The other day I met up with a few law-school friends for drinks after work. They walked into our favorite local watering hole uniformed in identical plain oxford shirts and charcoal slacks.
“You guys look like a white-collar gang,” I said half-jokingly. “The Banana Republic brigade.”
Their rebuttal to my critique was something along the lines of: “We can’t all be eccentric arts writers, Steph. Some of us would like to have real jobs.” This was followed by a lecture on what constitutes business formal: suits, skirts, blazers, professional, conservative, blah, blah — boring. I became determined to find office-appropriate ways to make a fashion statement.
Nowadays, the only way to achieve truly individual style is to go vintage. “Contemporary retailers try to follow the vintage-inspired trends, but everyone ends up wearing the same things,” says Hilken Mancini, owner of Jamaica Plain’s 40 South Street. “True vintage is one-of-a-kind.”
So, business professionals: Challenge the norm. Scour the racks of Boston’s finest retro-retailers and follow these shopping tips from local vintage experts. Personal style can transcend trends — and conservative expectations.
Ladies, replace your predictable button-up shirts with vintage blouses. Tucked into tailored slacks or under a structured suit-jacket the dreamy fabrics and intricate embroidery add elegance to menswear-inspired styles. “It’s the perfect bit of subversive, tongue-in-cheek femininity,” says Artifaktori visual merchandiser and vintage-lover Marc Spellen. The Beacon Hill boutique offers a wide selection — from romantic, Victorian revival lace tops from the ’70s to coy, buttoned-up ’50s styles, with ruffled lapel detailing.
Artifaktori Vintage, 121 Charles St., Beacon Hill, Boston, 617-367-5854. www.artifaktori.com
Add color and pattern to your wardrobe with bold plaid skirts that make a statement. “A classic vintage Pendleton is conservative in pattern and material, but the flared hem makes it more fun than traditional skirts,” says Mancini. She has stocked her shop with retro wool skirts in all shades and prints. Not only are they office-appropriate, these looks transition gracefully into the evening for after-work cocktails without looking stuffy.
40 South Street, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-5066, www.fortysouthst.com
Step It Up
Most women will agree that the right pair of shoes can make an outfit. Unfortunately, men have fewer fashionable footwear options. Vintage shops offer older styles and colors that are both high quality and unique. Oona’s Experienced Clothing in Harvard Square carries an extensive selection of men’s dress shoes including 1940s wingtip brogues and penny loafer styles of the ’50s and ’60s that inspired the ubiquitous slip-on, Sperry. “Many modern versions of the models we have sell at Brooks Brothers or Barneys for five times as much,” says Oona’s store manager Ethan Wiley.
Oona’s Experienced Clothing. 1210 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 617-491-2654. www.oonasboston.com
Develop an eye for detail. A traditional business suit can be the perfect canvas for vintage accessories. “In the ’50s, businessmen wanted a distinctive look without rocking the boat too much,” says Wiley, “but some of our craziest tie patterns are from this era.” Bold patterns are a sure way to convey personal flair — and pay homage to yesteryear — in plaids, paisleys, and asymmetrical stripes. Oona’s also features retro cuff links, ties, and tie clips that can make a conservative suit stand out. Shining silver and onyx wrist accents are guaranteed to draw the eyes of co-workers around a conference table.
Steph Hiltz can be reached at email@example.com.