This post is dedicated to all the women in STEM; to all of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics gals who asked for a chemistry set and maybe got a Barbie, who held firm to their goals despite feeling like they were getting pushed out of the way due to gender bias, and who, to me, are some of the toughest, most badass, intelligent women on the planet. Not only do I have mad respect for any woman who works in a STEM career because I basically suck at any of the skills required to be in these professions, but because of what it takes to stick with and succeed in these careers as a woman, even in 2022.
Girls and Women are Systematically Tracked Away from STEM Fields
According to the American Association of University Women, which is a non-profit organization that advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research, girls and women are systematically tracked away from science and math throughout their education, limiting their access, preparation and opportunities to go into STEM fields as adults. Engineering and computer science are two of the most lucrative STEM fields, yet only 21% of engineering majors and 19% of computer science majors are women. Teachers and parents often underestimate girls’ math abilities because STEM fields are seen as masculine. Girls and young women have few role models in these fields and STEM industries can become very exclusionary due to the lack of female representation. Worst of all, teachers, who are predominantly women, often have math anxiety they pass on to girls, and often grade girls harder for the same work with the assumption girls need to work harder to achieve the same level as boys.
The Wardrobe Struggle for Women in some STEM Careers
So, yes, my respect for women in STEM careers goes deep. However, in terms of how much I ever gave thought to the level of impact a STEM career had on a woman’s wardrobe choices? It never crossed my mind until I started working with clients in these fields, which is ironic considering I have been in the fashion industry for 28 years. But this goes to show just how absolutely tone-deaf the fashion industry is. Meanwhile, there is my client who is a Disney Imagineer who couldn’t find a decent pair of work boots for the days she worked on-site on a new ride she proudly helped design. Then there are my clients who are scientists working away in their labs doing and solving and creating things so we can live better healthier lives. Do you think fashion cares about them? In fact, my guess is that many of these women believe fashion probably forgot about them at some point when they were in middle school because speaking about being exclusionary, fashion isn’t exactly an inclusive space.
My Client, Mrs. Formidable, The Engineer
Well, now I am working with one of my more recent clients who I have given the alias, Mrs. Formidable. Mrs. Formidable, who works in a STEM field as an engineer, came to me armed and ready with a mission and clear objectives, which is, by the way, so engineer. I will give you as much context as you need without revealing too much about her identity.
Mrs. Formidable works in a male-dominated workplace where she is the only woman in leadership at her location. The work environment is a production floor setting of a major and well-known machinery company. While she is based in an office, it is not uncommon for her to be on the production floor which requires her to not only wear OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) approved steel-toe boots but these boots must also have metatarsal guards which protect the feet from compression injuries. In addition to that, she has to wear a bump cap insert, which is a protective shell that can be put under any hat or baseball cap to protect the head from bumps or injuries. So you think you have strict dress code requirements?
Mrs. Formidable’s schedule is busy as a mom with young kids. She is at work at an ungodly early hour and told me she was looking for a polished uniform work look that was super easy and could just be thrown on every morning without thought. Being among male colleagues who you know are all just doing the rotation of khakis and button-downs, why shouldn’t she also come up with her own equally easy look? I was totally on board with this plan and with the Hulu series about Elizabeth Homes, Dropout, airing around the time of our conversation, we both referenced how she basically wore the same black looks every day in order to preserve mental bandwidth. Boo for scammy Elizabeth Holmes, but yay, for her dressing plan. We discussed the idea of her wearing a varied blazer, jeans or pants, and a top look. I liked it a lot. It was strong, had a leadership look, and was easy.
We have to pause a moment at this part in the story and just acknowledge the women who work in STEM careers and find themselves in the exact position as Mrs. Formidable, fashion-wise. I can’t speak other areas, just the fashion part, although I am certain other areas are also rife with inequalities. But can we just talk about —given the male dominance of STEM professions—the lack of fashion brands and clothing options that exist for these women and how unlikely it is that anyone really cares? I get that there are frustrated women everywhere in all careers who get annoyed by their male counterparts’ abilities to just throw on khakis and button-down shirts, but when it comes to workplaces like Mrs. Formidable’s where there are actual dressing safety protocols and very few options to consider, how annoying it must be to be in such a minority and not have your voice really considered?
Mrs. Formidable’s Workplace Dress Codes Weren’t the Only Challenge
So I was thrilled that on our initial phone Mrs. Formidable and I had already mapped out what felt like a clear and easy-to-execute plan. I loved the efficiency and it was a style I could do with my eyes closed. That was until…she dropped a bomb. Mrs. Formidabe is 5’11”, another incredibly underserved population, and right before my eyes, this very easy plan basically blew up in my face. In addition, Mrs. Formidable asked if I could give her guidance on reworking her casual style and she also told me she needed a pretty serious closet purge because she had been holding onto clothes for quite some time.
While the deck was quickly stacking against me, I couldn’t blame Mrs. Formidable for having a pretty packed closet. It’s a common affliction of tall women to develop a scarcity mentality created by tall clothing being almost impossible to find. Instead of being strategic, for a tall woman, shopping becomes an endeavor of gathering up whatever can be found that is long enough to fit. Tall women can become like squirrels gathering nuts for the winter, and understandably so. If the pickings are slim, like a squirrel, a tall woman is going to hoard even the less savory of nuts and hold onto them for dear life.
So if you lost track. Mrs. Formidable is a 5’11” engineer in a very male-dominated engineering industry with a job in leadership where she is the only woman at her workplace with such a position. She has a dress code with OSHA regulations, balances raising young children, has an insanely busy schedule, needs a closet purge, and would also like some help building back her casual wardrobe. My response? “No problem.”
This was the moment where I remembered the sage wisdom of my late father who told me shortly before he died and I was right out of FIT, “if someone asks you if you can do something, tell them yes and figure it out.” He was right, and I always do figure it out. This is where I truly excel. Situations such as this make my brain light up because I love puzzles and brain teasers. Plus, Mrs. Formidable is an absolute delight of a client, a real gem.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t a bit daunted by the challenge. The learning curve was huge —my search history now includes “what is a bump cap?” —and fashion for tall women is a wasteland. Yet, despite Mrs. Formidable’s closet taking several hours to get through, she eager and ready to cull and start fresh and my knowledge base did expand from all the research I did on Mrs. Formidable’s strict dress code. As a result, I know a heck of a lot more than I did prior to working with her that I will know forever.
The Hardest and Easiest Wardrobe Capsule I have Ever Created
I have been in a Client Capsuling loop for months now. I am currently working on another one and I have more waiting behind that. I create wardrobe capsules as often as often people change their underwear. The reason I have been sharing so many of them on as blog posts is because of the amount of time they take to craft that don’t give a lot of extra time to create separate blog post ideas. If it weren’t for my clients allowing me blog about what I create for them I’d be sunk. Mrs. Formidable’s capsule is what I’ve begun to call the easiest, most difficult capsule of my career.
Here is what made it easy:
- Like her male counterparts, we aimed to create her own version of what her male colleagues repeatedly wear. For her, it was a blazer, top/blouse, jeans/pants. All I had to do was create repetitive looks of this that didn’t even need accessories.
- I knew the look, and what I wanted for Mrs. Formidable, for both work and casual. I could see it in my head.
- I needed to select shoes for work that met OSHA regulations that weren’t masculine and had metatarsal guards. There is only one pair that seems to exist for women that cover this and are attractive, The Fusion MT Safety Boot from Xena Workwear. When you have one choice, it does make it easy.
- I was happy to see that for women who work in professions that require work or safety shoes and boots are starting to get more stylish resources to shop, some established and some emerging. Here are a few more in addition to Xena:
- Steel Chic
- Juno Jones
- Safety Girl
Now the hard part of buildng this capsule, Basically the rest of it
So in addition to this capsule having quite a few moving parts, these parts needed to be found in the ‘Sahara Dessert’ of fashion spaces. If you’re not a tall person, this is basically what it is like. If you are tall, and when I say tall, I mean over 5’10”, you’ll probably nod in agreement to all of it:
Only a few brands make jeans with a 34-36” inseam
It’s not that I haven’t worked with tall clients before. This is familiar territory, but for Mrs. Formidable who has a short torso and very long legs, she needs an inseam between 34-36”. I would have an easier time finding Waldo if he landed on The Planet of Stripes than I did finding a treasure trove of jeans with that inseam. And forget pants. Here’s where I stand on this. If you’re going to make tall jeans, make tall jeans. Don’t be all mamby pamby and make sort-of tall jeans that a marginally tall person can wear. People can always hem, they can’t add on.
Brands assume that all tall people want are t-shirts?
Look, I get it, we all need t-shirts, but would it kill someone to maybe branch out? I could give Mrs. Formidable about 500 different tall t-shirts to choose from as if she couldn’t shop for those on her own. What’s the deal? Do brands assume tall people only wear t-shirts and just do super casual things? Because, let me tell you, if I needed to create a capsule exclusively for Mrs. Formidable to do yoga, clean her baseboards, and maybe help a friend move, I could cover her for the rest of her life. Other than that, good luck shopping, my friends.
Yet, here’s the cool thing we discovered. Due to Mrs. Formidable’s very long legs and short torso, if the sleeves are short on a top or tee, she doesn’t need tall shirts. So there’s a win in the column for us and our search, but for any of you tall friends out there who need the tall torso length, Godspeed.
Can We Get a Tall Size Above Mid-Market Brands?
Here’s an interesting phenomenon. So, most clothing models are between 5’10”-5’11”, yet when a woman of that height buys these clothes they are too short. Can someone explain this? This leaves a woman with brands that offer tall sizing with shopping options reduced to stores like Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta, Gap, LOFT, Ann Taylor, and a few more. This is all good and fine as there is nothing wrong with these brands, but there are tall women out there waving their wallets around who want to spend more. Is a tall CEO of a major corporation supposed to dig through the racks at Ann Taylor LOFT? Really? Yes, I know there are some other brands that cut longer, some brands that have come around, yada yada yada, we’ll get to that in a minute.
Does Anyone Make Tall Sweaters?
Seriously. Even a brand like Banana Republic,which tends to be pretty robust with their tall sizes, even they don’t make tall sweaters. What kind of cockamaney baloney is this? Do tall people not get cold? Is this a thing? Tall people, help me out. Why can’t anyone knit and purl a few more rows on some sleeves and torsos?
All this tall mishegoss really had me spinning. I was in new territory learning about metatarsal guards and bump caps, my assistant spent an entire day researching jeans inseams, I scanned my umpteenth page of boring tall t-shirts before realizing I didn’t need them anyway, and slowly but surely Mrs. Formidable’s capsule started to come together, and not by exclusively relying on tall sizing, mind you, thank you very much tall fasion world of suck. Here’s how you get around things when you’re tall and there aren’t enough tall retailers to come through for you: You start to figure out who cuts long enough in regular sizing. I am telling you, tall fashion world is like that friend who keeps making plans yet never shows up.
Mrs. Formidable’s Capsule
Shop Mrs. Formidable’s Capsule
1 Washable Silk Tee 2 Icon Denim Jacket Indigo, White 3 Delphine Skirt 4 Soho Skort 5 Utility Shirt Dress 6 Denim Mini Shirtdress 7 Ashlyn Dress 8 Axam T-Shirt 9 Soyoung T-Shirt 10 Bashina Shirt 11 Open-Front Long Cardigan 12 Rory Cardigan 13 Cookie Cardigan 14 Linen Blend Cardigan 15 Twist-Front T-Shirt 16 Striped Crew 17 Relaxed Supima Cotton Tee 18 Sumissura Custom Blazer 19 Hyo Jacket 20 Parke Balzer 21 Renata Washable Silk Blouse 22 Linen Resort Shirt 23 Savannah Top 24 Linen Boyfriend Shirt 25 Loren Shirt 26 Ramie Shirt 27 Finley Shirt 28 Regent Blazer 29 Sumissura Custom Blazer 30 Fusion MT Safety Boot 31 Cashmere Baseball Cap 32 A-Game Hydro Snapback Hat 33 Utility Pants 34 Curie Pants 35 Nico Straight Jeans 34″ Inseam 36 Kendra Indigo 36″ Inseam 37 Seaside Pant 38 Tall 8″ Toothpick Inseam 31″ 39 Tall Wide-Leg Pant 40 Emma Boyfriend 32″ & 34″ Inseam 41 ‘90s Classic Straight Jean 30 1/2″ Inseam 42 Felize Loafer 43 The Medio 44 Bev Espadrille 45 Ashore Sneaker 46 Abigail Flip Flop 47 Birkenstock Gizeh
This is what I originally selected for Mrs. Formidable. To protect her privacy, what is missing from the capsule are all the pieces I placed in from her existing wardrobe. I also eliminated some of the jeans silhouettes I selected for Mrs. Formidable’s capsule just to cut back in the presentation. However, I am sharing all the denim brands we found below that offer inseams between 34”-36”
Some of the pieces I selected for this capsule do come in tall sizing, some pieces cut long enough in the sleeves and inseams to work, some will be custom made, and others I chose because Mrs. Formidable has long legs and a shorter torso and I took advantage of this and chose short sleeve styles where the shorter torso length would work. Below the capsule, I’ll call out these styles so you can shop them for yourself if you are tall.
A few points to note about some of the pieces:
- The BOSS Hugo Boss Bashina shirts do not come in tall sizing but the sleeves typically work for long arms.
- On her own, Mrs. Formidable found that Equipment cuts their sleeves very long. The blouses at the top left are all styles I found for her at The RealReal. If you are tall, it is a style to keep your eye on. I also found a Equipment cardigan with sleeves that were practically too long for Mrs. Formidable, so it’s a brand to consider for sweaters with sleeves long enough.
- Mavi is the most robust for tall jeans offering a variety of silhouettes and inseams ranging from 34”-36” Hudson only offers skinny jeans in tall with an inseam of 34”. Lucy Brand offers straight and boot cut jeans with 34” inseams. On average, the longest inseam for tall jeans available is around 32”. My advice is to shop directly at the retailer’s website vs. a department store where you will likely find the most merchandise offering.
- Rails is a favorite brand of mine that cuts roomy with sleeves can be on the longer side. I pulled a few pieces from there for casual.
- I had just been in the M.M. Lafleur showroom earlier in the week of working on this capsule and noticed that some of the sleeves had folded cuffs. It helped me surmise that some of their cardigans may work for Mrs. Formidable in addition to some of their tops. Having seen one MM blazer on Mrs. Formidable, I took a chance pulling another one.
- Not pulled for her, but I am keeping my eye on resale, I recently purchased a Stella McCartney blazer for myself and the sleeves were exceptionally long on me (I’m 5’7”) making it a great brand for tall women and L’Agence is another brand I have selected blazers for my tall clients. I have also been successful with the sleeve lengths of Vince blouses.
- Two of the blazers (18 and 29) are from Sumisurra, a company that affordably lets you customize clothing. I created these two styles custom for her. While Mrs. Formidable has had success with J.Crew’s blazers, many retailers will often limit special sizing to the generic shades and I wanted to her to have more options in her capsule.
- Baseball caps were pulled for stylish options to wear with Mrs. Formidable’s bump cap inserts.
- There are no accessories featured in this capsule because what was most important in this first pass was to settle clothing. The next step would to work on this once wardrobe direction is finalized.
- Lands’ End t-shirts were originally pulled for their tall sizing, however, upon realizing that Mrs. Formidable doesn’t actually need tees with longer torsos we will be replacing them. However, i if you are tall with a very long waist/torso, these are fantastic options.
Outfits Created Using Mrs. Formidable’s Capsule
From the pieces above, here are some of the looks I created broken down by work and casual. Despite them being very separate, I showed Mrs. Formidable how she can still mix the pieces to maximize her wardrobe.
As you will see, all of Mrs. Formidable’s work looks are very formulaic, but I strove to create some variety in them so they didn’t feel too repetitive. I also wanted to create a strong, look of leadership while still addressing the safety regulations of her workplace.
Mrs. Formidable’s Casual Looks
For her casual wardrobe, my goal was to infuse some ease, femininity and playfulness as a departure from the more severe, structured lines of what Mrs. Formidable needs to wear to work. I also wanted to keep the color palette tight and easy to mix and work with given how challenging it can be to find clothing to fit tall sizes. If a woman who is tall can more versatilely get more with less it lessens the dependence on the need to shop for more and ultimately be failed by the lack of options. Here are are some of the looks I created from the pieces in the capsule.
Diversity in Women Should Mean Diversity in Fashion
Mrs. Formidable is a perfect example of the diversity in women’s bodies and the types of lives we lead, and it shows just how badly fashion overlooks the needs of women who exist outside the narrow sliver it serves. There is a huge population of women who aren’t getting the clothing they need either due to the size of their bodies or the careers they choose. It was a pleasure to do my job and offer my expertise to help Mrs. Formidable get one step closer to making this part of her life a little easier. It is my hope that in the future, fashion will make it a little easier too.