On Trend, Off the Mark

After I graduated from college (thanks to the recession), I spent a couple of years working at my favorite retail store. While the job wasn’t great for my career advancement or my finances (it’s really hard not to buy all of the cute stuff you’re surrounded by all day!), it was great for helping me to develop my sense of style and boosting my confidence. Because of that job and my love of shopping, I’m not afraid to have a little fun when it comes to my personal style.

When it comes to my professional style, though, I’m still pretty basic – literally.  I think a good professional wardrobe consists of simple solid basics with structured bottoms and a few good cardigans and blazers. Fun prints and styles can certainly be mixed in, but the core items should be able to go with just about anything. For most of my professional career, I’ve had a relatively easy time finding what I needed, but recently, I’ve found finding basic dress pants to be a real struggle.

Last August, after a year’s hiatus from work, I decided I needed to refresh my professional wardrobe for my new job. Since the pandemic prevented me from using dressing rooms and my go-to store for dress pants had closed, I turned to a subscription styling service. I had great luck with tops, dresses, and jeans, but none of the dress pants ever seemed to work. High-waisted pants were too high and uncomfortable on my short torso. Pants that fit my hips were too big everywhere else. And one particular pair fit like a dream, but the material somehow made them look skintight. I ended up spending most of the year wearing my older dress pants which, after yet another year of wear, no longer look so professional.

This summer, I thought I’d try again. Tired of shipping online purchases back, I asked my fellow NOMs to tell me their favorite stores for dress pants, and earlier this week, I headed out, thinking I’d be able to get a few new pairs of dress pants. I went to every. single. store they suggested, and then some, but I came home empty-handed. Most stores had very little to choose from. What they did have seemed to be mostly “high-waisted” or even “super high-waisted” or wasn’t available in my size.

The lack of selection was frustrating enough, but beyond that, I was shocked by how unprofessional some of the options were – at least in my opinion. One store only had drawstring linen pants. While I don’t necessarily think these are unprofessional, they certainly aren’t the structured look I desire, and they are a little more difficult to pair with other items. Another store only appeared to have joggers. I actually like the “dressy jogger” look, but that’s not what these were. They were pre-faded, khaki material with an 80s-style, oversized drawstring waist – apparently called a “paper bag” waist – not exactly what I consider professional looking. A third store actually had more structured pants, but none of them were basic. They all had some weird embellishment like zippered pockets, piped seams, big tie belts, or loud prints.

I left the final store feeling utterly defeated. I need new dress pants for the school year, and at this point, it looks like I’m going to have to return to using Prime Wardrobe and returning online purchases that don’t fit. But even online, the options for basic, classic looks seem limited or unprofessional. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Under an advertisement for a clothing brand I follow on social media, I noticed one commenter express disappointment in the newest styles, which she felt were “too casual and untailored” – my sentiments exactly! And as much as I enjoyed being able to wear my pajamas when I worked from home, dropping $60 on pants that look like pajamas doesn’t seem like a great investment, professionally or financially.

Look, I’m not criticizing these styles. I love playing with fashion, and I admire people who can pull off looks I never could. I even liked the nap dress! But I do get frustrated when brands are so worried about being on-trend that they forget the value of simple basics, fail to remember that their customers are not all shaped the same, or simply don’t stock their physical stores with a representative collection. Maybe I’ve crossed the line into “old-fashioned,” but I just want to be able to walk into a store and find a simple pair of trousers with no crazy fits or styles. I prefer being able to find what I’m looking for by trying things on in the store before I buy, not paying extra for shipping and waiting a week for the items just to send most, or all, of them back.

When did that become too much to ask?

Kelly Vollmer
Kelly first moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, from which she earned a B.S. in Psychology and English and an M.A. in English. She quickly discovered New Orleans was the place where she had always belonged, and her high school sweetheart, Jeff, soon followed her here. They have now been married for 16 years and have two beautiful girls, Emma Jane (11) and Hannah (6), and 4 year-old pup named Ember. Kelly is a lover of all things nerdy, a proud fangirl, and she is a passionate high school English teacher.


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