It's cold and icy in New York, so my thoughts naturally turn to "woollies," as my stepmother-in-law calls sweaters. She disdains "those overheated American homes" and keeps her house in the hills of Florence as cold as an English boarding school. Whenever she sees me shivering, she'll say, "You need a better woolly!"
Besides drafty Tuscan houses, I associate sweaters with my New England college days. Sweaters are for warmth and coziness. But I don't think of them as substitutes for jackets or blazers in office settings where coats and ties are de rigueur.
But according to a recent editorial in The New York Times by fashion writer Kate Betts, the rules have changed--at least for women. Betts writes that Michele Obama has revolutionized office attire, making sweaters--in particular, cardigans--the new power suits:
With her brio and idiosyncratic clothing choices, Mrs. Obama has rewritten the dress code for women who work. We wear cardigans now instead of always jackets, flats instead of impossibly high platform heels. We have a little fun with fashion, even to the point of being more frivolous.
You might remember that Obama even wore a cardigan--with the sleeves pushed up--to meet Queen Elizabeth. So if it's good enough for the Queen of England, it should be good enough for the office, right?
That seems to be the prevailing attitude. Kat Griffin over at Corporette.com analyzed different types of cardigans and loves them all. She thinks the heavier, structured ones are just as credible as a tailored jacket for professional women, conveying "authority, but in a friendly way."
My law school friend, Jennifer, now an in-house counsel, finds cardigans to be interchangeable with jackets. "I think cardigans are the most practical item of clothing ever invented," she says. She prefers ones by Tse or J. Crew, adorned "with a scarf or simple jewelry to finish the outfit."
But she cringes at the thought of cardigans on men at the office. "Male lawyers wearing cardigans tend to look either professorial or like Mr. Rogers--not the image you want to project in a high-powered law firm."
Somehow, though, women in cardigans feel empowered. Maybe they are just more comfortable.
Readers, would you wear cardigans to an interview, client meeting, or court? Are cardigans the slippery slope for formal corporate attire? What's next? Fleece?
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Photo: Peter Souza, Courtesy of the White House