This week’s interview is with a wonderful fellow blogger – P from Phiphi’s Blog. I have followed P from pretty much when her site began, and have always found her to be the perfect mix of professional and chic. Since my workplace is quite casual, I relished the chance to ask some more “workplace dress” questions, especially since I know many readers work in firms requiring professional dress. P has fabulous style along with an impressive resume, and I’ve included some of my favorite outfits of her’s throughout. Enjoy meeting P!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
I’m a lawyer who does litigation work in my professional life. I mostly define myself a mom, wife, sister and friend. My husband and I are raising two amazing boys that are sweet, fun and rambunctious. Being a mom is really the best and hardest job I’ve ever had! The boys are involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities so we are also chauffeurs in our spare time. Our busy house is rounded out with two Jack Russell terriers. My entire family lives in Canada and I’m the oldest of 4 kids. My siblings and I all live in the same city, as do my parents. We see each other on a regular basis. All of our kids are close in age, so it is fun to see them grow up together too.
You’ve been in private practice for ten years. How has your career evolved? From your perspective, has the law profession become more difficult to “break into” over the last decade?
I was very fortunate and was given wonderful opportunities that helped shape the direction my career has taken. When I graduated, I thought I wanted to do solicitor work but I worked with fantastic lawyers who mentored and guided me over the years. They included me in challenging and rewarding matters that piqued my interest in litigation work. It was and continues to be highly interesting for me, and it is never the same routine. My colleagues taught me about the importance of preparation and hard work, but also civility. I hope to be able to mentor younger lawyers in the same way, and to pass along the wisdom that was shared with me.
The profession of law in Canada is becoming more challenging because universities are accepting more students into law school but the market for student and associate positions has not changed. There are exceptionally intelligent, motivated and ambitious graduates from law school that don’t have access to as many positions. Competition has always been fierce, but as a result of these changes, it has now become more difficult to break into the profession as opposed to when I was starting out. However, I’ve seen people use their law degrees in innovative ways, and that has been an interesting change and transition for the profession.
You have a professional career which often requires more conservative, business dress. What have been some of the most versatile pieces that you rely on when dressing for work?
Of late, I’ve been incorporating more dresses into my wardrobe. Throw on a blazer, and it’s really an easy way to dress up. However, hands-down, the most versatile pieces in my work wardrobe are a blazer, pencil skirt, blouse and a good pair of black pumps. If you don’t like pencil skirts, you can easily switch that piece to a pair of dress pants in a streamlined cut. These pieces are really my work-horses. Mixed in whatever permutation, there will always be an appropriate outfit for any work-related occasion. I also keep an extra black blazer and black pumps in my office for emergency or back-up purposes.
What would you suggest a new college grad look to add to their wardrobe, if they are just starting to work in a professional environment? Do you have any other related advice you could share?
While you want to have fun with clothes, there are some limitations in a conservative office environment. Rightly or wrongly, what you wear can give the wrong impression to your colleagues and clients. I’ve heard people say that they should be judged by their capabilities and work, not their appearance. However, the image you want to project is reflected in your clothing. You want to be considered professionally and to be taken seriously without fighting biases due to wardrobe choices. Big no-nos I’ve seen are really high heels, tight/low-cut clothing or short skirts. Trends can work in a conservative/dressy work environment but should be judiciously incorporated into a work outfit.
Another observation I’ve made is seeing young female professionals spending an exorbitant amount on clothes when they first start out. This can be a big start-up cost that doesn’t need to be undertaken all at once at the beginning of your career. If a new grad were to start building a work wardrobe, I’d suggest adding one nice suit (blazer, skirt and matching pants) to the interview clothes they already have as a starter. Banana Republic and J.Crew have solid suiting lines and regularly go on sale, so this can be done reasonably. Separates can be used interchangeably and then you can add to your wardrobe gradually without breaking the bank.
What about your casual day to day life – what are some of your most versatile and most worn items?
For my day to day life, I wear flats a lot. From the house to the school and from the car to the office: I commute mostly in ballerina flats and I switch to heels at work. I had a pair of Bloch flats that my husband recently pointed out were in such a state of disrepair, we couldn’t donate them. In heavy rotation heels-wise are my Louboutin Simples which I’ve had for many years. They are long overdue for either rescue or an intervention! My Louis Vuitton Neverfull tote is used almost every day because it just withstands our Canadian weather abuse. I pack all of my things for the office in it and it has still help up beautifully over the years.
The most versatile weekend gear for me is skinny jeans. They are the easiest item to dress up or down. Coupled with flats or boots for running around, I feel put together but still dressed comfortably.
Can you share some of your favorite pieces in your wardrobe, overall? What would you like to add one day? Any items you “regret”?
My first love is my Lady Dior bag. It was the first designer piece I bought myself when I reached a milestone in my career. My Hermes Kelly was the bag I got to celebrate another milestone, and I felt so “grown up” when I got it! These two beauties are the pieces I adore the most, and I know I will have them for years and years because they are timeless classics. One day, I’d love to get a Hermes Constance. It is so elegant and feminine.
I try to be careful with decisions when I spend money and I only started very recently to collect designer items. Even at that, it took a while to figure out what works for me before adding anything to the collection. I wish I could have figured this out sooner and gotten a number of pieces before all of these price increases, but it just makes me cherish the ones I did get at the time I did!
Can you share a piece of advice building the perfect wardrobe that you’ve learned over the years?
Oh, my lessons learned.. I’ve got a few! First, I’ve learned that just because something is popular/trendy doesn’t mean that it is right for me whether it’s because of fit, function or whatnot. I’ve bought things that were considered popular or highly coveted without giving enough thought as to whether it fit with my personality and/or my lifestyle. They get returned or have to be sold and it takes time to do that, which I’d rather spend with my family.
Secondly, avoid buying something just because it’s on sale. I suspect many of us have had the plight of the “sales goggles”! It is so tempting when you know the retail price and you see how drastic the markdown is. I have used the “great deal” rationalization before but learned that if it doesn’t get used, it’s not really a great deal after all. So, it fundamentally came down to making sure that before I decided to buy anything, it had to be because I absolutely loved it, and would use it very often, and for a long time. Last but not least, is fit. Clothing doesn’t need to be a designer or expensive item to be beautiful. I now know what cuts suit my body shape and I also know not to fight it anymore. Good tailoring can make you look leaner and taller (which in my case is always a good thing!)
I know that you are very passionate about your non profit work. Can you share more about it? How everything into your schedule?
Ever since I was in high school, I’ve been volunteering in the community, and with not-for-profit organizations. Whether it was advocacy work, organizing fundraisers, participating in student associations and legal aid or mentoring programs, volunteer work has always been a part of my life.
It’s hard to balance, to be honest. Trying to fit it all with work and family life can make things hectic, but I’m blessed my husband understands and supports me as he does. I would not be able to do anything without my family, including my siblings who are my support network. My priority however, are the boys. If I’m asked to participate in something, I always consider first if it will impact negatively on my family and if it does not, I will help out. However, it is always a decision my husband and I make together with consideration for the kids.
I believe it is important to give back to the community and try the best I can, knowing though that sometimes I can’t do everything I’d like or want to. I still do what I can, but being a good mom is the most important thing for me.
What are some of your other passions and hobbies?
I love to cook and on most family and special occasions, I will make a few things to contribute to the spread. When we just got married, my husband was worried that we’d starve because I wasn’t patient enough to wait for Jell-O powder to dissolve. I learned some basics by watching a few shows on the Food Network (mostly at 2 AM when I was up with the babies). I then started to read about cooking and different regional cuisines, then just trying it out. My mother has been teaching me traditional dishes. Recently, I’ve been learning in a more formal way and have been taking courses. I just learned how to make traditional, fresh Italian pasta, and French pastries, including macarons. Now, I just need to be consistent when I make them!
We have always been a pretty active family. Growing up, I learned a few martial arts, and played in competitive team sports, including volleyball. I started playing tennis regularly again and do so on weekends with my sisters. Our family cycles a lot and spend time outdoors throughout the year.
Finally…please share something surprising about yourself!
I’m an unabashed self-declared geek and nerd, and love comic books and sci-fi. It has been pretty funny in certain occasions when a group of fanboys are talking and the girly girl wearing sequins and heels chimes into the discussion! My brother-in-law has said on more than one occasion that I’m the only geek he knows that wears designer shoes. Once, my sister’s husband and his friends were discussing the Superman movie that was in production at the time. Heated debates ensued about the character, how he would be developed by the director and so on. One of the guys asked my husband what he thought, and he said “Don’t look at me. I have no idea what you guys are talking about. Ask my wife, she’s the geek!”
I was very happy to read the last bit, as a fellow comic lover I always enjoy meeting other women and getting great recommendations for graphic novels and TV shows! I also love P’s style and thus it was great fun for me to put together so many of her fabulous outfits altogether in one place, and to learn more about P’s life (and closet!) as well. Thank you to P for being here today, and for more, please visit Phiphi’s Blog.