Working Girl

Yo, I got a job! I mean I have for many years had many jobs but now I have added another, one that requires me to sit inside a giant office with many other people. It is a creative job, but it still takes place inside a maze of cubicles and offices and long tables with people doing things on computers that I will never understand. The last time I had a job inside such a place it was 1989 and I didn’t know how to dress appropriately. I wore this:

As a skirt. It was dyed pink which who knows maybe made it worse, and I wore it with opaque tights and like some sort of shirt. The head of the company (Kahners, Newton Massachusetts) saw me out his office window as I dashed through the parking lot to buy magazines at CVS and radioed down to my floor that if I wore that piece of underwear I was trying to pass off as a skirt I would be sent home to change. Oh my god This always happens to me! I was sent home multiple times in Catholic School, beginning in Grade 6, for my inability to dress properly. When I left elementary school there was a new illustration, of my hairdo, in the school handbook’s Forbidden Hairdos section. I went on to Catholic High School and got kicked out at the end of the year for my inability to look normal. Or maybe it was my inability to pay the tuition. I don’t know! But it does make me think of of how my perennial cluelessness as to what is appropriate is tied to my growing up in a low-class situation, and also how maybe a crucial thing about Femme identity, which I do and do not relate to, is a tendency to look inappropriately female. It’s not like my cluelessness bias is skewed towards, Oh I wore a frumpy baggy shirt to the office with weird pants that were falling down cause I don’t have a belt/my suspenders snapped. It’s like, Oh, I mistakenly wore a girdle as a skirt. With garters. To the office! Perhaps it is a subtle form of insane feminist protest – You raise me in this schizophrenically misogynist culture and expect me to be able to look appropriate? Um, fuck off.

Basically, as I am concerned that I look like a weird slut whose maxi pad is slipping out the hem of her micromini all the time, I overcompensated for my first day and just wore everything that I have ever bought from J Crew all at the same time. Pants that sort of look like this. A baggy gray henley. I started out feeling like I was wearing a cute costume for the next scene in the durational performance that is life but wound up feeling like a mad frump at the end of a long day under the fluorescents, having binged for eight hours on the kitchen stocked with incredible snacks, again betraying my class background with my inability to resist anything free. Anyway, today I am wearing a slip dress from the Anthropologie sale rack, with sea shells and mermaids all over it and ruffles on the skirt. Is it appropriate? Thankfully I doubt this is the sort of job that cares about such things, but it always interesting to come up against one’s limitations. Before I dash off to the office – Madewell finally hit San Francisco, just in time for me not to care about it anymore!

It’s in the mall and I was excited in theory since I like the Madewell in NYC and LA, and then I went in and I was like – oh striped shirts and beat up leathery shoes and jeans. Really nice leather belts. What’s not to like? But it just felt, somehow, too easy. Like you could just go in, hand a personal shopper your vintage Dooney & Burke purse and say, Hey, will you put me together a whole wardrobe that matches this? They also have a whole area where they focus on goods from local shops like a pencil set I just bought as a gift from The Curiosity Shop, or beaded barrettes and turquoise from General Store, and while I love those shops and am glad they are getting some mall money, it made me distrust Madewell even more, like some suit somewhere masterminding some diabolical ploy to make you feel like you are shopping locally for artisinal goods when really you are shopping at a subsidiary of J Crew. I did like a pair of leather boots they were selling, and will probably by jeans there eventually, and really loved these necklaces from local designers Eden and Eden that I can’t find an image of but they are all slinky and colorful and golden. Okay, I’m late for the office! Til next week!


About Michelle Tea

I chanted "I am a fashion magnet" in the shower and subsequently found a Gianni Versace - era Versace skirt at Buffalo Exchange for $17. Once I got a beyond-my-means Fendi purse for free and sat staring at it, crying. Also cried at Olivier Theyskens' last show for Nina Ricci in Paris. Other things that make me cry: a good lip synch; my emotions. I have stolen two Jeremy Scott swag items from two Jeremy Scott events I was not quite invited to. Sometimes I want to age into Patti Smith, sometimes Baby Jane Hudson. I frequently dream I am in a magic thrift store where I can have whatever I want. I regret not buying the Alexander Wang purse when it was half price at Barney's. Like a delusional guy at a strip club, I feel special when the people who work at Barney's remember me. Having a Leo rising gives me big hair and a need for attention. My favorite designers right now are Alexander Wang, Philip Lim, Proenza Schouler, Vivienne Westwood, Viktor Rolf, Rick Owens, Rodarte, Helmut Lang and Surface to Air. I was once shamed by an employee of a high-end department store for pronouncing 'Rodarte' incorrectly.


  1. Anna Elizabeth Bergman

    I have a section of Antigone’s Room devoted to Working Girl style, it is truely iconic. Can’t wait to hear about your cubicle decor!

  2. Andrea

    Michelle, I think I was working at Cahners in Newton in 1989 (or had just left).

  3. amrit


    My first week as a law associate at a big firm in the late 80’s, I wore a wrap skirt that blew off during a walk out to lunch with the partners. I chased it down in my slip and put it back on. No one said a word.

    I hated that job and kept wanting to sit under my desk and scream “fuck’ all day long, but it was navigating the class politics and the clothes that finally drove me to quit.



  4. Margaret

    Dear Michelle

    Congratulations on the new job!

    The story you describe below is exactly my Catholic school history.

    We had “free dress day” on Fridays and I was always designing some new fashion trend and making calls to rally 6-7 girls to join me. I thought free dress day could include heavy mascara and accessories like bubble rings in psychedelic colors. Well, every Friday we assembled in the quad and every Friday I was hooked by Mother Superior who pulled me into her office and made me wait in the nurses office while she called my mother to bring a change of clothes. My mother didn’t help matters since she looked like the sexy Italian movie star Gina Lolabrigida with tons of cleavage. She told my mother I showed poor leadership qualities and I wasn’t going to gain confidence from the administration to be recommended for an all girls Catholic high school, and so… I wasn’t recommended because when I was measured for my new high school uniform I was told to kneel down so the skirt could be hemmed level with the floor. I said “no way” and it was public school for me.

    “Oh my god This always happens to me! I was sent home multiple times in Catholic School, beginning in Grade 6, for my inability to dress properly. When I left elementary school there was a new illustration, of my hairdo, in the school handbook’s Forbidden Hairdos section. I went on to Catholic High School and got kicked out at the end of the year for my inability to look normal.”

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