Today’s interview is with Belle – D.C. resident, fashion observer and writer of the blog, Capitol Hill Style. I have to admit that my exposure to D.C. has been fairly limited – except for a cursory reading of Primary Colors years ago – which I’ve been drily informed does not make me an expert. I do have a lot of friends who work in D.C. in a variety of positions and it’s always been fascinating to hear their stories about the unique culture and personalities in their world – both in and outside of work.
Thus I was very excited about the opportunity to ask some Belle some questions about her thoughts on D.C. style – do’s and don’ts and some advice about looking stylish while working in Capitol Hill. I also included some of my personal picks for D.C. style staples throughout. Enjoy!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
After a long career as a staffer in the House of Representatives, I am now a lobbyist for a large non-profit association. I currently live in the Penn Quarter neighborhood in D.C.
When did you first start working in D.C. and in what general industry have you been employed?
I have been working in or around the government and Capitol Hill since moving to D.C. at the end of 2004.
Which of your own “D.C. style budget levels” do you relate to – elected official, staffer, or unpaid intern? What are the key style items for that position?
I think I relate the most to the mid-priced styles. I’m lucky enough to have a little money to spend on clothing, but I certainly can’t afford designer names.
Can you describe a little bit about D.C. style, and what makes it different than other areas? What are some differences that are real, and what are some common misconceptions?
What makes D.C. different is that no one is from here. It’s rare that you meet someone who was D.C.-born. As a result, people bring their sense of style from the place they came from. You see Californians in white jeans and sandals in November. You see Westerners in cowboy boots and hats. You see people from New York City who wear all black. And you see a lot of folks from the South who wear pearls and bow ties.
The most common misconception about D.C. is that it’s Hollywood for ugly people. There are a lot of attractive, well-dressed people involved in politics. But there are, of course, people who could use some help in the style department.
What are the items that you think are “must haves” for any aspirant Hill workers?
You need a good selection of well-fitting suits. You need pencil skirts and silk blouses. And you need comfortable, well made shoes. The marble floors and cobblestones are murder on your feet.
Are there any women out there that you’d call fabulous examples of DC style?
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand are both well dressed. They exemplify what it means to maintain a sense of personal style while dressing for a conservative environment.
How does the DC woman feel about obvious logos? What would she never be caught dead wearing?
Obvious logos, whether they be on purses or on clothing, are not stylish. You paid for the item, why do you also need to advertise for the company?
D.C. women should never wear Crocs, Uggs or sweatpants in public. They should never carry a Vera Bradley bag. And their skirts should always be an appropriate length and their clothes should never be too tight.
Can you share a little bit about your style? What are some of your favorite go to brands, and some items that you’ve gotten the most wear out of?
I wear a lot of J.Crew, as do most Hill Staffers. I also love Nanette Lepore, Rebecca Taylor, Malene Birger, Black Halo, Milly and Zara. I wear my Zara pieces almost to death. It’s so great to be able to buy a trendy piece at a reasonable price that I can wear for one season and then discard when I’m tired of it. I’ve also worn my J.Crew pencil skirts until they fall apart.
Can you share some advice about style/shopping/budget that you’ve learned over the years that you think would be helpful?
It’s far better to buy one $200 piece that will last for years than five under-$50 pieces that won’t last the summer. Until you have a foundation of good quality shoes, skirts, suits and dresses, you shouldn’t be indulging in trends. Instead, set aside a few dollars a month, and then a few times a year, buy something that is very well made and will last for a long time.
What are some of your other passions and hobbies?
I love going to the museums on the National Mall and the many small theaters around D.C. I also spend a lot of time going to restaurants and trying new recipes. Food is really my great passion.
And finally – please share something surprising about yourself!
Something surprising about me? I learned to shoot when I was a very young child, and I still love to shoot trap or go to the pistol range with my family. Fashion and guns, I’m a woman of diverse interests.
I adore that Belle’s advice is so similar to many other women I’ve interviewed from all over the world…save your pennies for a few quality pieces that will last over cheap buys that will quickly fall apart.
Working in Silicon Valley, it’s quite easy to forget that there are jobs and industries where suits, ties and pumps are all part of a standard dress code. Belle’s description of Capitol Hill and D.C. attire has been wonderful in helping paint a picture of the fashion of scene and it was fascinating to learn more details. Thank you Belle for your time and expertise – and for more of Belle, make sure to check out her blog, Capitol Hill Style.