Thursday, February 18, 2010

All The Working Days Of Navy Blue

I've worn a lot of navy over the years. Especially at work. I'm blonde and blue-eyed so I look best in blues. And pinks, but pink would have been troublesome at work. Although I did wear a killer, blindingly pink, linen blazer during my first pregnancy. But I digress.

Navy. The meaning and story of navy.

I went to business school in the early 1980s, having previously worked for a) Cameron Mackintosh Productions in London b) Circle Repertory Theater in New York c) a consulting company run by a former McKinsey partner who used primal therapy techniques in corporate strategy sessions. This is all true.

Upon graduation, I took a job with Air Products and Chemicals, located in Macungie, Pennsylvania. Outside of Allentown, in case you are not familiar with the booming metropolis of Macungie. There were very few women in the company, excepting secretaries. One might imagine my astonishment at the culture of large corporations, what with the academic family and theater background. It was rather like emerging, blinking, onto an African veldt, following a long Finnish childhood.

We all wore skirted suits to work. I tried to buy one that was navy blue. Fail, as they say. I came home with a grotesquerie in heathered blue. Can we all shout, "Dowdy!" loud and proud? The day I wore that suit with a blue shirt and a red tie was the day I found myself dressed like 3 men in my department, and the day I vowed never to repeat the ensemble. The day Finance sent us a missive jokingly asking why the women in corporate strategy were all so flat-chested was probably the day I decided to get out of headquarters as soon as I could.

I moved from Macungie back to California. Out of corporate strategy and into sales. Where what mattered was results. And I sold well. Largely due to my enormous terror at the prospect of failing. I would come home from a day of cold calls, and lie, stunned, on the sofa, eating M&Ms, hoping to recover. I turned 30 round about the time it dawned on me that while I could sell, I had no hope whatsoever of lasting in the profession. For my 30th birthday I bought myself a dress. A broad-shouldered, wide-belted, 1980's, navy blue shirtdress. I felt so powerful, like I was making a statement about conformity, achievement and self-confidence. I was a child. But a child in a blue dress that was telling me the truth.

I got pregnant. Goodbye wide belt. Nice to have met you. I gave birth to my daughter. I quit work. I gave birth to my son. I stayed home for a few more years. I returned to work, consulting. And suddenly I was in front of groups of adults, telling them what to do.

I bought a navy blue suit, needless to say. Pants, this time. Ever since I had been introduced to the corporate VP as a leading sales rep, only to have him pay more attention to my legs than my handshake, I had worn mostly pants to work. I earned that right. To this day, the suit of my late 30's remains one of my favorite pieces of clothing of all time. Vestimenta, no longer in business. Man's tailoring, but the fabric was a fabulous crepe-ish kind of wool. Draped just so. Worn with a white button-front, and delicate black Ferragamo loafers. I felt impeccable, credentialed. I took a job at Sun Microsystems, where I swam with real corporate sharks for the first time. Rode a private jet to Europe with a mad German entrepreneur. And on to a when all around were losing their minds and millions of dollars of venture capital. Those were the days.

I spent a non-navy year at the If I remember, I wore wide-legged, low-waisted brown corduroys and outre shirts. It's all about context. They made me VP.

In my last job, the one where I had to spend time in New York managing large, argumentative, financial institution accounts, I bought my last navy work outfit. By now the arguers were also women. By now I was 50. By now I knew what I could do well, and where my shortcomings lay. I bought a knit, but structured, Armani jacket, and wide-legged navy blue linen trousers. Fit conservative parameters, just. Some ruffle, some flow. Worn with quilted black Manolo flats. You walk around a lot in New York City.

These days, as I continue my job hunt, I'm still in navy, if we count jeans. Let's count jeans. Looks like I may have the opportunity to work in a startup with a technical colleague. A technical colleague whom I like and respect. At a pace which allows me to keep blogging. We shall see.

Being in one's 50s isn't so bad, if you've managed to pick up enough experience to become useful. I don't know if I've really needed to worry so much about what I wear, but given my upbringing, it was unavoidable. There's no way to predict, at 22, exactly what will happen over the next 30 years. No point at 53, in chastising your younger self for missteps, bad suits, naivete. The only absolute I know is that you have to pay attention. Things reveal their meaning later, and if you haven't paid attention, your chance to understand is lost forever.

*I've told much of this before, here and there, with less detail. Just seemed to warrant a retelling. When you're older, you often appreciate a retell. But twice is enough, I promise.

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Blogger Patsy said...

While I enjoyed the entire retelling, this is my favorite part: At a pace which allows me to keep blogging.

February 18, 2010 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Whatever color you choose to drape yourself in, (says the owner of a vast sea of navy), we will gladly follow along. Best of luck to you in the new enterprise if that is where you decide to go. And the re-telling was just as good as the first time around.

February 18, 2010 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger Coryanne Ettiene | Kitchen Living with Coryanne said...

I enjoyed your story of Navy, it was my first time reading it. I too had a Navy dress with a wide belt, I loved it, I felt grown up in it. My navy these days is limited to jeans, I used to avoid them but these days I embrace them.

February 18, 2010 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Miss Cavendish said...

Love hearing about your career. And I wear navy often too. I don't like black on me (blonde, blue-eyed also)--and I do indeed wear navy shoes. My favorite are from Joan and David and are called "Gatsby." (You get the picture, no?)

February 18, 2010 at 3:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I could hear it again.
I need more details on the primal therapy techniques in your strategy sessions-

emerging blinking- I love that

February 18, 2010 at 3:04 PM  
Blogger Susan B said...

I really enjoyed reading this bit of persona-history-through-costume. Good luck with the new opportunity!

Oh, and you've inspired me to delve into my own ambivalent relationship with navy. The fun begins tomorrow.

February 18, 2010 at 4:01 PM  
Blogger Susan B said...

"persona" = "personal"

February 18, 2010 at 4:01 PM  
Blogger LPC said...

Oh you guys are so nice to me. I appreciate it. Deja, I look forward to your musings on navy. I imagine they will be rich.

February 18, 2010 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Good luck on that start up...glad to hear that you'll be able to continue amusing and enlightening us in the blogosphere.
What handbag will you carry with your trusted Navy outfits?

February 18, 2010 at 5:17 PM  
Blogger MJC said...

I promise to pay attention. Great story and best wishes with the job opportunity!

February 18, 2010 at 6:35 PM  
Blogger Buckeroomama said...

All the best with this new venture.

As I was reading about your suits of choice from your working days, I was looking back at mine and realized that I have but one navy suit... The rest were mostly black, a charcoal gray one, a couple in shades of brown/beige. And I wore all with pants.

February 18, 2010 at 6:49 PM  
Blogger Maureen@IslandRoar said...

I ALWAYS appreciate a re-tell! And I love when you describe your outfits. I am a sponge with these types of things. A start-up? Sounds exciting, but I'm glad you'll still be able to shower us with your words of wisdom.
(Primal therapy in the corporate world??)

February 18, 2010 at 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Lindy said...

I love navy and admit that I love navy shoes... but only if they are very dark. It seems that one of the theme's of your blog is how to look sophisticated without being too matchy-matchy. (Navy suit with navy shoes??; pearl strand with pearl studs??) Matching is easier for me, yet I know it is passee. I so appreciate the options you present.

February 18, 2010 at 8:26 PM  
Blogger QueenBeeSwain said...

perfection and you've inspired me to buy my next suit in navy and get in touch with my blondeness and blue eyes and channel some of your tenacity!


February 19, 2010 at 4:46 AM  
Blogger materfamilias said...

I've never spent time in the corporate culture and I imagine the challenges are many, but I can't help being a bit envious of the opportunities for power-dressing. I have one suit (navy, fine wool, pants) that I should replace except that I know I'd wear its replacement perhaps four times a year -- IF I forced myself and was willing to do the sore thumb thing. So I loved this peek in the window! Good luck with whatever new enterprise you take on, but do, please, keep blogging.

February 19, 2010 at 6:50 AM  
Blogger Victoria said...

A little off topic but you've been so nice about answering questions that I thought I'd chance it.

I work in a law office with a formal dress code 4/week = suits. Not only is finding a decently conservative but good looking suit a nightmare but to my horror my beautiful perfect suit (the one out of four that makes me feel confident) is looking ... very ill after about six months. Is there any secret to finding good quality long wearing suits? I can't buy a suit every six months!

February 19, 2010 at 6:57 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

Thanks all for the good wishes. Victoria, the best way I know is to make sure the suit is made of a quality fabric from a good mill. It should include wool, for durability. Ask your salesperson, where does this line get its fabrics from? Italy is always a good answer, but not always sufficient. I have a pair of twill Armani pants that is pilling after only a year or two. You ought to be able to get way more than 6 months out of a suit in rotation with 3 others.

February 19, 2010 at 7:21 AM  
Blogger the gold digger said...

OK you must know my husband's friend Gary at Sun, also a VP. I do hope he is not the reason you are no longer working there.

PS Why would you not use your legs as a weapon? I am truly curious about this. Do you see femininity as a disadvantage in the workplace? What are your thoughts? I would like to know if you would like to share.

February 19, 2010 at 7:31 AM  
Blogger lauren said...

i am solidly behind both liking and respecting one's future colleagues and working at a pace that accommodates blogging. onward! upward! burt ward!

February 19, 2010 at 10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhhh.....Macungie! I loved growing up in that small, quaint Pennsylvania town. I lived there for 11 years - more years ago than I would like to admit.

February 19, 2010 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger myletterstoemily said...

i loved your 'navy diaries' like i have all your posts.

was telling a friend yesterday how much your blog
helped me on the navy suit/black shoes issue.

i am a corporate wife and still do not have a great
deal of fashion confidence. am gaining some from


February 19, 2010 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Anastasia Schembri said...

I love navy, especially on blonds. Great post, and you may retell your stories as often as you like, we love hearing them.
Have a great weekend!

February 19, 2010 at 2:18 PM  
Blogger Victoria said...

Thank you!
It is a big frustration to have no guarantee of quality for expensive items when expensive items are in your budget but only just.

February 19, 2010 at 2:18 PM  
Blogger La Belette Rouge said...

My FAVORITE line of this wonderful post: "I'm still in navy, if we count jeans. Let's count jeans. " You have such a wonderful style in both your dress and your writing.

February 19, 2010 at 10:25 PM  
Blogger mette said...

Hi LPC-Surprise, please come visit my blog!

February 20, 2010 at 2:26 AM  
Blogger Maria | Vintage Simple said...

I will always read your tellings and re-tellings, dear. So glad jeans count as navy! That's good news for me. And I'm excited for you about the startup, Lisa. That's wonderful news.


February 20, 2010 at 4:51 AM  

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