Monday, September 7, 2015

What's so great about a bandwagon anyway?

If you follow any other Foreign Service bloggers, then you know that they very often blog about the amazing places they go visit near their overseas posts. These blogs make me so very envious because I could never compete with them. I mean, who wants to read about a trip to the mall, or those three day-weekends when Child 2 made us drive out to the Cracker Barrel in Manassas? (She really, really likes the fried apples and root beer barrels there.)

I've thought often about blogging about my trips to Africa, but those trips were really all about work and I got to see very little. I did manage to take one or two awesome photos, though. Like this one I took in Senegal of a guy shucking oysters he had just pulled from the Atlantic Ocean. Do Pringles go with oysters?

Or this one which I love so much of some girls in Cote d'Ivoire who sold me some mangoes. I asked if I could take a picture of the fruit, but they wanted to be in it, too. And I must admit that it's a way more interesting photo with them at the center. After I snapped it, they all crowded around me to have a look and said "tres jolie!"

But mostly my trips were far to technical to be of any interest to anyone and I mostly saw the inside of the embassies and my hotel and occasional restaurants. But now, I am in India and I live here! I live in India! So I get to travel around and see really amazing places and I went to one this weekend and I promise I will blog about it. 

But first, I want to talk about fashion and State Department workplace attire. I know you are wondering what in the world fashion has to do with workplace attire in the Department and the answer would be nothing at all. Because as people in the Department have proven time and time again, nobody has any idea about what is appropriate work attire, and because no one does, people fight about it all the time and we all end up in a uniform of black pantsuits and flag pins (mine is made of rhinestones.)

The reason I have been thinking about workplace attire so much is that it is very different overseas than in the Department. In The Building, people are always dressed up--suits, ties, wingtips, and extremely high heels. Pencil skirts and jackets, always jackets. You can wear slacks or a skirt or a dress, but you must have a jacket because apparently it is the jacket that makes you look professional. But in embassies and consulates, it's a little different and it's different still in India. The other day, our office had a training day so the dress was business casual. I put on a really cute, full maxi-skirt that I bought in a store here in New Delhi and I wore a T-shirt with gold beads embroidered around the neck. I also put on jeweled thong sandals which ARE NOT FLIP-FLOPS and I felt very casual yet put together. And Husband said to me I thought it was casual day? And I said I am casual can't you tell by the not flip-flops? And he said no, he thought I looked ready for work. And then I got to my office and my staff said to me oh, you look so relaxed! And so there you have the problem in a nutshell which is that Husband has no idea what women should wear to work. 

To his credit, Husband knows that he is not an expert in women's fashion and freely admits such. He also doesn't feel it is his place to tell women what they should wear after the Great Sweater Incident at the very beginning of our marriage when I firmly let him know I would not be taking his fashion advice, ever. And, also to his credit, he has never really given any since. Other people in the Department aren't so self-aware and without fail complain every summer about attire being too casual, very often beginning with a statement that the Department ought to have a dress code and that there is a deplorable lack of respect of the non-existent dress code at the training center and can't we please have a dress code because they are tired of looking at women in capri pants and flip-flops. No. Seriously, every. single. discussion. When you get down to the bottom of it, it's that they don't like women wearing comfortable clothing in the summer and they want us all to be in the black pantsuit club. And no, sadly they don't mean like this one from Donna Karan, although that would be awesome and I would totally pay attention to any woman wearing that in a meeting.

Can I please just say once and for all that dress codes for diplomats are ridiculous?! I mean, for crying out loud, the last time our nation's leaders got together and decided on a uniform for diplomats, this is what they came up with.

I'm not saying I wouldn't rock that feathered chapeu, and the sword would be really fun to play with during lunch breaks and think how awesome it would be to point at a presentation with a sword! But how would I know that would be in a color that suited me and also there are no darts! I cannot do a single breasted jacket without darts.

OK, here is really the thing. The thing is, that work appropriate means different things to different people at different times and in different places--and that it is an especially thorny ground to be on when you are judging women's performance by what they wear. You would think that a Department that sends people all over the world would get that, but so many of them don't. So here, ladies and gentlemen, is what you are permitted to tell me and other women about the appropriateness of our clothing for work:                (crickets chirping)                     (leaves blowing in the wind)                 (an air conditioner kicking on).  Did you catch that? If not, let me spell it out for you. N.O.T.H.I.N.G.

If my wardrobe is actually malfunctioning, then please mention that my hem is ripped, or I have a button on my sleeve that is about to fall off, or I am missing an earring. If you love my shoes so much that you are dying to know where I bought them, ask and I will tell you. If you think that green and purple don't go together and you are appalled by my pairing them together, I don't care, and also you are wrong on two counts--it's inappropriate to mention it and you are wrong. Green and purple are lovely together. And if you think capri pants aren't appropriate for work, then you are sadly lacking in both fashion sense and people skills and I pity you. Capri pants can be very work appropriate. In fact, I just bought a new pair not unlike the ones below and I just might wear them tomorrow. (OK, I know, those are actually cropped pants, but I swear to you that the people writing these complaints don't know the difference.)

Oh, and guess what I wore on my last visit to The Building before I left for India? Yep. Capri pants and (not) flip-flops. But with an adorable white jacket because I am a professional after all. You're welcome.