The Career Begins, but What to Wear?

I moved to St. Louis for my first job with Monsanto in February of 1978. An automobile accident I experienced while enroute with friends to Miami, Florida, for the Orange Bowl game on New Year’s Day delayed my entry into the corporate workforce. I remember calling my new manager and dreading that they would pull the offer if I couldn’t be there in January as we’d previously agreed. I worried for naught. They were very understanding.

There could have been better times of the year to move to St. Louis. The city was in the midst of a sixty day run of snow on the ground. I learned that traversing around the town was easier than any place in Oklahoma during similar situations because the St. Louis area had plenty of snow removal equipment. I found an apartment in the trendy Westside. Back then, ‘trendy’ meant new: new restaurants, new stores, and new apartments. My new home was also close to work. This would come in handy in future snowstorms.

I’ve never been what you would call a clotheshorse. I kept a few work clothes, which had double duty for church and special occasions. As I settled into my new life and accumulated some spending money from my bi-monthly paycheck, I realized my sparse wardrobe needed some sprucing up.

Monsanto corporate headquarters, typical of most in that day, required a strict business dress code. We had yet to hear of terms like ‘business casual’ and there was no Friday jeans day. Monday through Friday, week in and week out, suits, dresses, neckties for the men and dressy pantsuits were the only attire allowed.

The only exception allowed for those of us who had to run to one of the local chemical plants during the day. Then jeans and a khaki work shirt were appropriate. (I actually took some flak from the group secretary for wearing jeans into work one day. She was given an opportunity to accept me as one of the ‘guys’ and she shut up after that.)

With spring in full force, I headed to the stores to purchase my business attire. Suits, dresses, skirts, and pantsuits, made my shopping list. Enter the entertainment business and their influence on the fashion industry.

The movie ‘Annie Hall’ had been a huge hit. The main character in the movie, Annie Hall, dressed stylishly, but casually. Floppy hats, vests, men’s ties that alluded to a Bohemian style was wildly popular to a fault. I searched and searched every store for work-appropriate attire only to come up empty. Panicked, I turned to a talent that had been cultivated over my childhood with my grandmother and mother: sewing.

This is pretty close to the machine I still own.

My Singer sewing machine was my second major purchase, after my television. I sewed a few outfits together just to get through the summer until the fashions returned to some sort of normalcy. I’ve never forgiven Woody Allen for causing this new professional undue stress in her first job.

Times have changed and now the pendulum has swung to allow jeans and t-shirts on a regular basis. Business casual is now a term used for party dress and dressing up in suits is looked at in a negative light. Co-workers don’t understand a person’s desire to dress up. The only reason a person dresses up for work nowadays is for either an interview or a funeral. Surely dressing up just for the sake of a normal workday can’t be normal.


About stemzandroses

I'm an engineer and writer with a built-in need to share my nearly 40 years of experience working in a male-dominated field with the rest of the world.
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