Is this a credible description of a woman's attire?
May 15, 2019 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Are there any major sartorial problems with this description? One friend tells me, for instance, that pencil skirts don't have pleats or loops for belts, while another friend insists they can, though it's not common. "She’d set out everything she’d wear for the interview the night before: her beige, pleated pencil skirt with the braided belt, her gray tights and matching blouse, the long beige cardigan she’d bought just for the interview[...]"
posted by jwhite1979 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (114 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
A pencil skirt can certainly have belt loops, but I’ve never seen a pleated one. Really, the definition of a pencil skirt is that it’s tight to the knee, which pretty much rules out pleats.
posted by woodvine at 2:21 PM on May 15 [57 favorites]


Won't the long beige cardigan cover up the braided belt?
posted by Melismata at 2:24 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I had a "pencil skirt" with pleats in the early nineties - the pleats were the kind that you get on a pair of pleated chinos. This is not a common design, though, and I think it will be confusing to the reader. "Pleated skirt" calls up the image of accordion pleats and volume, not "little pleats at the waist parallel to the zipper. "

Pencil skirts absolutely can have belt loops.
posted by Frowner at 2:25 PM on May 15 [11 favorites]


A pencil skirt could have small decorative pleats around the bottom as long as the shape is still fitted.
posted by bleep at 2:25 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


A pencil skirt might have a kick pleat (at the back) but you wouldn't describe it as pleated.
posted by TORunner at 2:26 PM on May 15 [27 favorites]


But I agree it requires a certain specific mental image. Not everyone saw the specific skirt that I saw at Wet Seal in 2001.
posted by bleep at 2:27 PM on May 15 [15 favorites]


Belt loops are possible, but the only way a pencil skirt is pleated is if it has kick pleats in the back. I would call it a wiggle skirt then, and then honesty a skirt with belt loops and a skirt with kick pleats are very different types of style, so I can't see those going together in the same clothing article.

Also, I had a slight mental cringe of horror at imagining grey tights with beige skirt. maybe with a camel skirt it could work? but beige?
posted by larthegreat at 2:27 PM on May 15 [59 favorites]


The thing that strikes me as odd is that she's mixing gray and beige. But I'm old and not familiar with current fashion norms.
posted by Redstart at 2:28 PM on May 15 [34 favorites]


Pencil skirts usually don't have pleats. Also grey tights and matching blouse? Black pantyhose would be more appropriate for an interview, I think. I wouldn't match my tights to my blouse, intentionally anyway. Grey and beige as a color combination usually, especially for an interview, is not that common. I would default to a blazer for an interview, and I definitely would not buy a cardigan especially for an interview. Usually I would choose a plain belt too, not a braided one.
posted by Sar at 2:29 PM on May 15 [8 favorites]


Pencil skirts can have belt loops, and you can add a belt to an outfit even when it doesn't have belt loops, so the "pencil skirt with the braided belt" wouldn't strike me as being incorrect, but yes, I'd strike either "pleated" or "pencil" from the "pleated pencil skirt" description. And the gray and beige combo sounds neither attractive nor stylish.
posted by orange swan at 2:30 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


bleep, it sounds like you're describing a tulip skirt.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:31 PM on May 15


I guess it depends on what she's interviewing for. I can buy matching grey and beige because there are so many greys and beiges - this could easily be an outfit of basically beige-y greys. But if she's interviewing for a professional job or a more formal office, she probably wouldn't be wearing tights and a cardigan anyway. I could see a "first office job out of college secretary-in-casual-office" vibe here.
posted by Frowner at 2:32 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Grey tights would be very informal for most interviews. Tights usually connotes something knit, or at least opaque. Normally for a more formal interview you’d wear hose, which are sleeker; I prefer mine to be slightly sheer for business formal. But it’s weird to match them to your blouse unless you’re going for quirky.

It would be helpful to know more about what you’re trying to communicate by describing the clothes, and what kind of interview this is. Condé Nast? Big law? An oil and gas firm in Texas?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 2:36 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


This is all helpful, as I'm a 39 year old man who works in a welding shop and have no ideas about women's fashion. FWIW, this was vaguely the look I was going for, but with a cardigan because it's autumn. Also, for the curious, she's a 37 year old psychoanalyst who has been practicing for two years. She is speaking with her own therapist, trying to work through some issues before going to an interview for a fellowship. The character is from Maine but lives in New York. She has long since traded her sexuality for academic pursuits, perhaps (she'll discover) as a way to avoid agency in her own life. So anyway, that's what I was trying to convey with the outfit. Clearly, the pleats have to go. Any other thoughts would be lovely. Thanks. :)
posted by jwhite1979 at 2:41 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Yeah, there's no one detail here that's totally impossible. They're all just odd. The issue for me is the number of odd details in a short passage.

Taken together it reads either as "This is a real eccentric character with a real eccentric wardrobe trying (and probably failing) to look professional" or "This was written by someone who doesn't think much about women's clothing and doesn't know what's normal."
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:41 PM on May 15 [42 favorites]


I would try re-asking this question as more like "My character is 37 etc, what should she wear to her interview?" She'll get all fixed up right :)
posted by bleep at 2:43 PM on May 15 [16 favorites]


with a cardigan because it's autumn
In New York, definitely a blazer (or suit jacket, as part of a skirt suit) rather than a cardigan. Cardigans are not formal enough for interviewing on the East Coast.
posted by mosst at 2:45 PM on May 15 [17 favorites]


In addition to what other have mentioned, the "braided belt" strikes me as strange. I think of braided belts as fairly casual & not something that I would pick to wear to an interview.
posted by belladonna at 2:45 PM on May 15 [22 favorites]


So, ok, meta point: you don't have to describe every piece of clothing in an outfit.

As a reader I care less about what her outfit looks like, or whether it's something I'd wear, and more about what's going on plot-wise and feelings-wise. Unless the skirt is relevant to the plot or her feelings, I'd be fine not knowing anything about the skirt, and thinking instead about what's going through her head.

Even "She'd tried on five different interesting outfits, thrown them all on the floor, and finally given up and picked something utterly bland" — with no more fashion detail than that — could end up giving me a more vivid image of her than a detailed list of shapes and styles and colors.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:49 PM on May 15 [31 favorites]




Unless you want to have her therapist correct her outfit (is she dressing up for her session with her therapist for that reason?), I'd say she should have a beige pencil skirt with a matching blazer, a black blouse, and maybe black flats or pumps. No real need to describe her hose unless you really want to, in which case I'd say sheer or semi-sheer. Having a beige suit is still a little unusual/not very fashionable, I'd think, although I'm on the west coast and not New York and I am not the most fashionable woman.
posted by Illuminated Clocks at 2:50 PM on May 15


Yeah, is this outfit supposed to be uh, noteworthily bad? Because when I read it, I think, "oh my god WHAT IS SHE WEARING!??"

My best advice to you is that if you are not au courant with women's clothing, please don't write long descriptions of women's clothing. (Describing her hose, unless they turn out to be a plot point, is too much info and also reads VERY MUCH like, "man who doesn't know anything about women's clothing trying to write about women's clothing.")

I'd just say she set out everything she planned to wear and went to make a cup of tea/put on her night cream/strapped on her C-PAP and went to sleep, and skip the outfit deets. You don't need them!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:04 PM on May 15 [19 favorites]


Yeah, I very rarely describe what the characters are wearing, but in this passage it's relevant. The underwire of her bra has snapped, and it's digging into her armpit. She apologizes to her therapist, who is really more of a mother figure, and stuffs a Kleenex under the protrusion. Then she makes up a pointless lie about how she'd been hurrying to get ready and grabbed the wrong bra. Immediately she wonders why she would say this to her therapist. It's weird, and she knows it. She's feeling cognitive dissonance, and it's compelling her obfuscate her thoughts with inconsequential lies and distractions. The following chapters of her therapy session reveal the reasons she didn't want to expose herself to inquiry.

So, after following you guys's links and reading your comments, here's my revision: "She’d set out everything she’d wear for the interview the night before: her gray blouse, her beige pencil skirt with the pin-closure belt, the matching cardigan, and sheer Hipstick hose[...]"
posted by jwhite1979 at 3:05 PM on May 15


So the point of the description is to show she had planned it all out the night before and didn't actually need to hurry to get ready? I think you could just say something like, "She'd decided on her outfit two days ago and set everything out the night before, even a bra and underwear."
posted by Redstart at 3:25 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


I’ve never heard of Hipstick hose before (I googled, so I know what it is now), so that reads oddly to me. Also, saying hose vs. tights vs. stockings is very regional and dependent on age - I would never say hose and I usually say tights. If you’re going to say hose, make sure that’s the right term for your character’s background.

The idea of a beige pencil skirt with a matching beige cardigan also seems kind of weird to me - there are lots of shades of beige, so they probably wouldn’t quite match. A beige skirt suit (so pencil skirt and blazer) would work - it’s the presumably knitted cardigan that doesn’t. The idea of a beige pencil skirt and beige cardigan isn’t jarring enough to knock me out of the story - but in looking at the description more closely, I agree with nebulawindphone’s comment that it sounds like either she wears slightly odd clothing or it was written by someone who isn’t familiar with women’s clothing.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:25 PM on May 15 [11 favorites]


Bra underwire 'snapping' is not an ordinary occurrence, but when it does it's often in the front of the bra. (I've worn this type of bra for over thirty years, and I've only had wires warp and displace, eventually poking through the material to attack my armpit.) Link goes to reasons why snappage happens, if it helps your plot point. And 'pin-closure' and 'Hipstick" are really drawing attention, maybe it's just a belted pencil skirt and hosiery?
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:27 PM on May 15 [22 favorites]


Based on your update I’m still not seeing how the details of the outfit are relevant, but assuming that they are:

1. Isn’t a pin closure belt just...a belt? You can just say belt.
2. Never once in my life have I described my tights/hose by brand. Admittedly I don’t wear them very often, but when I do they’re my “new pair” or my “gdi these ones are too small and super uncomfortable but they’re my only clean pair so I guess I’m stuck” pair or “welp these have a hole but I’m pretty sure it’ll be covered by my shoe” pair or something along those lines.
3. I’m having a hard time picturing a “matching” cardigan and pencil skirt. That’s just not really a thing? You could have a matching jacket, but if it’s a cardigan, it’s not matching.

So if you really need to describe the outfit:

“She’d set out everything she’d wear for the interview the night before: grey blouse, beige belted pencil skirt, beige cardigan, and hose.”
posted by tan_coul at 3:32 PM on May 15 [10 favorites]


You know that line about how if you mention a gun in Act 1, it has to go off in Act 3? Clothing is like that. If I read a detailed description of someone's interview outfit, I would assume that either each of those articles of clothing would matter in a major way (not just "oh no I spilled coffee on my blouse," but rather "this blouse was a graduation gift from my long-dead grandmother who practically raised me after my deadbeat parents died of a drug overdose") or the character is a clothing snob who loves to talk about her Prada shoes and her Gucci handbag.

With respect to your specific wording: I'm also not sure what a "pin-closure belt" is; I'm not familiar with Hipstick hose (and hose is a term I'd expect from a 50+ year old, not a 37 year old); I'd be wondering whether the cardigan is supposed to match with the gray blouse or the beige skirt; and I'm mystified about how an underwire would snap and moreover how you would stuff a Kleenex inside your bra without, like, nearly undressing. Just because you can envision your character just so, doesn't mean you need to tell your reader everything you see.
posted by basalganglia at 3:32 PM on May 15 [8 favorites]


My great-grandma called them hose. I (39 year old woman) wear tights.
posted by sugarbomb at 3:35 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I think you should just find another way to convey that your character is kind of insecure because your reference photo and descriptions are way off. Like, she can lie and say that traffic was bad when she was just late? Or maybe that there's a stain on her blouse that she missed when she laid out the clothes, but she lies and says she *just* spilled coffee on it.
posted by momus_window at 3:46 PM on May 15


Iris, I had originally had the underwire break in the front, but the women at work told me theirs always breaks at the armpit. But also, yes, I had meant to replace the word "snapped", as they told me the same thing. Thanks for reminding me.

And in the spirit of paring back, which I agree is in order, here's another revision: "She’d set out everything she’d wear for the interview the night before: her gray blouse, her beige belted pencil skirt and beige cardigan, even the new sheer hose she’d bought for the occasion[...]"

For those who are suggesting I not try to describe women's clothing, I appreciate the advice, but if I only described things I knew about before writing, the book would not be very long or very interesting. I'm here because I admit when I don't know something and need help. So thanks everyone for the help.

And that's a good point, basalganglia, about Chekhov's gun applied to clothing. I hadn't thought about that specifically, but I have used the concept with another character who habitually spills coffee in the same place on his starched white shirts. As I work on my revision--the first draft of the novel is done--I'll work hard to find a way to make the clothing description pay off.
posted by jwhite1979 at 3:47 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


I wear hose if it's sheer, and tights if it's not.

Still hung up on "beige" as a color for a skirt. "Camel", maybe, or even "tan" or "cream". But "beige" is not a descriptor one would commonly choose for a primary item of clothing--beige is dull, invisible, blah.
posted by suelac at 3:47 PM on May 15 [7 favorites]


"Beige is dull, invisible, blah." Yes. This is the point. Gray and beige for that reason.
posted by jwhite1979 at 3:49 PM on May 15


Hose costs like, $3 at CVS, and yeah as suelac says the whole deal is that it's sheer, you don't need to specify that (unless you're differentiating it from suntan? but I can't imagine a 37-year-old wearing suntan hose outside of performing in an ice show). "Bought for the occasion" is a weird way to talk about something that costs $3. (Like, I've had to buy hose for interviews because interviews are the only time I would ever wear hose, but your phrasing there reads like it's an Exciting Thing and boy is it 100% the opposite of that.)

This is still not really an appropriate interview outfit. Put that gal in a navy blazer instead of the cardigan and you can let the rest of it go. (Again, unless the point is that she doesn't know how to dress professionally.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:03 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


(I realized that I'm assuming your character is white and that therefore suntan hose would not be sheer on your particular protagonist, my bad, also-also oof I sort of can't believe that pale hose are still just labeled "nude", yikes)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:07 PM on May 15


"Write about things outside your experience " doesn't usually mean "make up a bunch of irrelevant details that don't make sense either in whole or in part just because you think you should".
posted by bleep at 4:08 PM on May 15 [27 favorites]


Grey and beige is an extremely unusual combination. If you want to put her in bland neutrals, she is probably wearing cream or white with beige.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:09 PM on May 15 [24 favorites]


If you really want dull and invisible, honestly, she should just wear a gray or black suit with a white button-down. The image you linked to is not remotely “invisible” (nor appropriate interview attire, but I feel like that’s been covered). If the hose are important, make it a skirt suit.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:18 PM on May 15 [7 favorites]


The skirt in that photo doesn't have pleats, though. It's a button-up pencil skirt.
posted by nantucket at 4:25 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Again, a navy blazer would be way too colorful, but I dig the point about the cardigan. The character has abandoned anything like a personality or sexuality in exchange for a solitary academic existence. She feels like a non-person. But again, point well-taken re: the $3 hose. I'm trying to make the rhythm of the sentence work, and for me that means throwing out details in revisions until one of them rings true. And okay, cream with beige works better than gray with beige? Is there a consensus here? (This sucks; I love gray more than anything and wanted that connection with her. Grrr.)

Here's another pass: "She’d set out everything she’d wear for the interview the night before: her white blouse, her beige belted pencil skirt and cream-colored blazer, even the new sheer hose she'd finally remembered to buy[...]"

But "white blouse" feels like it needs another level of detail, something with two syllables.

Also, "invisible" isn't exactly what I'm going for, either. Much of her story has to do with her inability to see herself outside of the hypersexualized child her parents and teachers made her into. So she dresses quite sexily while trying to appear as boring as possible. She's caught. BTW, her name is Anatta, which is the Buddhist doctrine of "not self." The idea is that she's trying to establish a sense of self. And if anyone is interested, the climax of her narrative arc comes when she realizes it's way easier to accept there are parts of herself that she hates that will never go away, and that doesn't have to be a problem. She can hate things about herself and not be pushed around by that hatred. But anyway, clothes, yeah. I have to get there somehow, and describing her physically is one step in that direction.

And yes, nantucket, I realize that skirt didn't have pleats. Nor was the belt braided. I wasn't trying to describe that exact outfit; I was just using it as a stepping-off point.
posted by jwhite1979 at 4:31 PM on May 15


I think for "breaks at the armpit", they were most likely referring to the underwire starting to poke through the fabric, rather than the underwire snapping per se.

Mixing blacks and grey would better, I think. A cream-colored blazer in particular reads pretty "luxury" for me--it gets dirty easily, and needs to be dry cleaned--and honestly, ditto for the skirt.
posted by damayanti at 4:34 PM on May 15 [25 favorites]


Cream OR white, you can’t do one over the other. She could totally have a tan/beige skirt suit over a white or cream blouse, which is close to what you’re describing. And I like “remembered to buy” for the hose, that’s always how I feel about ‘em.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:37 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Cream with beige* definitely works better than gray with beige. However, white is not cream, and a white blouse under a cream blazer would also look a bit odd. (Yes, women's clothing rules are complex!) I'd just say "cream-colored blouse" rather than white, and skip the mention of the blazer, or make the blazer something darker like camel. Or stick with the gray palette and make it a gray blouse on a black skirt/jacket. The latter is definitely more "interview" than a light yellow/brown-toned palette.

* The word "beige," specifically, still sounds off to me for an article of clothing. I (34 year old) refer to that shade as tan; it's also commonly called nude (ew). Camel sounds darker/yellower/fancier. The word beige has overtones of the 1980s pastels trend for me, and I'd assume a character thinking of her skirt as "beige" would have come of age in the mid-80s or so, about a generation or so before your character, assuming this is a contemporary story.
posted by basalganglia at 4:39 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]


I have seen grays paired with beiges before (esp. in Korean and Japanese fashion blogs) and it can be quite beautiful and chic.

When underwire snaps it usually occurs in the center of the cup, but can also occur anywhere along the side. I still have a small scar from an underwire snapping incident. When they stab you *in* the armpit it's because the wire has busted through the end of the fabric channel in the bra keeping it in place. That hurts but usually doesn't bleed, as the wire ends are coated.
posted by Feminazgul at 4:43 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


I’m a 54 year old woman. I think your last update works just fine. I don’t know why people are reading into this that your character wants or can be vibrant and on trend.

(And gray and beige can actually be gorgeous together)
posted by MountainDaisy at 4:55 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]


So she dresses quite sexily while trying to appear as boring as possible.

Your descriptions make her sound like a Midwestern frump. "Sexy," especially by NY standards, is about the last word that comes to mind reading your words.

Put her in a navy suit with a white or cream blouse. All-navy suits are actually fairly rare in women's wear due to associations with stewardesses. That will be boring-verging-on-unstylish, but not necessarily all the way into frumpsville. And a white/cream blouse can always be sexy if not fully buttoned.

(Just a note: I'm not loving this idea of a 37-year-old professional woman who, apparently accidentally, dresses all sexy while trying to be boring and is an academic without a personality who is nonetheless hypersexualized. Sounds like a variant on the Born Sexy Yesterday trope. Part of the problem with dressing this woman strikes me as that her clothes are meant to reflect a personality that doesn't seem very real or coherent.)
posted by praemunire at 5:05 PM on May 15 [44 favorites]


Could you say more about what kind of fellowship this character is applying for and what her academic background is? (Psychoanalysts are typically psychologists, psychiatrists or social workers.) If she is applying for a psychiatry fellowship I can tell you with confidence that outfit would not be interview appropriate. Suits are standard for residency and fellowship interviews. I suspect this would hold true if she is a psychologist. You would be marking her as either very eccentric or weirdly clueless if you had her go to an interview dressed like that, particularly in New York.

I would also find it quite surprising that someone credentialed as a psychoanalyst, which is a long path that usually begins after standard psychiatric/psychology training is over and takes at least 4 years, would go back to apply for a fellowship. Are you sure you mean to describe her a psychoanalyst? Did you mean psychotherapist perhaps?
posted by reren at 5:13 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Hopefully, over the course of the 35,000 words dealing with her narrative arc, Anatta's personality becomes very real and coherent.
posted by jwhite1979 at 5:15 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]


You might also want to consider which season this interview is happening in. Beige would be even weirder in the winter. Regardless, as a New Yorker and a psychotherapist, I would never wear beige or a cardigan to an interview. Beige doesn’t read as nondescript or unsexy, it reads as midwestern or 80s. You like gray. Put her in a gray suit. That would work for any season as well.

Another note, if you want to use clothing to denote her feelings of not being sexual, I would recommend using her shoes. Give her some block heels with good arch support.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 5:28 PM on May 15 [8 favorites]


No, she is definitely a psychoanalyst, and I describe her academic background in some detail. I also address the fact that she's unusually young for someone with those credentials. The fellowship she is applying for studies the acquisition of temporal constructs in young children from within a post-freudian framework. This is thematically relevant, as much of the novel deals with the inability to maintain a sense of self over time. She is looking to the fellowship as a way of postponing her life, as academia had allowed her to keep her head down and ignore herself and her daughter, who was raised by her mother.

The story begins with a scene in the back of a sedan, where Anatta, at five years old, has just won a child beauty pageant. Her parents think she is sleeping, but she hears her parents talking about how they'd paid off the judges to spite the racist mother of another competitor. She also hears them debating whether they should be concerned by her masturbation. She is mortified, but she convinces herself that she can be better than what her parents seem to think of her.

The majority of the story is from the perspective of a 37 year old man who goes crazy while working in an assisted living facility. He kills two elderly residents, a med tech, and himself. She had been dating him at the time, though she was considerably younger than him.

Anatta's chapters take place 15 years after the main narrative. She's in a therapy session with her old analyst, whom she went to while in her own analysis training. As they talk, she starts to understand how she'd been hypersexualized and abused throughout her life, leading her on the one hand to strive toward sexual perfection while simultaneously trying to deny that she was sexual at all. She was basically abstinent since her boyfriend's suicide 15 years before, yet she still feels morally obligated to be physically perfect, to earn the beauty pageant crown that her parents bought.
posted by jwhite1979 at 5:30 PM on May 15


I’m confused about what you’re going for here - she is trying not to dress sexy but she does anyway? Are you trying to make her sound like she doesn’t know what she’s doing? Or is she just trying to blend in? Because those are different looks.

Trying not to dress sexy and just trying to blend in would be grey (since you want grey) pencil skirt and blazer with a cream or black top. You forgot her shoes so I would say low-heeled black pumps or even black flats.

Not knowing what she’s doing - like she’s from a small town and brand new to New York, would be any variation of your previous outfits except the pleated pencil skirt part. A beige pencil skirt and beige blazer is fine. I live in New York City and I would absolutely not wear any of the outfits you have described to an interview.
posted by umwhat at 5:31 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


I think you can achieve the same effect while being vague enough in the details so it doesn't read as awkwardly.
"She had laid out everything the night before: skirt, blouse, cardigan, stockings, underwear, all in the most carefully neutral tones imaginable." Or something.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:55 PM on May 15 [12 favorites]


Pencil skirts are definitely on the sexy side and it’d be hard for me to imagine a 30-something who wasn’t aware of that on some level, never mind a therapist. Just saying that would be kind of *noticeably* obtuse for a psychoanalyst. They’re facing clients in a seated position with no table, they usually wear pants or longish, loosish skirts, nothing too tight.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:21 PM on May 15 [8 favorites]


(sidenote: this is a good primer of the difficulty of getting dressed as a woman in the morning)
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 7:32 PM on May 15 [34 favorites]


I wanted to say up front that I wish you the best in your writing.

Your original question was enhanced by your follow ups, so thank you. From that I surmise that she's going to a pretty formal interview, by way of her therapist, and because on this day she knows she has to dress her best, the incident with the underwire heightens for her that she is making subconscious choices not in line with her supposed desires or lack thereof.

From that I'm going to say that no, this isn't the right outfit for this situation. She would have to be wearing a suit. There is no way anyone with an iota of awareness of job interview etiquette would wear the outfit you posted in your picture or that you described (with a cardigan!) to an interview for that professional level of position. It's way too informal. The bog-standard outfit for a job interview is a skirt suit (could be a pencil skirt maybe? But not usually) in a neutral, usually grey or black, with an also pretty-neutral blouse underneath.

What I see in the picture you provided is that it's a bit of a twist - to someone who doesn't read women's clothing well, you think they are neutral pieces but they are really not; the cut of the grey top and the necklace + the unbuttoned bottom of the skirt (and the fact that it has functional buttons) + the pose make it a sexy outfit and not neutral. Most anyone who regularly buys women's clothes will not mistake that cut of shirt for "okay for a job interview that involves academic success." That kind of mistake is a grade 4, maybe 6 mistake, and it is forcibly policed and beaten out of most girls by other girls by grade 9.

If you want the equivalent for your character's situation she should probably notice that she's left too much décolletage in her blouse and that her heels are inappropriate, or she wore a choker necklace - in other words she is dressed in the very correct clothes but is wearing them wrong.

That said, I think it's less a clothing issue than a plot/character/writing issue. I get what you are trying to get across, I think.

But if she's a trained observer, and so dissociative that she thinks her clothes are conservative while they're actually quite sexy by cut and level of formality, and isn't out and out on the DDNOS/DID/etc spectrum, then it's kind of like a serial killer that's not sociopathic, it's a hard circle to square.

If she is that dissociative, it's kind of like you've got this big realization set up but it's really, really going to have to be very strong writing for her to realize it over the underwire issue and not because, say, she did show up to a job interview really inappropriately sexily dressed and overheard people saying so in the elevator and somehow managed to remember that long enough to get to her therapist's office. (I'm not saying that insight over something outwardly small is impossible, but the set up has to be so bang on that now I'm actually worried about the cardigan detail, that would throw the whole thing.)

I'm really not doing the annoying thing of rewriting your book, I'm just saying that I think the outfit is not going to be able to resolve your plot/character issue here. I think the reason you can't find the right clothes is that there are no clothes that allow for that amount of disconnect between intent and execution.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:57 PM on May 15 [11 favorites]


Dark grey skirt suit, cream colored blouse, nylons, black heels.
No cardigan (too casual for an interview), no pencil skirt (too intentionally sexy).
posted by emd3737 at 8:12 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


The gray and beige work in the photo you posted because she’s already wearing a cardigan, it’s just tucked into the skirt. A cardigan over that would look insane.

I love this thread so much.
posted by cakebatter at 8:53 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


FYI: Corporette's guide to interview suits.

navy blazer would be way too colorful

No, in this situation, it's beige that would stand out. Black, charcoal, or dark navy.
posted by airmail at 9:21 PM on May 15 [15 favorites]


Not to beat this poor horse, but I am a 66 year old NYer born and bred and I have never used, nor have my Manhattan office working, or academic, or other friends ever used the word "hose." Pantyhose, or stockings maybe? But " hose" just sounds like something out of a 1930's noir movie.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 10:08 PM on May 15 [10 favorites]


(So weird—I am also a NYer and I’m shocked by the unpopularity of “hose”! Must have got it from my mom.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:14 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Meta-point: good on you for attempting to write outside your experience, but I'll be honest, the descriptions you've provided here of your character make me feel skeptical. Cliches like "abandoned anything like a personality or sexuality in exchange for a solitary academic existence", sensational reasons for her sexual issues like a child beauty pageant and a (much older, of course) boyfriend who commits murder-suicide, an odd focus on the exact pantyhose she's wearing (the least important part of the outfit in this situation, but an item often sexualized), from a man who doesn't know anything about how women dress - all of these things put together make me wonder if the author is, well, kinda getting off. Which would be OK in erotica, but is this what you intended?

On a more practical level, you're trying to express a really complicated idea here in a language you can barely speak (i.e., women's fashion). Consider another way to do it?
posted by airmail at 10:18 PM on May 15 [34 favorites]


Hey! Good luck with your writing and good for you for trying to get it right.

To tag on to many of the meta-points made about this description itself rather than the contents of this description...

Are you describing the outfits of male characters like this? If not, why not?

To be honest, all of these passages would qualify for me throwing your book on the floor because of the way you are sexualizing and objectifying your character. Like airmail, I tend to suspect that writers who dwell on women's sexuality from what is clearly an outside perspective are creeps writing from a place of voyeurism rather than empathy.

Underwires snap on the middle, they worm their way out of the stitching and poke your armpit. If you don't have close female friends to ask about this stuff maybe this is not your story to tell, and you should tell it differently.
posted by athirstforsalt at 11:08 PM on May 15 [8 favorites]


I‘m neither a psychoanalyst nor a New Yorker.

But as a point for you to consider: A major feeling of discomfort and feeling weird about yourself at formal occasions is the disconnect between what you usually wear and how you need to present yourself now.

If she’s a solitary academic, I assume she’d be wearing the yoga pants, t-shirt and hoodie uniform most days while working from home. Not sure what she’d wear in an office setting.

But I do know that, devoid of any interests other than academic pursuit (including shopping for clothes), at 37 she would have underpants and bras that feel comfortable, that she buys in bulk and wears until they have holes in them and sometimes for longer. Because fuck that noise.

That also would explain the underwire poking through - that bra is ancient and worn through and she put it on anyway because nobody was going to interview her in her underwear, ha.

Given her lack of interest in fashion, shopping for interview clothes was tortuous and filled with too many choices, none of which really felt like her.

She is now dressed in clothes she put together based on an idea of what‘s appropriate for interviews, but it feels terrible. The pantyhose is itchy. The jacket constricts her waist. The color makes her look pale. Is her neckline exposing too much? She can‘t WALK right in that pencil skirt dear Hod, give her pants any day.

If the shoes are new, they took a day to find and pinch and trip her up (unfamiliar heels). If they are old and creased (because she wasn‘t going to waste money on chic shoes she‘ll never use again) she suddenly realises they will make her look frumpy and too cheap to buy nice shoes.

If her bra is new (sometimes women buy sexy new bras as an invisible „you go girl!“ motivator in challenging situations like interviews) it turns out it doesn‘t fit well. it pinches, sags and eventually the underwire pokes through (bad quality).

Point is, she HATES that outfit and how it makes her feel and this whole interview situation. She tried hard to look inconspicuous but now she feels blaringly, obviously inadequate. She‘s 37, a woman with a career and an overachieving personality and she hasn‘t bought into the idea that women need to be pretty for men, so by now in the day she’s probably railing against stupid sexist interview norms that force women into fucking pantyhoses.

AND THEN THE BRA BREAKS.

I hope you enjoyed the profiling.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:48 PM on May 15 [19 favorites]


This is such an interesting discussion!
And as the OP began unfolding his ideas about the character, I could see what he was going for, though I agree the first draft was way too detailed in a weird way. Now I am not an American, and I am not 37, so I will leave the fashion details to those who are. But I was an academic living in New York when I was in my mid-thirties, and I did have very similar issues to those of the character, though not as dramatic (we don't have kiddy pageants or shootings over here). So I have some input.
First of all: I never was able to decode the dresscode in Manhattan. I just wasn't. I could see what people were wearing, but I couldn't understand it. That's why I find this thread fascinating, it's like a mystery that has perplexed me for years is being unraveled. Since I'm not from Maine, but from Europe, my faux pas were different, but I support the idea that a transplanted academic who wants to distance herself from a sexualized upbringing and on the other hand is formed by exactly that would make weird choices. I still do it all the time.
Second: as a person who was at times very much in my head and disassociated from stuff in the world, I would never wear special clothes for interviews back then. I would make sure it was clean and pressed, and I might put it out the night before so as to not have to worry about it, but I wouldn't buy new stuff or think much about the style other than not-leisureware. I agree with omnomnom that comfort would be important for all my choices and that one issue about "interview clothes" might be that they weren't comfortable.
Its not that I never thought about clothes or fashion -- it's that in an interview situation I would imagine that any appearance of having thought about style would be deemed unserious, and also comfort.
Third: I loved wearing grey + beige and knitted stuff when I was younger and trying to make my physical presence disappear, and I know for a fact that it worked exactly as described by the author, not like I imagined it would. Here's the story - once I was interviewed for a newspaper about my work, and in my attempt to look serious and academic and invisible I wore a beige cashmere turtleneck (it was vintage, I didn't have the money) over washed "black" (dark grey) jeans, all fitted to shape. As I type these words, I can see that you all can see what was wrong. But I couldn't. And the journalist called me on it. He was perceptive and kind enough to understand what I thought I was doing, and then to point out how I appeared to the outside world. I was mortified. It didn't stop me from wearing greige, but I did buy me some bulky blazers ASAP.
posted by mumimor at 12:23 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


I would never wear special clothes for interviews back then.

This is a job interview, if I'm understanding it. There's no way you could be a successful professional woman in NYC for any length of time and not understand you need to dress up for a job interview. Because if you went to interview for a professional job wearing, e.g., that turtleneck/jeans combo, you...wouldn't get the job. (I'm not sure why this person is even being characterized as a "solitary academic." She's a practicing therapist of some kind, so she'd be seeing people all the time, and having to solicit and retain patients/clients.)

Ultimately, it's hard to imagine an apparently very-high-performing woman in a professional job in this city who can't even put together an appropriate outfit for a job interview, because it's a baseline expectation around here. There are a lot of subtleties and potential ambiguities of dress expectations in many situations, but formal job interview clothing is Being Employed 101. Even if you come here, like I did, without a background that prepares you, much less any kind of natural interest in the subject, you're going to learn whether you want to or not, because otherwise your career isn't going anywhere.
posted by praemunire at 1:10 AM on May 16 [10 favorites]


leading her on the one hand to strive toward sexual perfection

She was basically abstinent since her boyfriend's suicide 15 years before, yet she still feels morally obligated to be physically perfect,


"Sexual perfection" may equal "physically perfect" in your mind, but I'd consider whether/how an abstinent person is striving for "sexual perfection"(?). If she craves superficial validations of her physical appearance, perhaps to her detriment, I'd expect her to be more occupied by fashion, trends, cosmetics, hair, nails, jewelry, fitness, etc. than the average person -- rather than inadvertently "dress[ing] quite sexily while trying to appear as boring as possible."
posted by argonauta at 2:05 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


To address a few things briefly before I head to work:
First, I have described what the man wears, though with fewer details. But in the beginning of the story, I show him pulling clothes from his closet and bureau, clothes which would seem unlikely for a third shift med tech, i.e., gray slacks, pressed white shirt, etc. I'm hoping this formal technique subtly suggests the parallels between his story and Anatta's.

The creepy voyeur author thing--I have been trying very hard to keep that in mind and have raised the question in my writing group a number of times, particularly when Anatta is describing some traumatic assault. The people, mostly strangers, who have been reading the story have insisted I push those passages in ways that do make me feel uncomfortable. I had never intended to write these chapters from her perspective, but several readers, mainly women, said they were more interested in her POV than the man's. Rather than write in some weird omniscient voice, I decided to give her her own chapters.

Oh, and her interview isn't in New York. I probably failed to mention that. She's returned to Maine, where she lived when her boyfriend shot up the nursing home. I'm not sure if that changes the sartorial issues.

What else? I feel like there are more points I should be addressing, but I need to get to work. Btw, if anyone wants to read the manuscript, I'll be more than happy to share. In any case, I do appreciate the help.
posted by jwhite1979 at 2:34 AM on May 16


This is a job interview, if I'm understanding it. There's no way you could be a successful professional woman in NYC for any length of time and not understand you need to dress up for a job interview. Because if you went to interview for a professional job wearing, e.g., that turtleneck/jeans combo, you...wouldn't get the job.

I completely understood that, sorry for confusing stuff with the anecdote. And, as a sign of my cluelessness while in NYC, I think I actually did go to a job interview in jeans and a hoodie. There were several reasons I went home, but one was definitely the discomfort I felt with the sartorial mores and other social restrictions of professional New York.
In the end, I ended up spending my free time with a group of artists and overall I had a great time both academically and socially. But I could see an academic career in New York was not for me.
posted by mumimor at 4:04 AM on May 16


The image in that Corporette article airmail posted is just right. I work in academic medicine (including several years in NYC) and that's exactly the sort of thing I've worn on interviews and see other women wearing on interviews.

I could believe a character who is maybe a little uncomfortable in her own body, looking at that article and setting out exactly those clothes or whatever she owns that's the nearest match. The shoes alone speak volumes -- slightly sexualized but still "interview-appropriate" because Corporette says so! Then partway through the day she starts second-guessing herself -- maybe the shoes pinch at the toebox, or maybe the stiletto heel gets stuck in a subway grate (or, reading your update, sidewalk cracks). Maybe the shirt gaps at the bust and she has to go out and buy one of those Velcro stick-ons at CVS (or better yet, has to MacGyver something with double-sided tape on the interviewer's desk while the interviewer is out of the room).

Point is, there are ways to show your character interacting with her clothes that reveal more about her personality than listing them like a receipt from Macy's.
posted by basalganglia at 4:14 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Her 30,000 word arc takes place entirely on her analyst's couch except for in the last chapter, when her heel does, in fact, get stuck in a sidewalk crack. In the first draft it's a Louboutin wedge. Stiletto would be better?
posted by jwhite1979 at 4:28 AM on May 16


Yes would be difficult for a wedge to get stuck in a sidewalk crack. I'm not sure I say stiletto though. Just heels would do it.
posted by peacheater at 4:38 AM on May 16 [6 favorites]


I know I'm threadsitting a bit, but there's a lot of material here. I clicked some links in the Corporette article, and lo and behold, I quickly found an outfit from Reiss that seems perfect. Would this work? (EDIT: She even matches my character's physical description.)
posted by jwhite1979 at 4:50 AM on May 16


For an interview, no. You would need to replace the $160 "Paige" camisole thing with an actual blouse. Look at MM LaFleur's website to get an idea of what professional women's clothes look like. Don't put your character in a camisole or a layering tank.
posted by all about eevee at 5:23 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


Underwire bras do break through the fabric and poke one in the underarm - and it is possible to have put one on not realising / remembering this has happened, and it is so painful and annoying.
posted by jb at 5:37 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


No it wouldn't work. Reiss is a "sexier" suit purveyor. And the models, in an attempt to look fashionable, are styled inappropriately for interviews. The camisole is way too revealing, she would wear an ordinary button-down blouse. The pencil skirt is WRONG. "Proper" and interview-appropriate pencil skirts have a walking-opening only in the back, ideally a pleat but sometimes a slit. The buttons in the front, or the zipper in the front of this, are completely inappropriate as "adjustable sexiness" is inappropriate.

PLUS that skirt would not actually work for walking because every step you took would make the zipper slide up.

The one thing that is slightly more appropriate than your first outfit is that the clothes actually fit on her. The pencil skirt is too tight on the first.

If you really need a "this suit is somehow too sexual now" you could have it be an older suit that she bought when she was thinner, and now it's inappropriately tight on her. That is, unfortunately, a problem lots of women have where something appears "appropriate" on a very thin model, but too revealing on them.

But here's an interesting idea, and I don't mean to be a bitch:

The stuff you've picked out for her is a lil' trashy.

And if she was a girl whose parents took her to child beauty pageants, those are -- in dominant middle-class culture and ESPECIALLY in the kinds of cultures that take part in psychotherapy -- considered really trashy. And the fashion the children wear there is REALLY TACKY. It's a parody, almost (but not a self-aware one) of "classy, rich people clothes".

This is actually a real problem when girls from working-class backgrounds try to dress for middle-class jobs. The kind of clothes they think of as "nice" and "appropriate" read as "trashy" and "oversexualized". They have not had the proper balancing act of "it's feminine but-not-too", "it's boring but-not-too", "it looks like you have some money but not cream-pencil-skirt-amounts" instilled in them.

I think this would be a huge source of clothing problems for her in her early life, but if she has managed to succeed until the age of 37, she has gotten the hang of it. But perhaps she's regressing into the clothes she bought in college, or she's afraid that somehow she's messed this outfit up and she looks like a former child beauty queen.
posted by Hypatia at 5:44 AM on May 16 [9 favorites]


That Reiss outfit is classy and sexy, though not interview appropriate. I would never look at a woman wearing that and think she was in any way projecting anything other than confidence, elegance, and taste. Also money money money.

You want her to be inadvertently hiding her sexiness and yet you have her in Louboutins? Does not compute one little bit. There's is precisely one reason to own and wear Louboutin shoes and that is that they are recognizable as Louboutins.

You seem stuck on the idea that beige is a concept that signals "doesn't care" and "dowdy" but it's really not. If you want her to not care have her wear her one Ann Taylor suit that's off season, eg, a wool one in the summer/early fall where she can be uncomfortably warm even in the therapist's office and get sweaty armpits which will show in the interview later if she takes her blazer off.

Also, if your underwire SNAPS you're not really going to care much unless you have a very very large bust and even then it will be purely a matter of support. If your underwire works its way through the seam and starts poking your armpit you will care very very much and it's a thing that routinely can happen with older or poorly constructed bras.

I would also like to add that all this focus on her hidden sexiness is probably going to come through as creepy, because it's been done creepily one million times before.

(I am a female CEO in my mid-30s, if that matters).
posted by lydhre at 5:59 AM on May 16 [22 favorites]


If I wanted her to be trying to disappear but actually be a touch too sexualised, I’d have her in a black suit, white shirt, but she buttons it one or two buttons too low at the bust. A receptionist helpfully indicates it for her as she goes into the interview, thinking it’s come undone by mistake, but she doesn’t get the hint and only realises after, when she’s in the lift leaving, surrounded by women with their shirts buttoned right up. Show it in action, not description. None of this messing about with fussy details about pencil skirts and pin hole belts and exact shades of taupe.

I’m reluctant to add to this pile on as it’s not what you asked, but as I think you say you are finding it helpful: Yeah, there is something kind of icky about the “She’s getting about trying to be discrete but she doesn’t even notice she’s constantly sexy and can’t switch it off!” It reminds me of when I was recently in a meeting, giving my professional advice, and a guy in the meeting just suddenly joked about wanting my mobile number. It’s like “OK, I’m pretty sure I was giving off zero sexual signals and yet you’re acting like I was?” This idea that women (or even just some women) just can’t help being sexy is.... urgh. How much that is the case within the context of your novel I guess we don’t know.
posted by penguin pie at 6:14 AM on May 16 [15 favorites]


Also, if your underwire SNAPS you're not really going to care much unless you have a very very large bust and even then it will be purely a matter of support.

In my experience, when my underwire snaps, it quickly cuts it way through and then hurts quite a lot. Snapped is less common than but worse than just poking through at the top because the ends of a snapped underwire are sharp. I have some scarring on the underside of my breasts as a result of snapped underwires.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:25 AM on May 16


It's a difficult thing, talking about characters and their motivations in short, hastily written forum posts. I'm looking at the things I've written in my comments above, and I've done little justice to the character. I find myself contradicting myself, and of course Anatta is full of contradictions, but this doesn't mean that she's incoherent. Again, the point of her therapy session is to make sense of the contradictions.

Let me try putting it another way. She tries desperately not to see herself as sexual, because she hates her parents and teachers for sexualizing her. But at the same time, she presents herself as sexually confident and dominant. But she tells herself this is a costume and not the real her.

To address whether she's a problematic trope, I think it might help to reiterate that this entire sequence takes place on an analyst's couch and doesn't dwell on this aspect of her personality at all. This is just a brief passage a the beginning of the sequence which is meant to hint at details. Very seldom is sexuality mentioned at all, except late in their session when she confesses to having been sexually active in the fifth grade, while participating in gymnastics with kids two or three years older than herself, and then later being hit on by her high school piano teacher.

The revelations she experiences are partly about the way her parents and teachers informed her sexuality, but they're even more about how they influenced her academic pursuits. She's a hyper-perfectionist across the board, and her sexuality is just one aspect that is addressed.
posted by jwhite1979 at 6:27 AM on May 16


I think one reason a lot of women are put off by this is because, in our culture, men sing and write about the woman who "doesn't know she's so sexy" and how great it is for them, how attractive they find it from their perspective. Whereas when a woman doesn't know "how sexy she is" it causes a lot of problems for her.
posted by Hypatia at 6:29 AM on May 16 [38 favorites]


Just wanted to add: body type will be a concern here too. If she’s very thin, a pencil skirt could look severe and appropriate. If she’s busty but slender (particularly typical with implants but definitely not limited to that scenario) a blouse with buttons could fit otherwise but gap at the chest. If she’s plumper all over, she could have additional fit issues depending on how her weight is distributed. If she wears plus sizes, there will be more limited styles available.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:46 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


She can‘t WALK right in that pencil skirt dear Hod, give her pants any day.

This. Pencil skirts are sexy, and they can be interview-appropriate, but they are generally not comfortable to move in - you can't walk in them or even sit comfortably on some chairs because of how tightly together it keeps your knees. If she doesn't care, it makes a lot more sense that she would aim for comfort.

Sexy but invisible really isn't a thing when it comes to clothing, other than choosing things that are low cut because some stores just make everything with really low necklines, and if you have an even remotely larger breast size, that can create issues you might not be aware of if you don't try things on in front of a mirror. But otherwise, sexy takes work and intentional choices. Frumpy is invisible because you can stick to neutrals, nothing has to match, and because if you're not presenting as traditionally feminine, people [men] don't look at you.

I agree with all the others [women] saying that you can get across your intentions with how you describe her mindset in picking the clothes, and describing the clothes through their provenance, rather than getting into their actual fashion terms. Describing the clothing so it sounds like catalog content makes it sound like it matters to her -- which is the opposite of what you're saying you're going for -- or it matters to you the author, in which case you really need to know what it is you're really saying and why it matters.
posted by Mchelly at 6:48 AM on May 16 [6 favorites]


For another example of how beige is not really a typical/formal neutral, think about the Obama tan suit controversy. Would you put a man in a tan suit for an interview?
posted by mosst at 6:50 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


What Hypatia said.

I really don’t think that Reiss outfit is appropriate at all - I can see what it’s going for, it’s trying to look like a rich woman going for lunch in Cannes. But in an office, the message you broadcast is just “Hellooo! I’m not wearing a bra!” The colour is way too casual too.

For a medical academic to turn up to an interview in that outfit is nuts. It’s the kind of error you might see in an 18yr old admin assistant going for their first interview, but definitely not a 37yr old successful psychoanalyst. Professional women wear dark blue, grey or black suits to interview. The end. You wouldn’t send a man character to a job interview in a green floral shirt and think that was a neutral choice would you? This is the same thing.

And I also agree with the comment upthread that if she went to a US med school post-college in the usual way, she is about eight years too old to be applying for fellowships. There needs to be some reason why she still hasn’t finished training in her late thirties. Maybe that’s the trauma of the shooting. But the image you are projecting is not “successful and driven academic”, it’s “disaster area - wildly inappropriate clothing, lots of time out of training for personal reasons, flaky in a myriad of other ways when they are in work”. I have known a few colleagues like that, but that doesn’t really chime with your “high standards and perfection in all areas” thing. They were well aware that they were not succeeding, and it was a source of great distress to them.
posted by tinkletown at 7:46 AM on May 16 [7 favorites]


As I type these words, I can see that you all can see what was wrong. But I couldn't. And the journalist called me on it. He was perceptive and kind enough to understand what I thought I was doing, and then to point out how I appeared to the outside world. I was mortified.

+

But the image you are projecting is not “successful and driven academic”, it’s “disaster area - wildly inappropriate clothing, lots of time out of training for personal reasons, flaky in a myriad of other ways when they are in work”. I have known a few colleagues like that, but that doesn’t really chime with your “high standards and perfection in all areas” thing. They were well aware that they were not succeeding, and it was a source of great distress to them.

This, plus in a social-media-driven world with access to blogs and YouTube tutorials, people who are success-driven today are by and large (barring massive cultural disconnects) way better at not committing fashion faux pas than when I was first interviewing. There have been whole online series for academics on clothing, and as a 30-something academic she would have encountered the rise of the academic + fashion blog. (Note that post is from 2011)
posted by warriorqueen at 7:52 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


I’d also look at fellow/resident salaries and cost of living in NY before you put her in Louboutins...
posted by tinkletown at 7:52 AM on May 16 [11 favorites]


In the first draft it's a Louboutin wedge. Stiletto would be better?
A couple things here. First, Louboutins are very expensive - like $800 a pair. Does that square with what you understand about your character's job, salary, spending priorities?

Second, do you know what a wedge shoe looks like? Here is a page of Louboutin wedge shoes. Wedge shoes have a wide, flat sole - it's not possible to get stuck in a subway grate. Only thin, skinny heels, like stilettos, would get stuck.

Finally, why Louboutins at all? Is it just because that's a shoe brand you know the name of? Louboutins are not a casual shoe choice. They signature of Louboutins is the red sole (they won a court case allowing them the trademark use of red soles in 2012) - everyone would be able to identify them. It sends a signal to wear Louboutins - I am fancy, fashionable, I will spend $800 on a pair of heels. There's even further discussion about if you will take your Louboutins to a shoe cobbler to have them seal and protect the red soles so they don't get scuffed - some fancier people do not even do this, because they are trying to signal that buying $800 shoes is nothing to them, they wear them all the time, and if they did get scuffed they wouldn't care because they'll just buy another pair.

Basically, I'm trying to explain that wearing Louboutins means something, and you shouldn't just pick that brand because it's a shoe brand you've heard of.
posted by airplant at 8:05 AM on May 16 [15 favorites]


From what you say about her, I would put her in a black pencil skirt and black blazer. The pencil skirt and blazer are slightly different tones of black because she didn't buy them together as a skirt suit. She's wearing a white blouse, probably not buttoned up all the way. She's wearing black heels, probably from a mid-range brand like Sam Edelman. Maybe she inherited them from her classy aunt, knicked them from a long-ago roommate, or bought them used on Poshmark, but she did not buy them full price.
posted by all about eevee at 8:18 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


Adding another comment because I realized I should also discuss what's wrong with wedges for an interview, and not just what's wrong with Louboutins.

Wedges are kind of a controversial choice for interview shoes. If they're tall wedges (3-4 inches), I think that they are wildly inappropriate for an office setting. If they're shorter wedges (1-2 inches), I think they come off as dowdy. Material also makes a difference: rattan, wood, espadrille-material are all way too casual for an office. These are vacation shoes. Black leather or suede are more appropriate, but again, the height of the heels will determine if they read as inappropriate or frumpy.

If you're trying to pick a shoe that the character wears, thinking they are appropriate, but are actually slightly wrong and just off for the setting, I recommend peep-toe shoes. (See here for a thorough discussion among professional women of the appropriateness of peep-toe shoes.) On preview, all about eevee has it - she should be wearing mismatched black suit separates and a too-low buttoned white blouse. Maybe her skirt is from a few years ago and she's gained 10 pounds since then, and the once-fitting skirt is now scandalously tight. All I would add is that her black heels should be peep-toe, because she saw "black, leather, not too high of a heel" and thought, "Probably fine!" without considering that they are open toe.
posted by airplant at 8:21 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


This entire outfit for this character in this situation is confusing to me, for all the reasons already mentioned. But I want to say just because I don’t think anyone has said it yet, that it makes even less sense if she’s wearing it in Maine. Keep in mind that New England is far more casual, more conservative, and far less fashion-forward than New York. I’m in CT and I now look wistfully (then laugh) at the kind of clothes - especially shoes - that I wore when I lived in NYC. And I was never rich or a fashionista, I just love style and pretty things. Louboutins in Maine, I just can’t imagine. Unless the point is that she’s truly a fish out of water in every possible way, and all aspects of her outfit are inappropriate for her location, her circumstances, and in the way she has combined them.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:26 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]


Pencil skirts are sexy, and they can be interview-appropriate, but they are generally not comfortable to move in - you can't walk in them or even sit comfortably on some chairs because of how tightly together it keeps your knees. If she doesn't care, it makes a lot more sense that she would aim for comfort.

Reminds me of a show I was in once. There was no costume budget, so the director just gave us a description of what to wear from our own street clothes. He said women should be wearing pencil skirts, but the blocking of the show involved a lot of kneeling on the floor and then getting back up quickly. I took him aside and asked him about it, and it turned out he really didn't have any idea what a pencil skirt was. (He had also never seen Mrs. Wiggins from The Carol Burnett Show.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:29 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


men sing and write about the woman who "doesn't know she's so sexy" and how great it is for them, how attractive they find it from their perspective. Whereas when a woman doesn't know "how sexy she is" it causes a lot of problems for her.

Amen.

OP, how does the whole "I project more sexiness than I authentically feel, I create this persona so real-me can fade into the background" thread of your story progress and resolve?

A realistic progression might be: if she lives in a city, your character would get hit on and catcalled and creeped on by a dozen people before lunch. She would be drowning in threatening, creepy unwanted attention. A few hours is how long it would take her to decide this is a TERRIBLE strategy to use as armor to hide behind. If she lives in a smaller town, then give her a week. The end.

Another realistic progression might be: she fake-owns her fake-sexuality in a defiant and aggressive way (i.e. would not wear beige). She sleeps with a lot of people, especially men. She uses her hypersexualized persona to hide her authentic vulnerable self. Some prince charming comes along and is gentle with her and she drops her guard and lets him see her real self and hopefully, happily ever after, The End.

A really bad, no-good, terrible cliche progression and resolution would be: she projects a fake sexual confidence in order to hide her true self. She does this by pretending to be comfortable in her skin. She dresses in beige in order to blend into the background, but just can't help exuding gobs and gobs of come-hither ooze in spite of her efforts. Men notice her everywhere but always in extremely respectful ways. She turns heads, she gets free drinks, the cop won't write her a ticket, etc. But she conveniently never gets honked while walking to the corner shop, never gets groped at the protest march, never gets crudely propositioned by her friend's husband on a drunken evening, and is never sent a dick pic by her boss. Then, wholesome and growth-inducing events make her realize she's been beautiful and sexy all along, wow, and she finally owns it and revels in it by falling in love or whatever, The End.

Please don't do that.
posted by MiraK at 8:33 AM on May 16 [15 favorites]


I suppose Louboutins are out of the question. I had Googled designer shoes, and they looked reasonably appropriate. On second thought, not. As far as her income and living situation, I think she would have to be affluent, as her father's estate bankrolled her education.

I had also assumed, perhaps wrongly, that psychoanalysts tend to be a particular blend of money and eccentricity. That was the impression I had after watching a few interviews with analysts on YouTube, and I was trying to fit Anatta into that world somehow.

I hope I'm not giving anyone an obstinate vibe here, because I'll certainly be incorporating everything that has been said here in my revision.

I am, by the way, a native Mainer. I definitely know how casual we are in all things, and yes, I was also trying to write her into an outfit that distinguishes her from her upbringing.
posted by jwhite1979 at 8:41 AM on May 16


A woman in her late thirties has been wearing heels for twenty-five years, a bra for nearly thirty, and stockings her whole life. This particular woman has literally won prizes (in beauty contests) for her physical poise. She is not going to be having trouble wearing a bra or walking down the street without getting stuck in cracks, etc, and if there somehow is an accident, she's going to be able to recover quickly, easily, expertly (without discussing it with her therapist or whatever -- it's minutia that there's not really any reason to discuss?).

If she's dressed sort of down for this interview, then maybe a gray sheath dress, sensible dark pumps, a dark blazer. Don't worry about the belt or the stockings, those are generally really nondescript/basic for women, and the more formal the outfit the more nondescript they are. The accessories she'd be worrying about would be her jewelry, shoes, and purse. She also will have to think about how she's going to do her makeup, nails, and hair. She also will probably need to have a portfolio with her if she's carrying a purse rather than a briefcase of some kind.

Her clothes are her armor, I don't think that she'd just be slobbing up in a cardigan like she's at home. I think that rather than "sexiness" you should maybe be thinking about "flashiness." Like she's trying to be understated and sophisticated but there are heavy-handed touches that are a little too flashy (like maybe her makeup is too heavy or her nail color is too old fashioned or her hair is expertly done but a little too "date night"). It sounds like her femininity is a very self conscious performance, in which case I would expect her to have a whole "getting done up" ritual that is going to include how she does her hair, makeup, nails, accessories, dresses (literally the order she gets dressed), etc. Gotta get ready for the performance, right? Maybe her issue is that she doesn't change up that ritual enough from "big night out" to "interview" and winds up looking a little overly sexy that way? But even then, the issue would be with her grooming (hair/nails/makeup) or accessories (jewelry/purse/portfolio/shoes), not that she would be literally wearing weird clothes.
posted by rue72 at 8:50 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]


> Don't worry about the belt or the stockings, those are generally really nondescript/basic for women

That's a good point. Including them in the description gives them too much weight, which might be part of the creepy vibe. (I would call them pantyhose, because I was a child in the 1970s, but you should definitely not do that.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:57 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]


If she's from Maine, what's the family's class background? That'll govern what seems ok to her; what brands, what styles, etc. I agree with the above that a wealthy old-money New England family is not doing child beauty pageants. If the family's wealthy, more likely their kid would do ballet? which is a whole world of body-issues of its own.

Does anything else hang on the family being wealthy? Maybe the family isn't wealthy, and therefore she did do child beauty pageants, but then she got through school on scholarships because of her perfectionism? That could be good, the perfectionism has really helped her to get where she is, and shows how necessary it's been to her. Then with the clothes, you can show bargain shopping as area where she can be perfect/excel -- being able to put together smart-looking outfits on a shoestring budget by canny shopping and combining/accessorizing/sense of style. This would fit with having been a poorer kid among richer kids at an expensive school -- talk about wanting to blend in and not stand out. If she's this kind of perfectionist, she would be very aware of the implications of her clothes and would make a point of not having anything be worn or shoddy or mismatched. But then you can maybe get to your desired scene like so: Maybe she keeps her underwear too long because of being thrifty, and then this bra thing comes back to bite her. She's got her carefully-constructed professional outfit on the outside but the hidden wear on the inside causes a problem she can't ignore.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:58 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Navy is not colorful. Navy is not even considered a color; it's a neutral. Just like it is in menswear. For what you want to signify, a typical combo would be in a navy blazer, a beige or gray skirt, white blouse, and navy pumps.

Women who have "abandoned anything like a personality or sexuality in exchange for a solitary academic existence" don't buy "drool-worthy," expensive Reiss suits, especially considering the very sexualized marketing that you see on their website.

She would wear Ann Taylor, though, and their suiting page is a good visual reference for you.
posted by desuetude at 8:59 AM on May 16 [7 favorites]


OP, how does the whole "I project more sexiness than I authentically feel, I create this persona so real-me can fade into the background" thread of your story progress and resolve?


Through her relationship with her daughter. Anatta has a strained relationship with her 14 year old daughter, who was raised by her own mother while Anatta was in school. The man who committed the murders, Corey, was Liv's father, and he died before she was born.

Corey's personality and mannerisms mirror Anatta's father's in a few ways. They're both condescending without meaning to be, they both obsess over arcane details of film history, and they both speak very slowly and deliberately, as if they're struggling to find the perfect words. The difference is that Corey isn't judgmental or controlling in the least. He's frightened of the world and hides by working third shift in an assisted living facility. So from Corey, she gets the validation she always wanted. And Corey is, until very late in the novel, celibate; so her sexuality isn't an overt issue around him, nor is her academic success. He just thinks she's cool as hell. When he goes insane and kills himself, she feels abandoned, and Liv is his surrogate. She is afraid to let her daughter into her life for fear of being abandoned.

The resolution comes when she realizes it's okay to hate parts of herself, that she doesn't have to like everything about herself in order to accept it. She doesn't have to love the parts of herself that were conditioned by her abusive relationships; that she doesn't even have to accept them. But she doesn't have to fight them, either. She is who she is, and the subconscious war within herself doesn't have to go on. With that understanding, she is able to turn away from her academic and career goals. She opens a practice in rural Maine and works with people who would otherwise be without quality mental healthcare. In this setting, she begins to have a normal relationship with her daughter.

Everything after the therapy session is merely hinted at in the denouement. She's moving into Corey's old house, and she gets into an argument with Liv, but it's a normal argument that makes her feel capable of maternal affection.

If you or anyone else have ideas about how I can improve this arc, I'm all ears.
posted by jwhite1979 at 9:04 AM on May 16


A woman in her late thirties has been wearing heels for twenty-five years, a bra for nearly thirty, and stockings her whole life. This particular woman has literally won prizes (in beauty contests) for her physical poise. She is not going to be having trouble wearing a bra or walking down the street without getting stuck in cracks, etc, and if there somehow is an accident, she's going to be able to recover quickly, easily, expertly (without discussing it with her therapist or whatever -- it's minutia that there's not really any reason to discuss?).
When I read this, it was a total culture shock to me. I just can't recognize it at all. I didn't wear a bra before university, for example. But it's not about me, and upon reflection I think this is a very good description of your character. And then I thought, this is a small town Ivanka. Look at her for inspiration but take it down some millions of dollars, if you can.
posted by mumimor at 9:13 AM on May 16


[One comment deleted. Sorry, this needs to stay more-or-less constrained to the original question, about the clothes for this scene. If folks want to help with deeper general workshopping of the story, that should move to another venue.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:21 AM on May 16


If she's from Maine, what's the family's class background? 

Her father's parents owned an Indian restaurant in Freeport. When they sold it, her father used some of the money to open a movie rental business, which became a successful state-wide chain, which Blockbuster bought out for a couple million. He invested the money into strip mall real estate, and when he died left her with enough money to go to school indefinitely and to live on for a while.

There is less to say about her mother, except that she was the daughter of dairy farmers and loves being nouveau riche. She is the one who makes Anatta go to the pageants, while her father resents the hypersexualization. He expresses concern in the opening scene over Anatta's masturbation at five years old, saying he's more concerned with her moral development than her pageant performance. The mother points out that he is the one sexualizing Anatta by obsessing over this particular stage in her development.
posted by jwhite1979 at 9:23 AM on May 16


About the Corporette link: just because a brand makes some interview-appropriate clothes, doesn't mean all their clothes will be appropriate. Also, while an individual piece of clothing could be part of an interview-appropriate outfit, the way it's styled on the model on the website may not be.
posted by airmail at 10:21 AM on May 16


> This particular woman has literally won prizes (in beauty contests) for her physical poise. She is not going to be having trouble wearing a bra or walking down the street without getting stuck in cracks, etc, and if there somehow is an accident, she's going to be able to recover quickly, easily, expertly (without discussing it with her therapist or whatever -- it's minutia that there's not really any reason to discuss?).

Heartily seconded. And stuffing a kleenex in her bra to shield the protruding wire...are you imagining that this would be somehow lumpy or otherwise outwardly visible to her therapist? Because it wouldn't be.

No, she is definitely a psychoanalyst, and I describe her academic background in some detail. I also address the fact that she's unusually young for someone with those credentials. The fellowship she is applying for studies the acquisition of temporal constructs in young children from within a post-freudian framework. This is thematically relevant, as much of the novel deals with the inability to maintain a sense of self over time. She is looking to the fellowship as a way of postponing her life, as academia had allowed her to keep her head down and ignore herself and her daughter, who was raised by her mother.

Also, how is a 37 year old, with the means and motivation to go straight through with her education and training, unusually young to be a credentialed professional psychoanalyst? And as renren pointed out, it's strange for someone at that level to go back and apply for a fellowship. And would an institution likely even accept such a student? Folks with more experience specifically with this subspeciality should chime in, but if she wants to go back and bury herself in academia, wouldn't a research assistant professor position be more appropriate?
posted by desuetude at 10:29 AM on May 16


Also, how is a 37 year old, with the means and motivation to go straight through with her education and training, unusually young to be a credentialed professional psychoanalyst? And as renren pointed out, it's strange for someone at that level to go back and apply for a fellowship. And would an institution likely even accept such a student?

I have sat on a national research foundation board. There are some fields that have older applicants for good reasons, and psychology and psychiatry are among them. This part is completely in accordance with my present day experience.
posted by mumimor at 10:36 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


At the risk of veering and having my comment deleted, I actually spoke with two women in their late thirties who were recently involved in similar fellowships. I wanted to vet the idea. And as far as the timeline goes: Anatta graduated college at twenty-two, spent four years in med school, four years in a psychiatric residency program, and three years in psychoanalysis training. Most analysts with psychiatric degrees are in their fifties or sixties. There aren't many in their thirties. According to my research, anyway.
posted by jwhite1979 at 10:52 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


/Her father's parents owned an Indian restaurant in Freeport.

Does this mean they were Indian and therefore she’s (at least partly) Indian herself? If she grew up a visible minority in one of the whitest states in the country, that could impact in quite complex ways how she’s perceived and perceives herself both in terms of sexuality and dressing to fit in or not fit in. That plus the pageants and other stuff, it would really make for an unusual blend of issues I would think. I’m assuming you’ve thought of this; maybe you’re basing her on someone you really know. It’s just that as you can see from this thread, getting dressed as a woman is already very fraught a lot of the time, in ways many men don’t realize, and being different in any way adds at least one more layer to that.

About the underwire, if it pokes out of the fabric I’m not sure a Kleenex would do much to protect the skin. I think it would either slip or get torn by the wire right away. If you’re looking for something embarrassing, that she feels the need to mention, that could be if the Kleenex slips out of her shirt somehow. Or, I almost hesitate to suggest this but another thing she might do with a painful bra, if the cardigan is bulky enough and she isn’t too curvy, is just take it off. That would certainly make her feel weird and inappropriate and play with all sorts of insecurities in her mind about sexiness or lack thereof and being seen vs blending in or dressing to be sexy vs invisible.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:54 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


just take it off
Nope, pull out the underwire. Depending on your shape, you may have to pull out both sides, and then you might need a scissor or box cutter, which can lead to all sorts of trouble.
posted by mumimor at 10:57 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty confused by the comments about pencil skirts necessarily being "sexy". Pencil skirts of some type are the typical skirt that's part of suit separates. I can't recall the last time I saw a (business-appropriate, not mother-of-the-bride) skirt suit for sale that included something other than a pencil skirt. Just look at the Ann Taylor website for example - all those basic office-lady skirts are marketed as pencil skirts. The difference between business-y pencil skirts and sexy pencil skirts comes down to tapering and maybe the body type of the person wearing it.

That's a long way of saying that putting your character in a skirt suit she haphazardly got off the rack at Banana Republic or TJ Maxx would make sense.
posted by blerghamot at 11:54 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


> There are some fields that have older applicants for good reasons, and psychology and psychiatry are among them. This part is completely in accordance with my present day experience.

Ah, fair enough, I stand corrected.

> On the contrary, it was meant to show her boldness in fixing the problem in front of her therapist--almost a kind of power-play.

Fixing a problem with your bra in front of your female therapist (especially if she is like a mother figure!) would not demonstrate boldness or or power. It would be pretty unremarkable, really? Certain personal matters that go along with traditional feminine presentation are subject to a sort of unspoken common understanding between women; this operates outside the ordinary boundaries of their social or professional hierarchies. See also: tags sticking out the back of one's top, loose hem, lipstick on the teeth, hitching up tights/pantyhose/stockings, alerting someone that her purse is unzipped/hanging open.
posted by desuetude at 1:07 PM on May 16 [12 favorites]


Funny, in a writing group the criticism was that a woman would never do that in front of her therapist unless she were especially tacky. Go figure.

In any case, it seems that people are getting creeped out by my continued participation in this thread. I'll leave now, but if anyone is interested in the story and would like to help me make better, please send me some MeFi mail.
posted by jwhite1979 at 1:21 PM on May 16


Most analysts with psychiatric degrees are in their fifties or sixties. There aren't many in their thirties.

The reason for this is that around the late 1980s/early 1990s, psychoanalysis fell out of favor among psychiatrists. This happened in part because of a reframing of psychiatric disease as a chemical imbalance rather than a reaction to suppressed trauma (Prozac, the first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, was approved by the FDA for the treatment of depression in December 1987), and in part because the rise of HMOs meant that time-intensive treatments like analysis was no longer reimbursed well for psychiatrists.

To be sure, there were/are still pockets around the country where psychoanalysis remains A Thing Done By Psychiatrists -- NYC being one of these holdouts -- but in general, anyone entering medical school after about the mid-90s (so anyone younger than about 50 years old in 2019) would get a very strong message against analysis as an appropriate field of study for a physician. I went to med school in NYC in the mid-late 2000s, at a place with a nationally well-regarded psychiatry faculty/residency program, and I don't think we discussed psychoanalysis at all aside from one optional Psych Movie Night in second year where we watched Almodovar's Hable con ella.
posted by basalganglia at 3:18 PM on May 16 [10 favorites]


A pencil skirt is not simply a straight skirt, which is what you'll see in a traditional skirt suit. A pencil skirt is tighter and more restricting.

Whenever I've had an underwire spring loose, I've also gone the route of simply pulling it out. Then the worry is about appearing lopsided, which was never a huge problem for me once I checked the mirror (esp. under a jacket or cardigan) but might have been with somebody more well-endowed.

I've also got to agree that a former pageant girl would not likely be flustered by wardrobe malfunctions. They happen all the time backstage and you get used to last-minute fixes. Heck, I'm just a simple ageing theater kid and I still always carry clear nail polish when I wear stockings.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:12 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


> Funny, in a writing group the criticism was that a woman would never do that in front of her therapist unless she were especially tacky. Go figure.

I can't figure how you got from "tacky" to imagining it as "boldness...almost a power play." Those things are practically opposites.
posted by desuetude at 9:32 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


(Desuetude, the move that comes to mind is Sharon Stone flashing the police in the interrogation room in Basic Instinct. I'm not saying it was an effective narrative choice, but it does seem intended to be a tacky, bold power play. In real life I have to imagine that hard-boiled detectives wouldn't be captivated, but...)

jwhite, one idea to consider using is one from the comments on Askamanager.com, which always has interesting insight into work outfits: there's an axis for casual to formal, and then there's an axis for professional to social. So you actually have a matrix of women's clothes -- business casual (professional) isn't appropriate for a family picnic (social), and you don't wear a wedding dress (social) to address the UN General Assembly (professional). I mean, there are also probably axes for levels of effort, traditional femininity and certainly cost... maybe these would be useful in terms of thinking of Anatta's personal style.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:01 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


« Older Sorry, but I just have a quick question.   |   How do I watch this movie? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments