Dressing for Success by Nancy Mugele

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Have I told you that I am a member of the newly formed Talbots Advisory Council? Talbots – the women’s clothing retailer – not Talbot – the Eastern Shore county. Don’t tell Jim, but I was recently asked to be a member based upon my shopping history over too many years to count. In my role I get to preview catalogs and offer my opinions on the clothing, models, seasonal colors and layouts of the pages. After each month’s assignment, I am entered into a drawing to win a very generous Talbots gift card. And, while I really want to win a gift card, I am greatly enjoying the “advising” piece. Makes me feel like I am in my 20s again.

Some of you may know that I began my career in advertising in NYC. It was exactly like Mad Men, although it was the early 1980s — sophisticated clothes, two-martini long lunches, work hours that began at 10 a.m. but lasted well into the night, and two clients in Baltimore. My first account was Domino Sugar and that gave me a taste (pun intended) of what Baltimore had to offer. I had my first steamed crabs at O’Brycki’s, went to an Army-Navy football game at Memorial Stadium, ate my way through Little Italy, and was hooked. My second Baltimore client was Noxell Corporation and I moved to Hunt Valley to work there in 1987. I met Jim on an Amtrak train on a very snowy night 31 years ago last week, as I traveled to Baltimore to interview, but that is another story.

Women in the workplace had become the norm during the 80s; yet, we still needed to work hard to establish equality in our professional lives. Power dressing was one way to achieve it. It was “highly recommended” to me by my intense female boss that I wear heels and tailored suits (complete with shoulder pads) to work. She wore this uniform, religiously, every single day. (She did give me my first Hermès scarf though, so I cannot say anything negative about her.)  I chose Talbots clothing early in my career for affordability, and the classic and timeless looks that became the foundation of my professional wardrobe. Of course, I was also trying to communicate a certain seriousness with my clothing to combat my youthfulness. Thankfully, tailored suits were never a requirement in the school cultures I have most recently worked in, but, Talbots is still my go-to for three essential elements — skirts, coats and dresses.

Reviewing Talbots spring catalog pages for content, style, color and fashion reminds me of my days working on Cover Girl cosmetics at Noxell. I worked on lipsticks and nail polishes and was responsible for selecting seasonal shades and promotional vehicles. I once named an entire fall collection of lips, nails, blushers and eyeshadows after fabrics — Plum Wool being one of my favorite colors that season. I also remember well the retouching of the print ads and display units. Changing model’s eye color, whitening and closing gaps in teeth, and thinning noses are some of the things I ordered on photographs of seemingly beautiful models. While I am not proud of this today, given my work to help students understand media literacy and to think critically about images they see, altering photos and images remains an integral part of the fashion and cosmetic world even today. While advertisers still need to do a better job in this area, I applaud companies like Talbots and Dove for using real people and models who better represent all women and men in their marketing efforts.

I am pretty sure Talbots has invited many, many diverse people to be on their advisory council, but that does not bother me at all. I still consider it an honor and am crossing my fingers I win this month’s gift card!

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

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