Proper Attire (not running, for once)

A few months ago, MM.Lafleur, this women’s workwear fashion company, came to DC and opened their first showroom here. (They aren’t a typical shop, women put their preferences to a stylist, then try samples of the clothing on based on what they want, they choose if they want any of it, and it’s shipped to them. It’s designed to be minimal fuss, minimal schlepping, a counterbalance to fast fashion, and time efficient.)  I wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post about it because the article didn’t mention sizes and when I went to the website it only had the “typical” size range:
As a professional woman of modest means in the 30-50 demographic who has exactly the trouble dressing herself that the founder describes in the article, I read this article with increasing interest, and then skepticism.  I fully subscribe to the idea of a number of core, investment pieces to supplement with accessories for work wear.  But there was no mention of sizing, so I went and looked it up online, hoping I was wrong…. I wasn’t.  They carry clothing in the exact same size range as Ann Taylor and Banana Republic – if you are over a size 16, you apparently either aren’t worthy of being clothed in the same classy way, or don’t belong in the professional workplace.  Most American women are size 12-14 and up. Had this company decided to outfit the full range of professional women who work, that would have been something really unique and interesting, and worth the article.  (Fashion industry becomes more inclusive and acknowledges size diversity among women who wear suits!)  But you endorsed the notion that larger women aren’t in the professional world or that those who are don’t deserve to be clothed appropriately…. You didn’t mention the limited size range, and you should have.
The author of the article responded to me (Thanks for your thoughtful note…. I agree it would’ve been helpful to delve into this issue a bit in the story. You’re right that the retail industry overall is doing a poor job of courting plus-size shoppers…. In any case, MM.LaFleur executives told me they plan to add plus sizes later this year), the Post edited and published my letter, and thus began a really, really interesting dialogue and journey.
MM.Lafleur saw my letter, and responded, via Twitter and then via email to me.  I was impressed by that, but I was even more impressed because they actually did have extending their size line on the horizon (they don’t call it “plus” which I appreciate – plus what?  I’m all for language that doesn’t call out something as normal and anything else as other – but I digress), and the Post could have avoided all of this by putting one sentence to clarify that.  But they didn’t and here we are.  Talk about serendipity….

The response from the company could have easily been, “we are, stay tuned later this spring” and been done with it.  But it wasn’t, which looking back, gave me something of an insight into the company itself.  (The other insight, that I find very unique and really good about this company, that I didn’t know til yesterday, is that they have a very interactive, iterative process.  They solicit feedback from their clients and want to know what works, what doesn’t, what we like and don’t, what we want to see.  And they remember and will re-design based on the input.  For example, yesterday there was a great top that I wish were a couple of inches longer, because, belly.  They noted this input in a follow-up email yesterday afternoon.)

We got to talking, over maybe two dozen emails, about clothing, careers, being a woman in the work world, being a bigger than average woman in the work world, and about other things, life, etc.  The woman I got to corresponding with, Charlotte, asked if I’d be amenable to being one of their profiled women, once the extended size line released.  I learned more about this yesterday.  Charlotte explained that they were interested in profiling women who are successful in their professions (in their clothes!).  Charlotte (with an incredibly impressive journalism background) told me that she and the company had noticed that men who are in professions like finance, law, banking – white collar professions – often are profiled, glamorized, in magazines, yet women usually end up in magazine articles only if they are in creative professions like modeling and acting.  They wanted to profile women who were successful and at the top of their game in the kinds of professions that the men are – and not coincidentally, the same kind of professions that require women to be clothed in the style that MM.Lafleur presents.

What all of this turned into was… this incredible experience I had yesterday.  They invited me to a photo shoot – but not any photo shoot with models and stuff… I *was* the photo shoot.  Trying on some clothing from the new, not-yet-released-yet-stay-tuned-later-this-week line.  Photos of me in the clothes!  They were aiming for a couple of outfits of the lot to use in this profile.  And hair and makeup professionals, the makeup and the hair… way way out of my comfort zone!  And jewelry, shoes (HEELS!).  This to go with the profile.  (Apparently I REALLY need to exfoliate.  I had no freckles and straight hair for once in my life and it feels SO different.  I cannot believe how much makeup I had on my face yesterday…)
lafleur
Face. Makeup. Flat hair.  Do I even look like myself?!
I admit it was daunting and scary.  I was very concerned that the clothing wouldn’t fit me.  That they would look at me and freak out (oh my god, what the hell are we supposed to do with THIS?).  Plus, they came from New York… with a professional photographer… for ME?   Turns out their photographer is used to mainly photographing professional models… gulp.  I tried to warn them beforehand – I told them I was plain at best and from the measurements surely they could see I’m… let’s call it, oddly shaped, to be kind, right?  Sending my measurements was scary.  Later, Charlotte told me that when she sent them to the stylist team and they sent over the clothing for me – four dresses, three tops and a skirt – she asked if they were sure and they were absolute.  And they were spot on.  Not only did they fit me perfectly, but the styles they sent were completely flattering and also the kind of things I like as well.  A couple of items weren’t my usual style and I was stunned and pleased at how nice they were on me.
The people in the showroom were really good at putting me at ease.  Well, okay, full disclosure, it started with a glass of Prosecco, so….  😀   It’s a really pretty, minimalist showroom, silver and white, with light r&b and jazz and diffusers making it smell nice, too.  It could be easy to feel like the oversized, big, clumsy out of place girl that I’m so used to feeling like, here.  But everyone was so good at treating me like anyone else, that I didn’t feel that way.  (Awkward and self conscious because I didn’t know what I was doing playing model, yes.  Awkward and self consciousness because I’m bigger, no.)  Even the other customers seemed to take the cue and not gawk or wonder what I was doing there – and in Washington women’s workwear land, there is a lot of looking down noses at people who are less than perfect.  And they would have been totally justified in wondering, since the extended sizes aren’t out yet.  It’s amazing how much more confident you can be, when you walk in and you already know that there will be things for you, things that fit, that you DO belong there just like everyone else.
Another flash insight.  The clothing for the bigger sizes is the SAME as the other clothes.  This, no pun intended, is huge.  First, because it indicates that there are styles and clothing that DO look good on every body.  They may look different on different people, but that look good on every body, no judgement on which body wears it better.  And second, and even more important, this is not a company to shy away from clothing bigger women, or sequester us.  There isn’t a “women’s” or “plus” section (what are other women, girls and minus?).  There isn’t a different line for “plus” bodies to isolate them so that their fashions can be un-fashions, reserving the most desired clothing and styles for the most-desired bodies.  This company is not afraid to put their signature designs on different kinds of bodies, they don’t think putting their clothing on a bigger body is going to indelibly hurt their brand, taint it with the mark of a larger person.
We took pictures under cloudy skies in front of buildings that were quintessentially DC, and at McPherson Square.  I wore higher heels than I ever wore in my life.  When we were walking around from place to place, the three of us, it didn’t feel weird like I thought it might with us dressed up sort of and with this big camera… it felt like we looked like just three girls going around DC together.  It was kind of funny… we were talking about work clothing, and I characterized in percentages – how maybe half the time I’m good with something nice-casual-nice, I can throw on a blazer I keep in my office, and it’s good for most things including working level meetings, then half of the remaining I can be just casual because no one will see me outside my office, and the other half I have to really be ‘on’ – international meetings, meetings with foreign dignitaries and front office principals, etc.  Oddly enough, my numbers were slightly off but it was nearly identical to one of their clothing principles. They asked me where I’ve been buying my work clothes, and I realized how difficult it has been to cobble together a work wardrobe that goes together (raised on Garanimals, anyone else?) and is comfortable, from so many different places.  We also talked about protesting and New York and DC, food scenes, dogs, the train, and so much else.  I stopped feeling awkward, stopped feeling like the fat, ugly girl who’s inexplicably befriended by the pretty ones (you know you’ve seen that in so many movies).  My body and my size became a nonissue.  Not even a nonissue, just not something needing any kind of consideration any more or less than anyone else’s.  (One thing I really feel is that fat-shaming would go down if bigger people – who aren’t always actually fat but it doesn’t matter – didn’t feel like they had something to be ashamed of and therefore mean words received no reaction.  One way of achieving this is for people who are bigger who participate in all of life’s activities – including working as a lawyer or stockbroker or banker, including running and swimming and biking and skiing, including going to the movies and to baseball games and happy hours – to actually have appropriate clothing for those activities, and by “appropriate” I mean comfortable, functional, attractive.)  Right here is a giant step forward.
Granted these clothes are more expensive but they are comfortable and classics, and if they fit well and wear well and I need fewer of them and they all go together then I can stop trying to get X from one place, Y from another, LMNOP from this place, and hope they look okay together (usually resulting in half of the purchased clothes sitting in my closet forever).
When I was leaving one of the DC consultants asked if I was a model and I just cracked up.  I thought she was being over the top flattering and she tried to explain that they often do hire models for the clothing and with the new line coming out this week she thought I might have been brought in for that.  Smh…
Here is the link to the genesis of the MM.Lafleur new sizes:  https://u.com/mdash/first-addition-mmlafleur-launches-extended-sizes
(P.S. After the session I thought I would go for a run but for once in my life being all glam like that, I walked instead and then later made my husband take me out to dinner!)
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3 thoughts on “Proper Attire (not running, for once)

  1. That’s a really terrific read, Valerie. There were some chuckle moments, a couple teary ones (hey, I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life, but I’m a guy and finding clothes has never been a real issue for me). And at then end I just wanted to cheer! Espeically when you siad you had your husband take you out fo dinner: WELL EARNED! I’m so happy to call you a friend!

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  2. Exceptionally well written. I liked being exposed to your perceptions and insights. I honestly had not given it much thought one way or the other…but that’s the way it is with many things in life. You don’t know what you don’t know until you’re exposed to it. They sound like a lovely company – anyone who pays that much attention to their consumers earns my praise! Customer service seems to be a thing of the past so it’s nice to hear it’s still a practice in some companies.

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  3. You are so awesome and courageous. I so admire your writing and your athleticism. You speak your mind and do what you say – so few are like that. Keep being an amazing ROCK STAR Valerie.
    Joyce

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