 'business costume.' This is the outfit I don when required to assume a professional appearance - usually a cocktail party where I know everybody else will be coming from an office, but also meetings with parents, lunches at nice places, and trips to business districts. My business costume consists of a tweed sheath dress and a pair of brown pumps, horn-rimmed spectacles and, needless to say, a chignon. It's very Smitty from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and I've always felt that it is a very convincing disguise, and certainly beats the loungewear that serves as my actual work uniform. Of course, my perspective might be skewed: because I come from a long line of creative types who are less than gainfully employed, business costumes are a family necessity. My dad has a mouldering tweed jacket he throws over everything and calls it a day. My mother's costume is particularly pathetic; what she refers to as her "dress sweats" but which are in fact not discernibly different from her everyday fleeces and yoga pants.

As in any grass-is-always-greener scenario, the clear-cut sartorial guidelines of an office often appeal to me. There are so few rules for dressing nowadays that the idea of a formulaic office dress code stands out as a bastion in a world of sartorial anarchy. It's also true that I think I never had to think less about what I wore than during my stint in the corporate world: blouse, pencil skirt and slingback made for a reliable uniform. Plus, having a job makes it way easier to justify buying clothes.

Nowadays it's another matter. It's a cliche that those fortunate enough to work from home (and believe you us, there are trade-offs) do so in pajamas, and like many cliches it's rooted in truth: your fashion standards atrophy as quickly as your social skills. When polled about their at-home workwear, my Jez colleagues mentioned muumuus. Lack of bras also loomed large. (In case you're wondering, Velvet and Built by Wendy were both cited as good 'blogging muumuu' sources.) In my own case, I favor the sort of papery house coat customarily sported by obese Italian matrons over the age of eighty. My source is an ancient shop run by two equally ancient brothers in an Italian section of Brooklyn, and believe you me, on a hot day nothing breathes like a snap-front cotton sack.

However, since starting my guest tenure as a fashion blogger, I have made a conscious effort to bring my game up a bit. It just seems the height of hypocrisy to critique other women's fashions while sporting boxers and my Mr. Met tee. [Let's! Go! Mets! -Ed.] So, I've instituted rules for myself: I must be fully dressed when I start working; be wearing makeup; and, if at all possible, a bra. As to clothing, I still use lounge wear, but it must be one of the new caftans I recently purchased on eBay, or else silk lounging pajamas (okay, polyester children's pjs from Chinatown, but still) or a kimono. And, whenever possible, a turban. If this seems both arbitrary and needlessly vain, let me just say that the self-employed resort to all sorts of peculiarities to get through the day, and dressing like a crazy old woman is mine.

But back to the business costume. I went to a recent college alumni event in my summer business costume (a vintage sharkskin dress, pearls and cream heels) and was approached by an older alumna. "Are you from Staten Island?" she asked me. "Or New Jersey? I only ask because no native New Yorker dresses up that much for work; I figured you were from the outer boroughs." Clearly the costume needs further researching.