I do have jackets that get me dressed. Not flocks of them. They do not swoop from my closet like swallows leaving a barn. No flights of fancy. But I have all I need. Which is to say, two.
The first I bought 10 years ago. I had gone back to full-time work in 1997, after a few years as a stay-at-home mom, and then a few more years working part-time. By 1998 Silicon Valley was flushed and feverish. Money was pouring into our coffers from optimistic and fool-hardy investors. I was at Sun Microsystems. We made servers. The providers of Internet infrastructure bought servers. We were flush, as I said. The dot.com crash of 2000 was waiting just over the horizon, but we pretended not to know.
I got a bonus. My first non-sales bonus ever. Not banker-scale, but enough that I couldn’t spend it all in one try. Enough that I was, to my way of thinking, justified in buying myself something significant. So I did.
I wear it to this day. It’s gotten too old to take me into corporate battle completely confident. Too many threads escaping. But give me a pair of jeans and a t-shirt? Or a lace tunic and my son’s graduation? All set. I don’t think I need to explain why this works as a statement piece, but I might be wrong. That’s always possible. I don’t mind being told so. Could the best part be the little gray chain that weights the hem? Always possible.
The second jacket is less photogenic. It’s made of stretch wool, so, lacking a person inside, looks rather like a rag on the hanger. I promise, it’s perfect on a body.
It was made by the inimitable Mr. Armani. Qualifies for statement status because, a) the stretch wool helps in the wearing-a-jacket-but-looking-like-a-girl process b) the apparent crinkled messes around the neckline and hem are actually discrete ruffles c) this is the fabric.
Last year we had as a client one of the best-known institutions on Wall Street. I’d been working in the California casual culture for years. My Chanel retired from battle, I needed clothes that could take me to New York with my mental and emotional capacity intact. I wore this jacket, wide-ish legged navy blue linen pants, a striped, fitted, Brooks Brothers button down, pearls, more pearls, and a Rolex Cellini man’s watch. I felt my clothes were telling everyone I was secure, conservative but stylish, a person with stature – whether of course all that was true or not. I felt no anxiety about my clothes or what they said. Which was good, as there was more than enough anxiety to go around in the commercial situation. Work is like that, at a certain level.
The value of clothing, in my opinion, depends on what gets done in the wearing. How your clothes support you in what matters. Of course, sometimes you may need to do some dancing, or some glittering, or some flashing of colored feathers. But sometimes you need only to get through the day unscathed.
My statement pieces have helped me more often in battle than in recreation. When I’m playing I am mostly content to look like me. Occasionally too content, perhaps. But then I’m 52. It’s about time. I’m passing on the baton, along with what I know about baton twirling.*
*Yes, I know that the idiom, passing on the baton, refers to relay racing. I think it’s fitting to think of working women twirling the baton and racing all at once.