“So Last Century”

In an email exchange with the creative fiber artist, designer and blogger Kiwiyarns, I told her that I had decided to never again wear dark business suits: I don’t think they’re flattering, and they make me look as if I’m ready to help someone pick out coffins and burial plots. Her wonderful response was that she thinks suits are “so last century.” I LOVE that phrase and believe she hit the proverbial nail on the head.

So what happened last century? Well, in the U.S., the Civil Rights Act of 1965 made it illegal to discriminate against women in employment. Though women have made inroads in the professional sphere, remember, however, that sphere was designed by and for men. Women are in a playground where they were not involved in making the rules and setting expectations.

Thus while breaking glass ceilings, etc., to be taken seriously women also emulated men: They donned severe business suits, carried briefcases, and “looked serious.” Granted, professional women had to fight to be taken seriously, so this was undoubtedly necessary. I did that (and yes I had pearls too) and so, given the picture above, did U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (the first female president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and later first female mayor of San Francisco), a woman who broke through many glass ceilings. (pic source)

To the left is a picture of Meg Whitman perhaps best known as an ex-CEO of e-Bay and California gubernatorial candidate; she’s now the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. (pic source).

But why are so many powerful, professional women still dressing like men?

Anyone who wants to underestimate either Senator Feinstein or Ms. Whitman – no matter what they’re wearing – does so at their own risk. Granted, Ms. Whitman and Senator Feinstein have age and a lot of education and experience on their sides: It’s a little harder to not take them seriously. Neither is exactly the flirtable, chuck-under-the-chin female. So why stick with serious, uncomfortable business suits?

Don’t get me wrong; I think professional women should look professional – but I think we can do it differently (better?) than men, with a bit of color and flair.

So I’m keeping my dark slacks, skirts and skirts but replacing the jackets with stylish sweater/jackets out of lovely fibers.

Here are the ones I’m working on now. Note: While I’ve provided the Ravelry links, I encourage you to look at the designers’ websites so you can learn more about the designers.

  • Norwegian designer Linda Marveng‘s lovely Dewdrop Shawl Jacket (also available at Ravelry). I’m knitting this out of a wool/silk blend in a very bold blue.
  • Finnish designer Adelheid‘s dramatic Hulda Jacket (also available at Ravelry). I’m knitting this in a blue-green wool/silk blend. (As you can seek, I’m partial to wool and silk!)
  • U.S. designer Julie Weisenberger’s Cocoknits‘ flowing Sofia (also available at Ravelry). For this I’m using a suri alpaca yarn in a deep wine color. I generally shy away from three-quarter length sleeves (memories of being the tallest girl in school whose shirt sleeves were never long enough), still haunt me. So I am going to knit up a pair of long, cabled fingerless gloves called Strong Heart (by Kiwiyarns), probably out of black silk blend.

In my recent stash exploration, I came across a heavily cabled sweater I knit 20 years ago but never finished (it’s missing the buttons!). I knit this out of a beautiful, soft, blood red worsted weight alpaca, but as it’s heavily cabled and alpaca’s not a crisp fiber, the cables flatten out. So I’m going to unravel the whole thing and turn it into another elegant sweater-jacket for business wear. Haven’t decided what to make out of that yet.

I also have my eye on some fulled wool in a rich mulberry color at Britex Fabrics that would look in a Vogue pattern I picked up: V1263. (I think I’d line the jacket though.)

So, fiber artists who are also business people, have you already tossed the severe dark business suits? If you still wear them, do you accessorize with your art/craft and, if so, how?

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Fibers, Knitting, Miscellany, Slow Clothes/Slow Fiber and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to “So Last Century”

  1. Deanne says:

    Very flattering!

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  2. Well, clothing is certainly visual, isn’t it? 🙂 I too go for the sharp/smart/artsy look in business settings. One of my grad students described me as “Bohemian avant garde.” I think that’s flattering, at least in grad seminars! 🙂

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  3. Me too … though it sort of dates me … old enough to be wearing professional attire on both sides of the centuries!

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  4. summerlarson says:

    Love the ” so last century”!

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  5. Deanne says:

    Love that “so last century” thought. I’m not a fibre artist, but a visual artist and also make a living doing websites and that whole spiel (shpiel?). So sometimes I’m in jeans and my “art shoes” (clunky running shoes), sometimes in dressier outfits, but rarely a suit. I don’t feel I can inhabit a suit comfortably somehow. I feel like an impostor wearing one. Although I’ve had a few tailored jackets that worn over a dress feel like they say “sharp/smart and artsy”. Who knows.

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  6. CrochetQueen says:

    Yeah denim to work might be a little too casual, I agree. Slacks would probably be best (but not slacks that match the jacket, haha).

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  7. I LOVE your comment – as do others! 🙂

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  8. I have seen that’s a popular combo – brown and blue, especially got younger women. I wouldn’t wear denim in a professional setting, but I like the idea of dress up of denim casual chic! 🙂

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  9. I find it is difficult to even find wool suits! I am enjoying the Dew Drop pattern and look forward to starting the Hulda too. 🙂

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  10. Yes, I like cardigan sets too. I find they work well on hot sumer days. I have a lot of patterned silk and cotton scarves to wear with the twin sets. But my dark suits … No more. They make me look very severe; people I work with are always shocked if they learn I have a family or own jeans! 🙂

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  11. No one ever appreciates the fact that I wear a skirt to interviews and not a cheap, polyester black trouser suit. You are right but I had not really ‘clicked’ it before, it is dressing like men to be successful like men to do work like men. That doesn’t seem right in this day and age either. I’m looking forward to browsing your pattern selection. Maybe some day we’ll be able to get jobs based on our ability not our clothes. 😉

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  12. Verónica says:

    I like the Hulda jacket. I have not rid myself of the dark suits mostly because I wear them with brightly colored or patterned tops. I also love scarves. I do alot of cardigan sets which seem to work well in the business casual category.

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  13. kiwiyarns says:

    I’m glad you liked my comment. 🙂 I suspect New Zealand is possibly (strangely) ahead of the pack with regard to women’s clothing. Here, women wear very feminine suits (if they do) that do not look like a boxy business suit at all. Mostly they wear the same styles that you’ve pointed out – professional looking, but definitely not a suit. It’s very refreshing, after years of being sandwiched into a suit when I lived overseas. I wear my knits to the office (especially the Autumnal Cardigan by Hannah Fettig and the Drape Front Sweater by Roberta Rosenfeld). My boss likes them!

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  14. CrochetQueen says:

    I’ve never had a complete suit for the reasons you have stated. However, if somebody does have a suit I think the best thing is to break it up. Maybe a brown jacket would look good with a ruffled cream top and dark wash denim. Stuff like that is all over the TV show “What Not To Wear” (at least on the US version) on TLC, and breaking up the suits always looks better than wearing the whole thing at once.

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  15. Knit for You says:

    I like clothes that don’t hug the body like the styles I mentioned in your samples. Great post!

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  16. Perhaps we’ve just put in our dues, as it were, and are tired of wearing boring work clothes clothes! 🙂

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  17. I agree; it is a hard call. And I would guess that younger/less experienced/less educated women would need to purposely dress in a way that says “I am a person to take seriously!”

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  18. Ahhh, I have always loved the way Eileen Fisher’s style looks on others, but I have never been able to wear her designs. They are too boxy on me. 😦

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  19. Knit for You says:

    Thank you! I love the Hulda Jacket, Veronika and Brigitta. I also like Eileen Fisher’s style clothing.

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  20. Great post. Hard call though. I think some jobs require suits and women haven’t shattered the glass ceiling enough in many professions to be taken seriously unless they dress the part. But for sure Michelle Obama is leading the way — serious and smart doesn’t mean not feminine.
    Love your patterns! Happy knitting!

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  21. Curls & Q says:

    Is it because we’re both of Norwegian heritage? Every sweater pattern is the exact type of sweater I like. I love the loose, shawl-looking collar. Love it!

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  22. True – very different styles between Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton! There’s always more leeway with First Ladies in the U.S., and some have been quite the fashionistas, such as Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Dolly Madison and Edith Wilson. Others were not, such as Mamie Eisenhower, Barbara Bush and Lucy Hayes. (Mrs. Bush was criticized for looking frumpy, Mrs. Hayes was called “Lemonade Lucy,” and Mrs. Eisenhower was known for her bangs and wearing pink.). I think the difference is the First Wives fill a role designed specifically for women: married to the president. (Mrs. Clinton used her own name (Rodham), until her husband was running for president.) Thus there is (a ridiculous amount of) media attention to their dress (sadly). This is much different than women who carve out a path for themselves, for example, in elected office, business, higher education or medicine.

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  23. Thank you for reading my blog. I should finish your Dew Drop Shawl Jacket soon and look forward to wearing it!

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  24. Tracey says:

    Think about the first ladies Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton (all politics aside). Mrs. Clinton wore pantsuits all the time, Mrs. Obama always wears a dress. Both were/are taken quite seriously in their work as Presidential wives, and both did/are doing so in totally different kinds of outfits. I agree that women’s suits are indeed last century.

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  25. Thank you for a great post! “So last century” is a great phrase! I believe you still have to wear a dark business suit to be taken seriously as a woman in typically male dominated businesses. But in most businesses today you can wear less formal clothing as still be taken seriously. I have worn my knitted jackets & designs to meetings for years but still have business suits in my wardrobe, not all of them dark, though! Thank you so much for adding links to my blog and my pattern page! 🙂

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