Hard Shells, Blue Suits

In Stiletto Network, one exec refers to “the hard shells, the blue suits,” while another recalls those “dorky silk ties” women used to wear. And in Chapter 1, I talk about trailblazers in the ‘80’s: “All wore Reeboks over nude hose, shoulder pads over thick skin. Life, they were told, was not a spectator sport.”

By Canyon Castator

By Canyon Castator

We all have a memory of THAT “power suit,” the one donned like armor to face the day. (And by “power suit” I do not mean the ill-advised, head-to-toe orange tweed number I wore at Goldman near the turn of the century – about which my former colleagues will remain mum and nod compliantly when I blame Y2K Fever).

I’ve always loved fashion. I relished prancing out the door in make-up and heels. Until, as a relatively junior employee, I started getting as much attention for my outfits as for my work. Arguably more. My clothes were always professional – never a “showcase of knockers and knees” – but in banking they stood out.

Really bad move on my part, but I was young….

These days I’m seeing a lot of sheaths and chic separates, as well as rockin’ kicks; they’re feminine, but not va-va-voom in a way that undermines anyone’s credibility or effectiveness. And still I had an interesting conversation recently with a friend who’s still banking. After more than 15 years on Wall Street, she decided to splurge on a few pairs of decadent-yet-office-appropriate shoes. She’d toiled in the trenches and deserved it – or so she thought.

“Who’s your new boyfriend?” one colleague inquired when she wore them to work, implying a Sugar-Daddy was bankrolling her purchases. “Someone doesn’t need a bonus,” another sniped.

Of course that’s a singular example, but the question remains: Can we as women appreciate fashion and spend time and money on clothes, yet still be taken seriously in the workplace?

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We’re moving away from the corporate model. We’re coming into an era where women have the skill sets and core value systems. Being collegial, collaborative, checking your ego at the door… able to work in a non-hierarchical environment, listening, attuned to intuition. These are increasingly all characteristics of senior leaders. Women have that capacity, as mothers and sisters and preservers of the family. When we come through this period, I think we’ll find many more women at the senior level.”

Catherine Allen, CEO of the Santa Fe Group and founding CEO of the financial industry consortium BITS

Stiletto Network (Page 153)