Monday, October 07, 2013

I get that they’re boring, but why are they sad? In defense of black pants.

A few weeks back, some not-so-sweet young thing over on Business Week had a rant – her word or BW editorial’s -  entitled Ladies, Please Burn Your Black Work Pants.”

Here’s the hortatory opening:

Ladies, take off your pants. Those black, poly-blend, straight-legged slacks you wear to work every day. You know the ones—they gap at the waist and pull at the crotch. They make a distinct scratching sound when you cross and uncross your legs in a meeting. Sometimes they have pleats. Sometimes they have back pockets. Sometimes they have stretch. But they’re never, ever flattering. They’re boring and sad, and they make you look boring and sad, too.

Well, I’ll give Emma Rosenblum that black pants are boring, but why are they sad?

Most of the working women I know who are in the on-beyond-dedicated-follower-of-fashion cohorts (40-something through 60-something) wear black pants to work, if not regularly, then on occasion. Okay, they may not be those scratchy poly ones, but they are, nonetheless, black pants.

For my corhort, we’re not talking women who weekend in outsized Winnie-the-Pooh sweatshirts, or who have a drawer full of mom jeans. We’re talking about reasonably well put together women with good taste who pride themselves on looking, in not cutting-edge, then non-frumpy. They are not the type to appear in a Glamour Don’t with their face blanked out. (Rosenblum came to Business Week from Glamour, where, I suppose, what you wore actually mattered to someone.) My gals are decidedly not past caring, but are decidedly past caring enough about what some young snip thinks about them to race off and “experiment with bright colors and different shapes.”

Admittedly, I’d like to experiment with a different personal shape – oh, those extra 10 lbs! – but even if I managed to shed those surly bonds of weight, I don’t think any of my clients would be jazzed to see me show up in bright colored pants. Not after all those years of acclimating them to black/navy/charcoal/sage pants, often paired with a pretty exciting top, if I do say so myself.  But the last thing that working women of a certain age need is to start experimenting. Just because some arbiter declares elephant bells are back doesn’t make it right.

No, the women I know are focused on work clothing that’s attractive enough, while also functional, practical, and a morning non-decision.

Ladies (and gentlemen), I give you the black pant.

Which Rosenblum snidely characterizes as a “shapeless” blot on the office fashion scene which has, since it became the uniform during the 1990’s, “remained as a particularly determined stain.”

And here’s why women have adopted this “particularly determined stain.”

For many of the women on the early end of my black-pants-wearing cohort, their mornings begin with wrestling their kids into their outfits. As in, yes, Otis, you can choose the orange shirt with the tractor or the Spider Man ensemble, hoping that this little choice ruse will detract little Otis from his original intent, which was to go to pre-K stark naked.

As they age up in the cohort, my gals will look at the price tag – $278 – of the Kate Spade New York Ali Trouser (which “is a less intimidating version of the wide pants seen on the runway”) and decide that the money would be better off going towards the college book bill. As for being “willing to spend more than $500” on Jil Sander, well… That’s the Thanksgiving ticket home. Not that they wouldn’t love a pair of Jil Sander’s trousers. I bought a Jil Sander skirt at Off Fifth in 2001 and it’s still a three-season go-to for me. Still, that’s a lot of loot for a pair of pants.

Take the great leap forward another decade and the women I know are worrying about elder-care for their parents, and don’t really have the time to focus on what they’re wearing to work. They just want to look decent. Not to mention they don’t want to have something so pricey that they’re afraid to get grandkid spit up on it. Plus, both elder parents and grandkids (up to a certain age, I’m afraid) will be happy to see them, no matter what they have on.

Plus, let’s face it, most of us don’t work in a place where we have to be all that fashionista to begin with.

My career’s been in technology, where I’ve always been something of a fashion plate. ‘Nuf said.

“The standard ‘woman’s trouser’ is just depressing,” says Jessica Morgan, one half of style bloggers the Fug Girls. “If you work at a company where you can’t get away with jeans or a leather legging-pant, it’s dark days out there.”

One good thing about high tech, I suppose, is that jeans are pretty much okay. At least on Fridays.

But I don’t see that “it’s dark days” anywhere where you can’t get away with “a leather legging-pant” – which doesn’t sound like anything most of us should be wearing to begin with.

…“it’s hard to concentrate on your work if you are constantly wondering about the status of your pant fit,” says Simon Doonan, the creative ambassador-at-large at Barneys New York.

I must say that, throughout my career, there have been plenty of distractions that kept me from concentrating on the work before me, but “constantly wondering about the status of [my] pant fit” was never one of them.

These days, part of my non-work work entails regularly hanging out at the MGH infusion center. Mostly I wear jeans. Or khakis. But I have been known to wear black pants on occasion. And I suspect that neither my husband nor the chemo nurses have noticed.

While I’m hanging around the MGH infusion center, an old and dear friend is being treated with chemo in Providence.

Her investment for this round was a taupe cashmere track suit which I suspect won’t win any fashion awards, but which sounds exceedingly comfy. And probably looks quite stylin’ when paired with the robin’s egg blue cashmere scarf I sent her to go along with it.

At least she’s not wearing the dreaded black pants! Which is, of course, a lot of what she wears in her real (non-chemo) life.

They may be boring, but I have to say that, once you log much time with cancer patients, you’d hardly characterize black pants as sad…

Ah, to be young and have nothing better to do than rant about what us old ladies wear to work!


Kathleen Rogers said...

What the snip fails to point out that there are a lot of women, old and young, wearing trendy skirts and dresses and, gasp, leather-look leggings who look pretty boring and sad, largely because the clothes don't fit, don't flatter, and scream "fashion victim."

Bernadine said...

Thank you! I'm currently in the "wrestling toddler into anything" stage but I've always been a black pant kind of gal. Even when I could have pulled off a "leather legging-pants" look, I probably wouldn't have.