The Millennial’s Guide To The Working Wardrobe (series)
By Yasmin Jones-Henry
While working in internal recruitment I can recall making a very difficult phone call to a candidate explaining that although he had the ‘right’ degree, his relevant work experience was suitable and in his interview he had performed well, the director in question had decided against hiring him, due to the fact he had shown up to the interview with a Japanese style shirt. The director was affronted by the absence of a tie and conventional collar. Yes. Really. It was a major firm in the City of London – so the lack of research in suitable attire was interpreted by the prospective employer as evidence of a laissez-fair attitude that the prospective employer did not want to subsidise.
That incident gave me the early motivation to build @workinfashion.me. I realised my generation in particular were woefully unprepared and under-dressed for the world of work, they would show up to interviews with their degrees and little else. That moment was also critical in my own development as I was able to see what my mother meant when she would send me back upstairs to change in the mornings before school when I was in the sixth form. “You are a brand” – she would say, “what standard do you represent?” – Questions that at 16 seemed cryptic were crystal clear at 22 as I was able to see in real time that viewers made life changing decisions based on a person’s appearance. Is it right? Well that’s for you to decide, but for the present – it’s just the way our society is configured. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the saying: ‘Don’t hate the player, hate the game’ – Well I would alter it to – ‘Don’t hate the game – just win!’
I realised that creating a platform where secrets could be exchanged in surviving the workplace Serengeti was essential. Why should a perfectly capable candidate lose out on a job? Working in a hostile environment I quickly realised as a young female, it was impractical to exert oneself all the time. My wardrobe became a type of armour. It’s called ‘Power dressing’ for a reason. Your wardrobe will speak for you, if you let it.
So, consider this the first in a series of features outlining the key pieces everyone should have in their wardrobe if they have any intention of winning the style game. I believe fashion is whatever you make it. The magazines lied: there is no particular trend that you must follow. Your style is entirely subjective. But like all artists know – just as there are primary colours that form the basis of all compositions, The Power Dresser’s wardrobe contains some key staples that always make an impact.
Part 1: What’s in A White Shirt?
The White Shirt is pure and simple. For an individual who has nothing to prove, the white shirt can be a trusted weapon and reliable staple. In the heat of the summer – a crisp white 100% organic cotton shirt delivers crucial ventilation as well as resolving the eternal summertime dilemma of “How do I look smart and stay cool”. Puff ball or straight sleeved, you can pop your collar and roll up the sleeves – the White Shirt is one of the most interchangeable pieces in any collection. Worn with a suit, pencil skirt, under a shift dress, with Capri pants or with jeans – this item gives diamonds some fierce competition for the position of a ‘girl’s best friend’.
My relationship with the shirt has evolved as I have gotten older. At first – I viewed them with a level of disgust. School shirts, stiff collars. Starch. Uniforms. I didn’t think the shirt would ever be my friend. During my teenage years I avoided it when out of school uniform. T-shirts, slim fit, cap sleeved were my preference in all shades. By the age of 16, as sixth form beckoned I was glad to be rid of shirts, irons and starch. Until one day, I came home from school and a new freshly pressed William Hunt shirt hung on the front of my wardrobe. It had been bought by father as a gift for my new sixth form wardrobe. We were allowed to wear our own clothes to school – so more items were acquired to be put in rotation.
For anyone unfamiliar with shirts, William Hunt is a household name. The Hunt signature is the chunky Puritan style collar with large cuffs. You can’t miss them. Only strong characters can wear his shirts. I was being challenged. The following Monday I wore it under a v-neck black jumper dress, paired with black tights and my patent black riding boots. Challenge accepted. My mother, a graphics designer, swears by the white shirt. You can overlay a photograph of her at 29 in a white shirt with another at 45 – in another. Nicole Farhi, Joseph, Hawes and Curtis were a handful of the labels I familiarised myself with in her wardrobe. Asymmetrical, chunky cuffs, peasant-shirt or pussy blouse, the diversity and flexibility with making a bold statement or an ode to minimalism was evidently part of the fun.
Emma Willis London and Alice Early
I would like to introduce you to two ethical luxury brands that have catered to this need. Shirtmaker extraordinaire Emma Willis MBE (who was featured in our #WorkinFashion50) has built an empire from her shop in Jermyn Street, London (opened in 1999) that has grown into a social enterprise movement, that is providing skills and employment for young people, refugees and artisans. Her sewing school and workshop in Gloucester is a testament to British entrepreneurs investing in transparency and sustainable supply chains long before it was a trend in the industry.
Alice Early, a new sustainable luxury lifestyle brand, is another one on my radar. “All my pieces are designed with longevity in mind, in a utilitarian and minimalist style, constructed in London using 100% GOTS certified organic cotton and sustainably sourced and durable components and I ship to my customers in recyclable packaging” Alice assured me during our first conversation. With over 10 years of experience working in the industry for brands including Paul Smith, Sophie Hulme and couture designer Deborah Milner, Alice decided to start her own collection to focus on sustainable design and clothing that would “buck the trend for throw away fashion”.
In the new era of sustainability and conscious consumption, consider ‘the white shirt’ as a motif, or better yet, an area for potential investment. The best ones will be made out of organic, fair-trade cotton, reducing the strain that conventional cotton creates on the environment with its man-made irrigation systems. Organic cotton is rain fed, and with fairtrade certifications, you’re less likely to be engaging with a product that has emerged out of a supply chain tainted with child/slave labour.
The thing about the white shirt is that it is understated – but it is a statement piece nonetheless. As with all statements – you better believe in what you are saying or you will look foolish. Ill-fitted shirts, that crinkle and roll in all the wrong places, shirts with collars that have lost their shape, shirts with stained cuffs… all serve to signal some degree of inadequacy be it in preparation or in consideration of overall presentation. The next big indicator is brand transparency. The ultimate sign of premium quality is the brand or designer who is transparent about where/how/who makes their clothes. While making your statement with the working wardrobe, ensure it isn’t undermined by a tainted supply chain, or reports of unethical working conditions.
Remember you are the ambassador of you’re own personal brand. Whatever your values maybe, ensure there is consistency in the message that is delivered. Take care of your composition.
Cufflinks, Blazers, Pocket Squares
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