From left to right: project manager Frances Ulph, publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove, TV presenter Lucy Hockings

FASHION HONESTLY 

Why workwear isn’t just about white shirts and pencil skirts

From a plumber to a TV presenter, five women on dressing for the job and how to solve the workwear conundrum

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By Marisa Bate on

Sharmaine Lovegrove – the book publisher

When I first started my role as a publisher, I bought a whole new wardrobe in the sales – shirts, skirts and trousers, and then, afterwards, I was like, “This is just not me.” So, now, I tend to wear bold patterns and colours and usually a lot of mustard. My hair has got shorter and shorter. I’m a modern black woman who is happy and confident in myself. And I think that’s very important because I’m talking to so many people about storytelling and race, and I think it’s really important to show that being yourself is the most important person that you can be. People seem to notice what I wear and it is just so lovely, especially as a mum whose body shape has changed so much in the last seven years.

I remember going to the first day of my convent school in south London. And because I’d been to a different school before, where you could wear what you wanted, I turned up in a patchwork skirt, a Nirvana T-shirt and DMs that I got on the King’s Road. But I never set out to be different. And I realised, the older I got, that if I looked really different from what people thought I should, I was less likely to hear from them. And so I think I’ve always been trying to find the balance between the culture I’m interested in, be it culture or literature or evoking my Jamaican heritage, and also being professional.

I know I often look different from the mums in the playground when I turn up in my bright yellow trainers and my jumpsuits with African prints, but I feel approachable and fun. I might wear a bright pink-hooded Champion jumper with dungarees and mustard Reebok Classics. I think the biggest thing for me is if I put on make-up or not. So, today, I have it on because I’ve got six meetings, but I go into the office a lot without make-up, which is quite rare for someone with such short hair.

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You have to work out where the rules come from. Is it in your head? Or were you given a booklet from HR? Who told you that you had to wear what you’re wearing? And once you start unpacking that, you’re giving yourself that freedom and choice. I work in the city and I see women in really high heels and really smart, and I just hope they are doing that out of choice. Often, the very thing that holds us back is because it’s a norm, not because it’s a rule.

Frances Ulph – the TV and film-set project manager

I am a project manager at a set design and construction company for TV and film. My day-to-day role oversees the running of a build, from initial conception to completion – and everything in between. There will be days spent on building sites, days spent on set, days spent in the office and days spent running around, picking up materials.

Due to the nature of the job, it is extremely difficult to know what is appropriate to wear. Finding that balance between looking nice and projecting a good image for the company, yet not wanting to stick out like a sore thumb among carpenters and painters in work gear, is a very fine line. I hate being cold, so I always carry a back-up jumper with me!

When looking for new clothes, my first port of call is always Asos. I’m not one for frills or patterns, or even much colour, so I can usually find something close to what I’m looking for. Between Asos, Zara, Cos and & Other Stories, I can easily find something to suit my style. I have recently discovered a world of talent on Etsy and have been ordering bespoke pieces to fit me exactly.

I am one of only two women in the company and the only female project manager. This puts so much pressure on me in unexpected ways. I don’t feel the pressure to look nice or anything like that, but more that I have to tone down any outfits so I don't stand out too much. Being predominantly based in a workshop with skilled tradesmen, I don’t feel like I can get too dressed up through fear of not being taken seriously. It's a constant battle between wanting to look nice so I feel good in myself, but not taking it too far. I’d imagine men don’t battle with the same pressures women do when it comes to finding the perfect outfit every morning, and especially not in a male-dominated environment.

Lucy Hockings – the BBC News broadcaster

We don’t get allowance and we don’t have stylists. The closest I’ve ever had is a member of management saying, “I don’t like that.” But I’ve been doing this for years and I think I know now what suits me.

It’s time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can’t tell quality on air because of the lighting, so your lovely well-cut, black Armani suit could be from River Island. It’s very difficult to tell. Grey and black don't look good on TV. You need colour – something strong and vibrant. The clothes have also got to with my set in the studio. One of the sets has a lot of pink and purple colours, so I can’t wear anything that doesn’t go with that, but nor do I want to look like I match it.

I wear a lot of a brand called Winser London – they have really good sales and good quality fabric that fits well. I’ve bought one of their dresses in five different colours, but I also do Zara, H&M, Cos, Uniqlo and & Other Stories.

In my personal life, I wouldn’t wear what I wear on TV, but I think its an important part of the job and it gives me a lot of confidence.

I’m always managing multiple wardrobes at the same time. You have to be careful about sweating. You have to be careful about colours. When I covered the US election, I couldn't really wear red or blue on election day. I don’t wear shirts, because if there is a crease or a wrinkle, the viewer wants to reach into the TV and straighten it out. I was in Moscow for the World Cup, so what do you wear to cover news and sport? M&S and Zara tops with high necks and polo necks came in handy. I have to be careful with heels, especially as I’m tall. Today, they had to reset the cameras before going on air. But I have to wear heels. It empowers me. I won’t wear flats on air.

When I was in Russia covering the presidential election in January, we were broadcasting outside and it was -20°C. When I came back, there was a crazy volume of emails and tweets about my hat – a purple beanie from & Other Stories. That’s all people talked about. And it was demoralising. You’re thinking, “What about what I've just said? It was extensive coverage of a very serious story”. But all anyone said was, “I love your hat.”


Missy Flynn – the restaurateur

When I’m working, I do a bit of time in the kitchen, a bit of time front of house and currently a bit of time on building sites and it can always vary, if you’re working for a client or on a specific event.

For my working wardrobe, dresses with pockets are the best and great bags have become a priority for me – because they can simply smarten me up if I’m meeting investors. Good shoes are really important, too. I wear Birkenstocks all the time. Jeans are important and Margaret Howell does great pieces for work

I’m mostly trying to dress around health and safety, and health and hygiene, codes – so, not having our feet or armpits on show. And, when things are so prescriptive, how can you actually have a personality around what you’re wearing? Because, generally, you're wearing chef pants or an apron and you become quite anonymous in that respect.

In general, I dress down for work. Because I’m running around on the floor of the restaurant, but then, also, you want to be able to convey the brand and business through how you look, so I always worry that I come across scatty, because I often just wear jeans and a white T-shirt. Accessorising and having stuff that allows you to dress simply and practically is really useful, so I make sure I have a nice bag or jacket. And when you wear trainers for work it’s very easy to wear them across purposes. And then trying to separate workwear from lifewear becomes a quite a mental thing, and you have to be careful about what you choose when you’re working and when you're not.

In a restaurant, you’re always bending over and moving, it’s quite physical and I believe that’s the most important thing to dress for. I’ve always had this standard, a type of professionalism through how I dress. And, even though everyone wants young hip staff, I want us to show that we come from a place of knowledge and rules in our restaurant that other people might not.

LAUREN WINTER – THE PLUMBER

I normally wear a polo shirt and blue or black trousers when I’m on site. Unfortunately, I have to wear men’s trousers from a brand called Jobman because ladies workwear doesn't come in my size. I’m actually an ambassador for Dickies on social media, but their trousers don’t fit me, either. The women’s range goes up to size 20 and in normal trousers I’m a size 16-18, but they come up tight and obviously you need extra room to work in, so I have to wear men’s.

It can feel a bit deflating when you’re stuck in the men’s section and, although it’s something you have to expect and you can’t dwell on it too much, it would be nice to think, “Yeah, I can get in a women’s pair of trousers to go to work.” And who knows, maybe it would open up the trade industry to women slightly more if they thought they could find the right things to wear that caters for them?

Being able to put on an identity, like my name on my own T-shirt, is always nice, and it promotes what you do. I’m very proud of what I do. And, actually, if I’m wearing my plumbing trousers, I do get a bit of respect from other people for doing the job that I do on the street or in the shop. When it’s not too hot, I wear a bit of mascara because appearance is part of the job as well.

@marisajbate

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From left to right: project manager Frances Ulph, publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove, TV presenter Lucy Hockings
Tagged in:
fashion honestly
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women at work
workwear
Marisa Bate

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