What Women Wear to Office

I normally don’t write on fashion, but having created a brand campaign for a British brand of women’s clothing, I am forced to opine on the subject. It’s not that I don’t think about clothes and what we women wear, but I think it is largely a matter of personal choice and should be left at that.

Having worked in the advertising and brand communications industry for over 20 years in India in the creative function as a writer, I had the luxury of wearing what I pleased to office for most of my career. Somehow, creative people dressing in their own way is easily accepted in the industry. Then, I noticed that when I started attending important client meetings with the agency team, my attitude to dress became more serious. On those days, I would choose to wear something more formal… a sari, perhaps.

Even then, I would notice how men in the office took greater note of what women were wearing than the women themselves cared. Then, came my first overseas business trip, which included a client-agency conference (while at Ogilvy Delhi) as well as a tour of the client’s manufacturing (distilling in this case, since it was for Seagram, now Pernod Ricard) facilities in Scotland and France. Besides finding something appropriate to wear in inclement British weather, I was also particular not to wear a sari. Since there were people from 20 countries attending, many of them women, I thought I would be calling attention to myself by wearing a sari. Mostly, one was wearing trousers and shirts, with a jacket and coat, or on occasions a skirt and a dress.

One isn’t always conscious of it, but it is amazing just how many choices Indian women have in clothing options for office. I have always chosen to exercise all my options freely, from jeans and tee-shirts, to trousers and shirts/blouses, to churidar-kurta or salwar-kurta and a sari. I have seen many of my colleagues wear skirts and dresses to office as well, though I have avoided doing so in India.

Fortunately, it never mattered much what one wore to office, during my career. None of the organisations I worked for had any strict rules about dress code; one just assumed that everyone is intelligent enough to know what to wear to the office. Except for Perfect Relations, Delhi, which gave me an induction manual to read on joining, that even told women how they ought to wear their hair in office!

I wasn’t shocked, but very amused. I believe that the importance attached to a woman’s looks and what she wears while hiring has only increased in India in the past couple of decades. I also think that companies who base their hiring on those parameters are sexist and can hardly call themselves the champions of “diversity” a euphemism for hiring policies that tick boxes. And no matter how many women they hire, such organisations are likely to be losers in the long term since they would have chosen looks and clothes over knowledge, skills and work experience.

Perfect Relations bosses are indeed so prejudiced that they also seem to think that women who wear ethnic Indian clothes are somehow maids; I can see how they send colour-coded messages through our maid in Goa, Sri Devi, even though I have nothing to do with them having quit their circus in Delhi 15 years ago. In their case, it has only been about making me a maid, so they can then hitch themselves to my work and where I would like to take my career. They and their cronies in BBDO Chennai have a hope in hell if they think they can make me Devi Cherian (wife of Perfect Relations boss, Dilip Cherian) or anyone else! If they know what’s good for them, they and their cronies in BBDO Chennai would learn to leave me and my aged parents in Goa – towards whom I have responsibilities – alone.   

Coming back to the subject of women’s corporate wear, there are many apparel brands for women in India offering a range of clothing from trousers and shirts to what is called ethnic Indian wear, but surprisingly none of them have cared to treat working women as a separate consumer segment, important enough to target. This includes many menswear brands that have introduced a women’s range, such as Van Heusen, Allen Solly as well as Arrow, but have not bothered to communicate their brand’s benefits to women professionals. It’s the same with Titan and Tanishq. They do communicate with women, but always in a wedding or a gifting context. Their product designs too are not created with the woman executive in mind: designs that are too fussy and showy for the workplace.    

Anyway, it was on a business trip to UK that I went shopping with my friends in London. Besides shopping at M&S, I also shopped at Harrods. That is where I bought myself a lovely black and white woven woollen skirt-suit and a couple of tops. I hadn’t heard of the brand before, but the designs struck me as simple and elegant and just right for a business meeting overseas. I have those garments still and do wear them, though the woollen skirt-suit is a bit much even for Delhi winters.

The brand was Jaeger and I thought it might be German/Austrian, though I had never heard of it and never seen it advertised either. It is only when I started working on a brand strategy and ideas for M&S, that I shared recently, that I discovered Jaeger was British, though it seems to have a German connection. I also learnt that M&S has acquired Jaeger, as of January 2021.

However, what I happened to see of Jaeger clothing on the M&S website led me to create a separate brand strategy and campaign for the Jaeger brand. I do think that it is a brand of clothing, quite different from M&S, and deserves to be treated separately. It is a premium clothing brand that straddles premium and luxury, and belongs in a class of its own. I also believe that Jaeger is for women, while M&S seems to have included men’s as well as kid’s clothing under Jaeger.

You can read about my brand strategy and campaign ideas for Jaeger fashion by clicking the link below.

Ideas to Revive Jaeger Clothing

When it comes to work and to stepping out, whether for shopping or for a social engagement, women ought to have clothing that is not just elegant and stylish but comfortable as well. Jaeger seems to fit into a woman’s corporate wardrobe just fine.    

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