As rain pours outside on an empty Lincoln Square plaza, a group of senior high schoolers are nestled into the womenswear section of Brooks Brothers for a tutorial.
It’s not similar to any tutorial they will receive in their final year of school however, or in their future collegiate careers. In fact, this tutorial is about as rare as they come, and that’s why it’s so important. The girls wait tentatively for the guest speaker, and the delivery of a speech that will most likely stick with them for their collegiate years and into their first jobs.
"Clothing is your armor, it's your protection, but it's also a business tool."
The Principal Women's stylist of the 200 year-old company, Stacy Wallace-Albert is here to deliver the talk, dressed immaculately of course, and busying herself with the preparation of her props: a rail of Brooks Brothers fall collection.
The talk has been organized by Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, who began an initiative last year to encourage girls into STEM fields at an age when many begin to fall off that wagon, between age 16-18. Adding an element to the programme this year, the school organized this talk with stylist Wallace-Albert of Brooks Brothers in order to advise how to dress professionally, appropriately, and to impress. There’s a big difference between the woman and the man who can dress well for work, and Wallace-Albert stresses this throughout her talk. Men have a formula for success: tailoring, ties, trousers. Women on the other hand, very rarely get tailoring, have a wild array of accessories for an outfit rather than just the singular tie, and have to choose between different bottoms on different occasions because society has dictated this for years. The choices for women can be overwhelming, and hence the difficulty presented: when there is so much available, what to choose for your professional wardrobe?
Stacy Wallace-Albert. Photo courtesy of The Fashion Editor
One of the first things Albert says - “clothing: it can enhance who you are, but it can also distract what you do,” becomes a running narrative for the duration of the talk. Women, because of a multitude of factors; sexism, history, social standing - have to earn everything in business. They’ve to earn the right to a silent boardroom, a seat at the table, attention paid while delivering a presentation. And what’s the biggest excuse for distraction? Well, their looks, of course.
Photo courtesy of Brooks Brothers
Wallace-Albert went on to provide bullet points fr the girls to follow into their professional years. Get a staple white blouse. Invest in good, solid pieces. Don’t wear a skirt that will ride up under the table. Don’t wear a blouse with your bra popping out at the chest. Don’t give anyone an excuse to forget what you had to say because they were too busy looking at a stray thread or a bulging button.
"If something wrinkles (when you squeeze it) walk past it. You're sitting, you're commuting on subways, an you want to look good all day," says Wallace-Albert, who advocates heavily for the importance of investment pieces. When choice is so overwhelming for women - perhaps the best thing to do is to step back and remind yourself that if you buy this one expensive thing this one time, it will outlive all the lesser quality, less expensive items. It's a life decision, and a lesson every woman needs to learn, no matter what age.
But why is it particularly important for girls looking to approach the very heavily male-dominant fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics?
"People's eyes go elsewhere," she says, continuing, "Listen to what I have to say! You want to walk into a room and feel powerful." There's more ways than one to command attention in a room, but looking polished and comfortable is perhaps the most powerful. Tammy Berentson, the Associate Dean of External Affairs for the college, agrees wholeheartedly with Wallace Albert's approach. "Girls in STEM partnering with Brooks Brothers has been very special because we realized that for some of the girls, it's intimidating walking into a corporate environment for the first time."
Having launched their inaugural year of the Girls in STEM initiative in 2016, Columbia plan to continue with the programme and continue with these alternative methods of getting girls throughout the country excited about STEM and about entering these fields with confidence.
SWAAY talked to a few of the girls in attendance about the importance of a professional wardrobe for girls hoping to get into and succeed in male-dominated STEM fields. Of this, Jasmine, 16, had to say "I think dressing well, especially in STEM, is very important because it's all about power, and being a presence - a dominant presence in the field, even if you might not be the dominant gender."
Beside her, Athena, 17, hoping to become a chemical engineer, posits that "when you dress in a way that makes you confident, you become more comfortable in your abilities. As a woman in STEM, it's important that you understand you're meant to be there and how powerful you are as an individual."
"Your clothes tell a story, and you can use your clothes to show your identity to the world,"
This type of seminar, a meeting of minds all hoping to succeed, all aspiring for great careers and a seat the table, was a real eye-opener. Not only were the girls engaged with the clothes but they were engaged with the clothes and their purpose, and their ability to change a perspective or opinion about the person wearing them. This type of information is invaluable and absolutely necessary for the rising generation of female leaders in order for them to further the professional possibilities for women everywhere. Props to Brooks Brothers and Columbia for the collaboration.
Personally, I am over the top excited that we are on the cusp of turning the page on not only a new year but also on a new 10-year window of opportunities and possibilities!
You may be thinking, whoa…I am just embracing the fall season…yikes… it is tough to think about a new decade!
Yet it is this groundwork, this forward thought that you put in place TODAY that will propel you and lead you into greatness in 2020 and beyond. Designing a new decade rests in your ability to vision, in your willingness to be curious, in your awareness of where you are now and what you most want to curate. Essentially, curating what's next is about tapping into today with confidence, conviction, and decision. Leading YOU starts now. This is your new next. It is your choice.
Sometimes to get to that 'next', you need to take a step back to reflect. Please pardon my asking you to spend time in yesterday. Those who know me personally, know that I created and continue to grow my business based on enabling the present moment as a springboard for living your legacy. So, indulge me here! True, I am asking you to peek into the past, yet it is only in order for you to bring the essence of that past forward into this moment called NOW.
One of the best ways to tap into what's next is to clarify what drives you. To design a new decade, ask yourself this question about the past ten years:
What worked? What were my successes?
Make a list of your achievements big and small. Don't type them, but rather use ink and paper and sit with and savor them. Move your thoughts and your successes from your head, to your heart, to your pen, to the paper. Remember that on the flip side of goals not attained and New Year's resolutions abandoned, there was more than likely some traction and action that moved you forward, even if the end result was not what you expected. Once you have a full list of a decade's worth of personal and professional accomplishments, think about how this makes you feel. Do you remember celebrating all of them? My guess is no. So, celebrate them now. Give them new life by validating them. Circle the successes that resonate with you most right now. Where can you lean into those accomplishments as you power into the decade ahead?
Now comes a tougher question, one that I used myself in my own mid-life reinvention and a question I adore because in a moment's time it provides you with a quick reconnect to your unique inner voice.
If it were 10 years ago and nothing were standing in your way, no fear or excuses to contend with…what would you do?
Don't overthink it. The brilliance of this question is that it refocuses purpose. Whatever first came to mind when you answered this for yourself is at its core a powerful insight into defining and redefining the FUTURE decade. Bring your answer into the light of today and what small piece of it is actionable NOW? Where is this resonating and aligning with a 2019 version of yourself?
Then, based on your success list and your answer to the above question, what is your 2020 vision for your business and for the business of YOU?
Designing a new decade begins as a collection of 3,650 opportunities. 3,650 blank slates of new days ahead in which to pivot and propel yourself forward. Every single one of those days is a window into your legacy. An invitation to be, create, explore, and chip away at this thing we call life. One 24-hour segment at a time.
While you have a decade ahead to work on design improvements, you have the ability to begin manifesting this project of YOU Version 2020 right NOW. Based on exploring the exercises in this post, begin executing your vision. Ask questions. Be present. Let go of 2019 and the past 10 years so that you can embrace the next 10. Position acceptance and self-trust at the forefront of how you lead you. One choice at a time.
Don't get bogged down in the concept of the next 10 years. Instead position clarity and intention into each new day, starting today. Then chase every one of those intentions with an in-the-moment commitment and solution toward living a legendary life!