One of the hardest parts about growing up is remembering to dress honestly. Between office dress codes and fashion trends and wanting to fit in to this new adult life I suddenly have, I find myself googling “what to wear to a baby shower” or “fashion etiquette for weddings”, or clicking straight to the “wear to work” section on clothing websites. As much as I love when I manage to get put together like a badass professional lady in the morning or come bouncing in to brunch in a snappy little sundress, I still feel sometimes like I’m playing dress up. It can be fun to pull off, but that’s not always enough to be really fulfilling.
So here’s my own little declaration of independence, my guide for how to work the personal into the professional, to maintain your girlhood even as a grownup. It’s my ode to leather and lace, to the dreamers who offer their lips to wolves with red roses, to death and the maiden, to putting on your very own private cabaret. The two outfits I’ve put together in this post show you can dress for work without leaving your boudoir behind.
Work Outfit: Skirt from Target, blouse from the SWIAW Clothing Swap, outlet mall shoes, grandmother’s pearls
One is made up of all my favorite treasures from the top drawer in my dresser, where fantasy still reigns over practicality. It’s what I wear for absinthe and Tennyson and dancing with my crushes in the living room– Lord Byron and Mr. Rochester and Robert Smith, of course. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be who the Pixies were thinking of when they asked “Is she weird, is she white, is she promised to the night?”
My favorite book of all time is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. One of the passages I remember best is when hero Jonathan Harker is trapped in a pit with three vampire women who “had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips.” He confesses in a letter that “I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.” As soon as I read it at age fourteen, I knew I wanted to be one of them. I knew I wanted to be Morgan le Fey, not Guinevere, and that the ladies to party with were literary bad girls like Lilith, Cristabel, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Lamia, and Mata Hari.
In medieval and Victorian literature, in fin de siècle paintings and classic silent movies, in comic books and album covers, it’s always the vamps who catch my eye. Did you ever notice that Maleficent really rocked her own sense of style in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty? Girlfriend could own a cape and head piece. She had that really awesome cocktail ring to flash around while summoning her pet crow. Aurora needed a pack of bickering fairies to pick out her outfits. Give me Stevie Nicks’ top hat any day over a practical nude pump. No matter how old I get, I still just want to be Rhiannon.
It’s fun to play different roles, and it’s gratifying sometimes to fit in, to prove I can do this whole adult thing. Still, simply getting along can make it harder to stay young, to set your inner Belladonna free. That’s where this trusty go-to work outfit comes in handy, it’s type A and romantic all at once. It’s perfect for days when I need to really need to get my grownup on, but want to undo an extra button after five. Work a little lace into straight laced style. Bring boudoir satin into the board room. Follow the rules, but like any good bad girl, know where to bend and break them.
Rhiannon Outfit: Slip from Free People, corset from a comic book convention, red lace wrap was a gift, glitter platforms from Free People, top hat from Zombi Candi Boutique
At the office, simply be a more subtle version of your after hours self. If anything a little subversion makes you more creative than when you can go all out. It’s fun to play with an established norm– just look at how designers come back to menswear for women season after season, or reinvent floral prints. Sometimes you need to be an adult, and sometimes you need to declare who you really are in your heart of hearts. Sometimes you can do both at the exact same time. Like Eudora Welty said, “All true daring comes from within.” At every opportunity, dress honestly, not appropriately.
Vive la vie boehm,