the big girl’s guide to office appropriate attire;

Yesterday was a Good Day.

I spent the morning at citizenM in Glasgow, getting my head around some of the basics of podcasting courtesy of the Scottish Music Industry Association (SMIA) – and Halina from Podcart, who was sharing her extensive, self-taught knowledge as presenter.

(With this being International Women’s Day, it’s worth pointing out that I’ve been surrounded by more inspirational women than usual this week: I spent Monday evening at the launch of 404 Ink’s Nasty Women anthology, and hearing from those writers – and from Halina – has given me so much motivation to get better at telling my own stories. This is also US publication week for Kaite Welsh’s feminist Victorian crime debut, The Wages of Sin, so you should go order your copy if you’re over there and you haven’t already. End of sidebar.)

The SMIA is, probably obviously, the professional body for the Scottish music industry. I joined at the start of the year, conscious of the fact that I would soon be officially devoting time to my music writing and also because I wanted to get onto the podcasting workshop for free. After the workshop, I stayed back to chat to an SMIA researcher as part of their current work around skills gaps in the creative industry, and to answer some interesting questions about the intersection between my professional qualifications and my arts writing.

Something that comes up fairly often – and is perhaps even more relevant now, as I prepare to go part-time – is: if you could only work in the music industry, then would you? The answer has always been, and still is, a complicated variation on no: I love writing about music, but I also love wrestling with the complex concepts that I handle in my day job and turning them into easy-to-understand, commercially-focused content. Although it’s Budget day, which is traditionally one of the busiest days of the year for me, so maybe don’t tweet me to check between 12:30pm and 6:00pm today.

That’s not to say that working in professional services doesn’t come without its drawbacks, which brings me to the informal project I spent last week working on in response to Lucy Kellaway’s recent Financial Times column on what she calls the rise of the “sexy and super bland” office ‘uniform’.

She begins:

What people wear to work at investment banks, management consultancies and top law firms is ridiculous.

And continues:

No one dares look individual. The only way of standing out is by looking even sleeker and richer than everyone else. These rules apply equally to men and women, only the latter have an additional hurdle to clear. Women must look as sexy as possible without looking tasteless. Sheryl Sandberg has nailed it. Kim Kardashian has not.

My initial response was to mock:

…but I do see where she’s coming from. Not so much in non-client facing, business support roles like mine, but female lawyers are almost always dressed impeccably – even if they’re living off office pizza and basement showers in an attempt to get an all-night corporate transaction through. I think Kellaway’s point is that the competitive performance of it all is a nonsense – but the question, as I see it, is whether in a society that’s quick to judge them on their appearance, the confidence that good tailoring allows you to fake means one less thing to worry about.

The kind of office uniform that Kellaway describes is not an option for me. I am short, and booby, and do not command a six-figure salary. I have flat feet and bad knees, and can’t walk in heels. I have the face of a 15-year-old, and the grey hairs of a maiden aunt. The photograph that appears of me on our corporate website is one of the rare ones in existence in which I am wearing a suit (it’s an M&S Per Una number, and the late great Margo MacDonald told me I looked lovely in it), and I look incredibly awkward. I can’t buy a jacket off the shelf that fastens over my tits if I want it to fit at the shoulders and arms as well. If I wore a suit to work, I’d be so busy feeling self-conscious about the way that I looked that I would never get a thing done.

So, this one’s for Lucy Kellaway: here’s a week in the life of the office uniform of somebody who really works at a top law firm.

The big girl's guide to office appropriate attire: Monday
MONDAY: Pinafore, peonies, mustard-coloured tights

The big girl's guide to office appropriate attire: Tuesday
TUESDAY: Cat print and Converse

The big girl's guide to office appropriate attire: Wednesday
WEDNESDAY: Gym day means top and trousers – boo – jazzed up with pigtails, a choker and gigantic earrings

The big girl's guide to office appropriate attire: Thursday
THURSDAY: The dullest dress I own. Goes well with silver faux-snakeskin boots, apparently

The big girl's guide to office appropriate attire: Friday
FRIDAY: If you can’t wear a tutu on dress-down day, why even bother getting dressed?

They say you should dress for the job that you want. Apparently, I want to be a children’s entertainer.

Of course, the sad truth is that being taken seriously at work requires a certain degree of performance, so please don’t take the above as an indication that I would show up to an event or travel on business with cats on my dress and flowers in my hair. Dressing in a way that reflects my personality cheers me up though, which is in itself a guarantee that I will be more productive.

While on the subject of office attire though: I’ve been chatting this week with Scottish-born inventor Iain Begg, who is currently trying to fund production of a first run of his very clever business travel-friendly cabin bag via Kickstarter. The patent-pending handle of the Bizhop #HangerHandle case folds out into the perfect coathanger, saving your freshly dry-cleaned suit jacket from sliding onto the dubious ground of an airport terminal on the redeye home. The case itself is designed so you can easily access your laptop, toiletries and everything else you need to remove at security – and it won’t fall over even once you’ve opened it.

(This isn’t a paid promotion by the way: I genuinely think Iain’s idea is great and while I can’t afford to pledge for the case right now, I’ve chucked a few quid into the pot and really hope it goes into production.)

So that’s a week in the life of my work wardrobe. Where do you pick up your office-appropriate attire?



  1. Jenny
    March 8, 2017 / 10:09 am

    I love this! I might do something like this one week! X

    • March 8, 2017 / 11:40 am

      I actually thought of you when I was doing it! x

      • Jenny
        March 14, 2017 / 5:22 pm

        oooh shucks!

  2. Lisa-Marie Hughes
    March 9, 2017 / 11:41 am

    So. My job is office based but also practical, as you know. My clothes are always – leggings, smartish skater dress, cardigan, cons or chunky boots and a cardi. Plus belt, big necklace,studs and a giant scarf. I keep a blazer and smart flats at work incase i get called to a serious meeting, but basically i look the same at work as i do out of it! I get most of my dresses from DP, leggings and blazers and cardis from M&S. Jewellery from AW THE SHOPS.

    • March 9, 2017 / 12:37 pm

      YES! I do have a slight wardrobe division between “stuff I will wear at work”, “stuff I will wear at weekends” and “stuff I wear for parties” – but there’s a fair amount of crossover… x

  3. March 9, 2017 / 12:25 pm

    I wear a tulle skirts in the office every damn chance I get! My favourite is a lemon yellow skirt from ModCloth years ago. Also, lovin’ the silver booties – very cute!

    • March 9, 2017 / 12:50 pm

      SEVEN POUNDS in the Topshop sale!

      A lemon yellow tulle skirt is the dream. I didn’t know it WAS the dream until now, so thank you 🙂 x