Over the years I’ve received a number of compliments about my work clothing as an attorney and follow-up questions about where I buy my clothing. It’s a struggle for most people I know to find professional clothing that looks flattering and is also comfortable. The most frustrating item for me is the modern suit – skinny pants made for legs smaller than mine; low rise pants that I don’t want to have to constantly be pulling up in court or worried about showing my crack when I bend over to get something out of a trial box; if there’s even a skirt option it’s a tapered “pencil” skirt that my thighs would stress and rip the rear seam if I, again, bent over to get something out of a trial box; jackets that are somehow shapeless and wide in the waist/torso and constricting at the arms and shoulders; and everything is too long for my frame.
It’s no secret that I run a swing dancer fashion blog called Lindy Shopper, where I explore clothing and shoes for dancing. As I started working as a professional it became important for me to integrate my work and dance clothing so that I could leave work and go immediately to a dance or not have to change clothing. Over time, as mall shopping became a wasteland in terms of fit and interesting offerings, I looked more to vintage and smaller online vintage-inspired brands to fulfill my wardrobe needs for both work and dancing.
Some vintage clothing is already more formal than what most people would wear today, so things like suits that are no longer daily or even special occasion-wear for some can be purchased for less than a new, modern suit would cost. I have vintage/older suits ranging in decades from the 1940s to the 2000s. The things I like about vintage suits are numerous:
- Sturdier and more quality fabric. This is both for winter and summer suiting, by which I mean a heavier weight wool for winter and cotton and linen for summer. I have a couple of wool crepe suits that might fall under 3 season weight and they are also of a nicer quality.
- The armholes sit higher, which is less constricting for arm movement and for the fabric across your back.
- The sleeves are wider at the bicep, which is also less constricting.
- Aside from some my 1950s suits, the skirts (I only have skirt suits at this point, though I have odd jackets that I wear with trousers) are at least an A-line, making it easier to go into a full squat without the worry of a split in the back or flashing people from the front. Hemlines are often below the knee.
- They are available in lawyer-appropriate colors and textures – black, gray, tweed, seersucker, linen, etc.
- They come in classic shapes that are almost indistinguishable from modern custom suiting – I say custom because people often notice my suits because they are different from modern suiting in that they look better, but aren’t so different from what is being offered as today’s suit. For example I try to stick with classic lapels and A-line skirts, but details like a different pocket shape, interesting seaming, or topstitching give it a custom look.
- I can often find them in pristine condition, either never worn or barely worn. I do have this requirement for suits, that they have no obvious flaws, while I will wear stained or visibly repaired vintage garments in other settings.
As with all vintage clothing, there are some maintenance issues. The first things in a garment to deteriorate are usually threads, so you may periodically have to repair seams. They will need to be dry-cleaned, which I do at the wardrobe switch between cold and warm weather or as needed if I spill something.
Also, when I am shopping at brick and mortar vintage shops, I usually have to ask if they have any suits – suits don’t usually move quickly, so I have found that there’s often a stash in the back that the shopkeeper can pull from. In some cases, I’ll give a vintage store a heads up about looking for suits so they can pull things in my size from their storage space or warehouse.
Newer suits have been hard to come by. Around 2003 I purchased a gray suit and a black suit from The Limited, with jacket, trousers, and flared/slightly trumpet skirt. I can’t wear the trousers anymore, but the remaining skirt suits have been a staple of my wardrobe that I cling to because I haven’t found a suitable replacement in stores. A few years ago I commissioned Kim Clark (one of my tailors) to make me a 1940s style suit out of modern gray stripe suiting fabric and another more 1950s inspired suit out of some incredible glen plaid suiting I found for $3/yard at a local thrift store, which is the closest I have come to a new suit in a long time. That said, I purchased a new suit this week from Emmy, who has released a summer suit consisting of a short sleeved jacket and skirt in linen, basically perfect for walking to the courthouse in the summer.
I have also incorporated other vintage clothing items into my work wardrobe – skirts, vests, ties, and blouses, primarily. Locating these items is a great treasure hunt that is not for the faint of heart. As I am always shopping for vintage items in general, I frequent brick and mortar stores locally and in my travels, troll Etsy for certain categories (1940s suits are a dream), monitor offerings from favorite sellers on vintage Facebook groups and Instagram sellers, and occasionally check for things on eBay (I’m looking at you, Ralph Lauren from the 1980s/1990s). Most of the time I am not looking for anything specific for work, but come across an item that would be perfect and seize the moment. This is a process and these vintage items are collected over years, even decades at this point.
Before things get too discouraging, please know that most of my non-suit work wardrobe is not vintage, but definitely inspired by vintage. I am only in court a few times a month, so most of what I am wearing for days at the office is my version of business casual. There are several staples that I keep coming back to over and over:
Lands End made a wonderful supima cotton crew neck sweater – now that I have bought these in 6 different colors, I see that they are no longer making the short sleeve shell, but are still offering the cardigan? Boo! This is my #1 top staple, they look great under any suit, add a necklace to pair with skirt or trousers, and were available in petite and plus sizes, as well. If I find a good substitute, I will update this blog post. Until then, BOOOOOOO.
Button up blouses may be the scourge of most lady lawyers, but I find that vintage style blouses usually have gathers at the shoulders that give you a more comfortable amount of bust room, a greater range of motion for your arms, while still giving you darts to retain your shape at the waist. They are also often made of more flowing fabrics, which also helps show off your shape. I will never suffer through another cotton rectangle, feeling like She-Hulk with a boob gap and constricted biceps. I almost always buy short sleeve blouses because my arms are so short (the only ones I have that I don’t have to roll up the cuffs are vintage), so I am mostly going to feature short sleeves here, but all of these brands also offer lovely long sleeved options, as well.
Emmy Design, based in Sweden, is probably my top contender for both style and quality, offering short and long sleeves, prints and solids, wear button or unbuttoned, etc. They also have gorgeous knits, both shells to wear under suits and cardigans to wear over clothing on more casual days.
A close runner-up is The House of Foxy, who have also been incredibly solid in terms of fit and quality of fabrics. Perhaps my biggest complaint is that my arms are too short for their incredibly gorgeous long sleeved lady blouses, which they seem to be releasing more of than short sleeved versions for my stumpy arms.
I am a devotee to reproductions of the straight leg high waist trousers from the 1930s and 1940s. There are three companies I go to when I need a new pair of trousers and all of them are based in the UK: Heyday, Vivien of Holloway, and The House of Foxy. To me, Heyday has the best fabric, followed by House of Foxy, but the Vivien of Holloway trousers are cut for my 12 inch waist/hip ratio. Heyday also offers a stretch fabric option, which is nice for fluctuations, although I do not rely on stretch fabric as a substitution for fit when I am buying a trouser initially. All three of these brands suffer from adding white buttons to some (but not all) colors of their pants, making it look like you’re in a Broadway revival of Anything Goes – that is not the vibe we are going for as attorneys, so I always swap out the white buttons for either matching buttons or tortoiseshell. I also always have to hem all of my pants, so please go into this with a tailor at your side if you are short legged like me – if you are long legged, you can probably get an extra inch out of the cuffs.
I usually stick to A-line, trumpet, or slightly fuller skirts (but nowhere close to a circle skirt) for work, usually (but not always) in conservative colors, depending on what I am doing/who I am meeting with that day. Again, the test is “can I squat in front of a file box without worrying about my skirt?” I have found skirts that fit the bill at ModCloth, House of Foxy, Emmy, and Trashy Diva, in addition to a few vintage pieces.
I tend to gravitate to two basic silhouettes of dresses, both of which look good with a jacket and I usually leave a jacket in my office to toss over a dress for surprise client visits without an appointment. The first is a shirtwaist dress, which essentially works as a one-piece in place of a blouse and you simply pull your collar over your jacket as you might a dress shirt. The other is just about any V-neck dress with an A-line or gathered skirt (again, those damn file boxes), just add a necklace and optional jacket to complete the look. I occasionally find other necklines that works, as well, but those are fewer and far between. I usually stick to the aforementioned brands (add Pretty Retro – spinoff brand of House of Foxy, and Loco Lindo), vintage, or I’ve made a few shirtwaist dresses in the past year thanks to having plenty of down time during the pandemic.
You may not agree with me on shoes, as I only ever wear flats or the lowest possible heels to court. I am often walking to the courthouse and I have feet and back issues that necessitate comfort shoes with straps. I am often seeking Mary Jane or t-strap style shoes, but if you can wear ballet flats, the world opens up a lot more options for professional/comfort footwear. I have purchased shoes in the past from Born, Walking Cradles, Miz Mooz, and Aerosoles, but the only shoes I have that are currently in production are from Remix Vintage Shoes, Bangi, and Rockport’s Cobb Hill line.
The Cobb Hill Angelina is my go-to court shoe – right now it’s only available in black, but I also have it in light brown (you may poke around the internet to other shops and find other options). If I needed another shoe, I wouldn’t hesitate to get the Cobb Hill Laurel Mary Jane.
For summer court-wear, my favorite shoe is Bangi’s Jaffa t-strap flat in white and brown. I don’t like showing my toes in court because I am lazy about keeping them pretty in the summer and they usually get trashed while swing dancing, so the Jaffa shoe is the perfect mix of a closed toe shoe and a sandal, that feels good to wear with bare feet and are comfortable for walking to and from the courthouse on a hot, sunny North Carolina day in July. They look great with all of my summer suits – cotton, linen, seersucker, etc.
Remix Vintage Shoes Dara and Corazon shoes are my favorite summer sandal for the office on days that I don’t go to court. They are based on 1940s play shoes and kind of feel like you are wearing a fancy athletic sandal. I own the Dara in 4 colors, which is a testament to my love. I just got my first pair of Corazons, which are similar in feel to the Daras, and I anticipate I will add more to my closet in the future. I practice family law, so the wearing of hearts is always a little tongue in cheek.
I realize this is a labor of love and I am willing to put in the time because I love wearing clothing that makes me happy, looks professional, looks good on my body, and is comfortable. I hope that this will direct you to some new resources for your professional wardrobe if you are looking for some vintage or vintage-inspired style and give you some new ideas about what to look for in other brands you may already love or come across in your shopping adventures.