This is not about perfume.
Last week I landed a job on short notice. They wanted me to start immediately and I was ready to go. All I needed was a uniform.
I’m in the DC metro area, working in a conservative industry. It is not in any way a casual-dress environment. But I’m in a “creative” position – DC creative, not NY or LA creative, mind you. For many women in my position in this city, the default uniform is a suit, the ladies’ equivalent of a men’s suit.
I’m not knocking the suit. Lots of women rock a suit and look fabulous. But for me … I’m on the small side, and I tend to think a suit makes me look like a little boy. When I see the wrong, boring suit on very small women, I don’t think power, I think, boys’ department at Brooks Brothers. Plus, you have to pick out a blouse, and frankly that all seems like too much work.
When I looked at the very small array of interview clothing I’d assembled, the two outfits I turned to again and again were wool sheath dresses from Talbots, one black and one navy. Laugh all you want, but a well-tailored, lined sheath dress is as comfortable as a pair of pajamas and requires just as much thought. Pull on some tights, add shoes or boots, some statement jewelry and a jacket, and you’re done.
I was standing at Talbots in Friendship Heights when their doors opened, and to my delight they were having their annual 70% – 80% off winter sale. I found a great SA, Karla, explained my situation, told her what I had in terms of ancillary items, and stripped down in the dressing room. She did all the legwork and two hours later I left with seven dresses and three jackets at deep, deep discount. A uniform.
A good SA is worth her/his weight in gold. Depending on the cut, darts, and fabric stretch, I’m either a size 4 or a 6, and either petite or regular. Karla, who’s built nothing like me, knew how everything would fit, and she gathered up all the right sizes and colors. We settled on black, navy, gray, red, and a hint of brown.
From there it was the mad dash to Nordstrom, because for whatever reason Talbots didn’t have any hosiery in my size, and Nordstrom is great for that. Once again I hit pay-dirt in the SA department. Ariel was new and young enough to be my daughter. I told her what I had in terms of clothing and shoes, what I thought I needed, and off we went – pantyhose, dress socks, etc. Then she looked at me speculatively and said, there are a couple of pairs of boots down in the junior department I think you should take a look at. The first pair was much too big in the calf (a perennial problem for me), but the second pair, kind of an edgy-but-not-too-edgy black motocross boot knockoff, was perfect, so I bought those too.
The result? An easy to wear ensemble, all pieces matching, with a little kick by local standards.
The makeup routine is a uniform as well. I pulled out my “daily” makeup from my copious stash and it lives on the counter. After dabbing on jojoba oil I put on my tinted, high-SPF sunblock from my dermatologist (yes, my skin really is that dry.) On my eyes: Bobbi Brown long-wearing cream shadow in Slate, with a touch of dark eyeliner (Laura Mercier Black Violet pencil, or one of the Bobbi gel liners). On my cheeks: the discontinued and much-coveted MAC Strada, a tip from Gina the makeup artist who comments here. It’s a no-color color that gives definition without orange or pink. The lips are where I play – bright red, fuchsia, or soft pink, depending on the outfit. The nails are short and either red (loving the deep red of OPI Malaga Wine) or greige. With a coat of Seche Vite on top, my mani lasts a whole week, and believe me, my hands take a beating.
A plug for the cheap-jewelry department: I’ve always been a high-low person. If everything’s expensive it looks like you’re trying too hard. Some of the most fabulous “statement” jewelry I own comes from …. are you ready? Forever 21, Laila Rowe, Charlotte Russe, and similar mall-rat teen stores. I have a chunky brown “quartz” Lucite necklace I get compliments on all the time, and a red cut “crystal” glass ring I paid five bucks for at Laila Rowe, and which I’ve had women offer to buy right off my hand more than once. I love a big ring, or a big necklace, and once a week I wear the gorgeous silver-ring necklace Louise and Angie from NST made me buy in Paris after I went and visited it at the shop every day. They said, buy the damn thing already. I thought I would regret it. I haven’t.
Finally, let’s sneak some perfume in. That’s part of my uniform too. I wanted an office-friendly scent I didn’t have to think about. I considered my beloved Goutal Mandragore. I have enough bottles now I could leave one in my car, at the office, and at home, and still have a backup bottle. But I went with a bottle of Chanel No. 19 Poudré. It’s got that classic Chanel thing going on, a little sexy and a little aloof, and it’s a new scent for a new life.
Image: me and my new car, a Nissan Cube, fully loaded. I traded in my gas-guzzling SUV for a commute-friendly vehicle. I’m wearing a black wool Talbots sheath dress, a wool jacket, and the Paris necklace.