Dressing for work is a problem that won't be solved until they make women's clothes that belong at the office. 

Furious about Fashion

I've started working in an office in which the dress code is business casual, whatever that means. Business casual is not quite as casual as Casual Friday, another office dress code. Casual Friday tends to get out of control.

Men don't have as much of a problem as women interpreting Casual Friday or Business Casual. To them it means No Tie. And for them, that is enough of a reprieve. I've never seen a man come to work on Casual Friday wearing shorts or a sweat suit, or a jogging suit. I've seen some bizarre things on women, though, under the guise of Casual Friday. Sweat suits, jogging outfits, worn-out jeans, farmer's overalls, you name it. They come to work just a tad shy of having rollers in their hair and cold cream on their face.

I don't know why women have such a problem with the concept of "casual." Maybe it's because we don't wear a tie. And I've never understood the need for Casual Friday anyway. After work on Friday, are you driving directly into Saturday and won't have time to change? It's already Friday on Casual Friday. Our morale is up because it's Friday. We don't need loose clothes. It's Monday that needs help. Why don't we have a Casual Monday? Or Transition Monday? Here in Body Only Monday?

So I've landed in an Every Day is Business Casual environment when at the same time, it's also my first Power Suit job, yet no Power Suit is required. That's like telling Superman he can now make his rescues in a polo shirt and khakis.

I decided what I needed was a week's worth of Henleys. Henley shirts are the one fashion style I know, or think I know. Henleys are like long winter underwear shirts, only colored or patterned. They are collarless and have a three-button placket on the top front. It's an all-around good look, at least for me. No fussy collars, no buttons on the cuffs to get stuck in my computer keyboard. They don't try to sneak those shoulder pads in that I always have to cut out. Roll the sleeves up to get down to work, roll them down to stay warm.

But it must have been an all-around good look four or five years ago. I went to Penneys, where I have credit, to buy myself a week's worth of Henleys, and couldn't find a single one. All I could find were two blouse styles, either a turtleneck pullover, or a monstrosity of a twin set which looks like a little sweater over a matching knit shell, but the shell is built into the sweater. It's a fake. It's a one-piece trying to pass for a two-piece. Say you get too hot and want to take off the sweater and chill out in the shell. Tough luck! And you know what else? These twin sets were not even sets. And if they were twins, they were Siamese twins, joined at the armpits. Rack after rack in the store were these conjoined twin sets, in every color and pattern. What if you don't want to wear one? Well, too bad for you! Hope you can still fit last year's clothes!

Who decided twin sets were going to be the uniform this year? Because I went to another store, Kohl's, and lo and behold, all they had were twin sets and turtlenecks, too! I don't remember seeing this on CNN "Style" with Elsa Klench. She didn't have all those concentration-camp- thin models sashaying down the runway in twin sets. They were wearing the usual stupid things you never see on the street, patches of see-through gauze or billowing feathers. I guess after the designers spend all their time coming up with the outrageous, unwearable outfits for the fashion shows, they only have two ideas left for things to actually make and ship to the stores, and this year it was twin sets and turtlenecks.

And what's with the skirts? How long are skirts and dresses going to stay ankle- length? Hasn't that gone on just about long enough? The runway models may be half-naked, but the typical American woman is supposed to be wearing a turtleneck and a skirt that goes all the way to the ground, and is shaped like a sausage casing. You cannot walk in these skirts, and you certainly cannot run. If a rapist tries to grab you, the best you can do is fall down and roll.

And they never have pockets. I guess designers think our fat American hips are big enough without adding to them with a pocket. No one would ever think of taking the pockets out of men's pants. Not only do they get side pockets, they get butt pockets so they can sit on their wallets.

This is where true equality is. Women will never be equal to men in the workplace until we have pockets in all our clothes. We need our key to the executive washroom in our pocket. We need to finger our loose change while contemplating big decisions. We need to sit on our wallets, feel the comforting bulge of all our financial assets beneath our butts. But I can go through rack after rack of tube skirts and not find a single pocket.

Maybe it's not so much the "casual" part I'm looking for as the "business" part. They don't make clothes for women who mean business. How about some Henleys, some A-line, knee-length safari skirts with plenty of pockets, and nice, comfortable, sturdy shoes? Shoes I can actually walk in.

I did buy a pair of shoes at Kohl's. They're big, square, and black, with a Velcro strap across the ankle. Compared to the pointy spike heels I used to wear as a girl, it's a revolutionary shoe. It's shaped like my foot. It is very comfortable to stand in, just as long as I don't try walking. Then the straps cut into my ankles, and the lily-pad shape of the shoe makes you walk flat-footed like a giant frog. Spiked heels naturally tilted you forward, so your chest was sticking out and your butt was up in the air. It was the classic position female animals take when they're ready to mate.

Women's clothes may have always been uncomfortable, but at least the torture seemed to have a point, like those cone-shaped bras, which literally came to a point. But what do clogs do for you? You can't walk in clogs. You can't run for the bus in clogs. You can't be on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in clogs. You can't trade hog futures in clogs.

Maybe that's why women come to work in jogging outfits. At least they can move and they're comfortable, when all the store has to sell you is a mummification outfit, twin set, ankle-length tube skirt, and platform Mary Janes.

Mariane Matera is a writer and editor who lives in Richmond.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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