Handbags and shoes at work

I’ve worked in the fashion industry for the vast majority of my post-college life, so occasionally, I forget what it’s like for people in more traditionally corporate or conservative environments, who likely constitute the bulk of women who have the funds to buy themselves designer handbags and shoes. When I read the Washington Post’s piece on White House council Kathryn Ruemmler, though, I found myself served with a stark reminder that not all workplaces are as welcoming to designer bags and expensive shoes, no matter how by-the-book-appropriate.

Despite all her qualifications, her high-status job and the recent controversies involving her and the IRS, the WaPo chose to spend paragraph upon paragraph discussing Ruemmler’s taste for expensive shoes, as well as giving them two paragraphs in a longer profile. There’s little indication in the article that her shoes are in any way in violation of the White House’s dress code, which is likely quite conservative, or that her shoe habit has become a problem in her life in any way (Ruemmler is, after all, a high-powered lawyer; she can probably afford a few pairs of BB Pumps if she so chooses). Fine shoes on a successful woman shouldn’t be any more notable than a well-tailored suit on a congressman, but I’ve never seen a profile of a senator mention his closet full of Zegna in order to give some sort of illuminating detail about his personality. Of course powerful men have business clothes that match their status; often, though, when women have bags and shoes that match ours, it’s derided as ladies-be-shoppin’ pedestrian frivolity.

The details of why these sorts of call-outs on women’s luxury goods are bothersome have been explicated in many other places around the Internet, so right now, we’d like to hear from you. How do you self-edit your handbag and shoe collections when deciding what to wear to work? Do you worry that wearing something flashy or obviously expensive will make your coworkers, both male and female, take you less seriously, or do you trot out whatever you feel like wearing and let the chips fall where they may? Why can’t we just carry our bags and wear our shoes in peace?

  • Sandra

    I live in a state that would not be considered fashionable, for the most part. There are a few of us that really love fashion and spend big bucks on what we love. My work environment would definitely not be considered a place of fashion. That has never stopped me from wearing my Louboutins and carrying Givenchy. I stand out for sure….but I work so that I can afford some of the things I love. I really do not think that my colleagues are swayed in any way….the same that I am not drawing any conclusions about them because they choose to dress or spend their money in any certain way.

  • Befuddled

    I’m a high school teacher and until recently was the only one carrying designer pieces like Balenciaga and Prada to school. I definitely got snide remarks and looks. Now that there is someone with a bigger bank account, that derision has been transferred to her. Women have a tendency to judge and maybe dare I say it, be jealous. I just we could all support and love each other’s fabulousness. Plus all this IS definitely SEXIST!

  • Silversun

    I do worry that I don’t get taken seriously because I wear Louboutins at work. There definitely seems to be a popular view that wearing conspicuous expensive fashion means that you are frivolous and don’t know how to handle your money. I work in finance so the “don’t know how to handle money” implications could be potentially damaging. Doesn’t concern me enough to stop wearing them in the office, but I do become self-conscious sometimes. Mostly I feel like it’s the female colleagues who judge. Maybe because they are more likely to know how much the shoes cost.
    Someone commented elsewhere that power dressing for work is appropriate if you can demonstrate your power, and pathetic if you can’t. That struck a chord with me. I feel like self-consciousness will become less of an issue when I become more senior and more confident in my role.

  • JD

    I work in an office were people do not give those looks if I were expensive shoes or bags. Or maybe I’m just not aware of it. But I still think if people snobs you because you wear expensive items, that just mean they’re just jealous and would like to own those things too. But also, there are these people who doesn’t care about what you’re wearing, they do not care about expensive things and do not KNOW about designer items. I have my sister for example, who just say “Why? what kind a bag is that anyway? It’s an orange bag.” and I would say “this is an hermes bag!” and she’ll reply, “Hermes whaaat?”
    One thing for sure if your co-workers snob of owning your items, that means you love the same things and unfortunately she couldn’t afford it.

  • AAAA

    For me at work there is a line. I like to look nice and wear unidentifiable designer items (where I live most people won’t recognize it unless it has a big logo – it isn’t exactly a high-fashion area). I will not, however, wear anything with a glaring logo. I think it can send the message that you are more concerned with buying expensive items than with your career. In some situations I also think it can lead the employer to believe that you don’t ‘need’ a raise. I know that many people don’t care what other people think, but I think in the workplace it does need to be taken into consideration. You need to be selling yourself, and your abilities, to your employer and to any clients/partners/customers/etc.

  • Canuck65

    I think you need to understand your workplace culture. In some workplace cultures, wearing designer shoes and carrying desginer handbags is not an issue and in some other workplaces it will be. I think its appropriate to dress according to your work place culture and take your cue from your colleagues and women in positions above you. Alienating your co-workers can really undermine your career even if its something as silly as jealousy over a designer bag and its not worth it. Its also important to be sensitive to clients perception. A lot of clients in the law and accounting fields are fee sensitive and some clients may not appreciate you walking in with expensive bag – its kind of like rubbing your face in how much fees they pay. I agree with other comments that women are probably worst in judging – mainly because they know the designers – and most men are pretty oblivious to women’s fashion designers and the cost. So unforutnately women are at a double standard – men can spend thousands of dollars on custom suits and no one notices – a woman can spend the same amount of money on bag and shoes and people gossip and judge. You can still be powerful and dress in way that’s not flashy or dowdy either. The women partners at my firm all dress quietly with no obvious designer labels.

  • Lorie

    No. I don’t really care what people think about anything. I wear what I like.

    Getting feisty in my old age.

    • guest

      Exactly! As part of my job, am exposed to so much wealth and luxuries in life. I told my friends and families that everything else looks ordinary post this job, and I would not give a damn what others think. If I like it, I’d wear it.

  • weaslgrl

    I work in a corporate environment with a business casual dress code. Most people don’t recognize my bags (my taste runs to no visible logos), some people do, and a very few comment on them (usually positively, because they know what they’re looking at & can appreciate it). Here’s what I say to my co-workers who may raise their eyebrows: Our jobs make us lucky enough to have disposable income. John chooses to spend it on a 70″ home theater system. Jane chooses to spend it on a Viking range and Sub-Zero fridge. Jim chooses to spend it on a BMW 7-series. I choose to spend it on handbags! That either shuts people up, or at least gets them thinking!

    • Catita

      I can totally relate to this comment as a part for my LV damier print handbag (which I almost never wear at work because of the extra unwanted attention it gets), people at my work as clueless about fashion and I like that. They do notice that I “dress well” and have many different pairs of shoes or purses but no one knows if they are designers as they could not name one probably (a part Louis Vuitton). But I do feel that if they would know how much I spent on clothes/shoes/bags, they would all freak out or consider that I’d be wasting my money and think of me as superficial. It’s sad, but it’s mainly sad for them as they never understood that fashion is an art and a way to express yourself. I understand I work in a very technical environment where your brain is your power, not your body/looks/wardrobe but I know better, and I treat my exterior as I would my interior (read brain). I am still happy to have the job I have as I love it and my colleagues are great too, I just wished fashion was more important to them.

  • T Tara Bagnista

    When I lived in New York, I worked at Gucci and wore Gucci or one of the other Gucci brands’ bags/shoes. Naturally, in that environment that’s all we talked about. Five years ago when I relocated to a small town in the midwest for a job opportunity, I continued to wear the same designer bags/shoes because that’s what I had (and they last). Initially, I did get a sense of a few people turning up their noses; however, generally, the people here don’t recognize designer brands. In fact, on day I was on the elevator at work carrying my LV damier zippy wallet to the cafeteria and a woman asked me was it a designer brand. Generally, Coach (real and knockoffs) are the most predominate “designer” item here. There are only a handful of colleagues who share my interest in designer brands (also transplants) and we have regular discussions/compare notes on the topic. Otherwise, no one notices what I wear. I get more comments and envy (both male and female) on my red bimmer.

  • Amanda

    I generally don’t care what people think but don’t appreciate when people ask how much my bag cost or how much I spend on bags etc etc. Its none of their business. (My work environment is far more blue collar. Coach is pretty uppity to them)

    • Aurora

      My office is also a blue collar environment where people cannot believe the money spent on something such as a Coach bag. I prefer to spend my money on designer handbags, and each time I carry a new one, I receive so many questions or comments about it. I do find it a bit offensive that people (men AND women alike) continually find it to be a “frivolous” or “wasteful” expenditure and that I’m not being wise about my finances. I own everything in my possession without debt, so spending money on a chic or timeless bag isn’t hurting my life in the slightest… and it definitely isn’t hurting anyone else.

    • pixiegirlie

      Same here only a few people I work with recognize my high-end bags(mostly younger girls) also a more blue collar workplace. But I’ve had a few “how much did you spend on that” or “is it real” comments which I feel is out of line. I don’t ask/judge people how they spend their money they shouldn’t make false assumptions on how I spend mine. Ironically those who are the quickest to judge are generally those who don’t have their own finances in check.

  • J

    I’m a MALE elementary school teacher and there are only 2 out of the whole faculty that carry designer bags (one of them being me). Most of the other teachers can’t even recognise one designer from another (unless it’s LV) which is great; I know they’d be scandalise if they found how much much they cost.

    However, it’s the parents of students who know the brands so they always take notice of what I carry. Fortunately, they’re reactions are mostly 98% positive and we often indulge bag talk! They just think of me as the teacher with style. :D

    • J

      Oh gosh, apologies for not double checking my grammar! In a hurry typing this and forgot to check. *turning red here*

      *scandaliseD* / *found OUT* / *THEIR reactions* / *indulge IN bag talk*

  • Guest

    I own my own business and it happens to be in a creative field, so the dress code is what I say it is. But before that, I was an attorney. In both cases, I could give less than a damn about what people think/thought about my clothes. I was never inappropriately dressed as an attorney — quite the contrary in fact. I do love expensive shoes and bags, I work hard for my money, and I buy what I want. People can think whatever they wish — I don’t own their problems!
    I have two Birkins — one of which was a gift — and I carry them ALL the time.

  • janenuqui

    In my workplace, there are plenty of very well-dressed women, many carrying flashy designer handbags. I think it’s nice. I get a fashion update by just looking at my colleagues :)

  • KG

    I work in the finance department of a large PR firm in the Midwest. Recently on a business trip to our NYC office, my supervisor and I found ourselves with extra time on our hands and he asked me if I wanted to wander around mid-town and shop, I declined. I knew if he was not with me, I would have made a bee line for 5th Ave. I didn’t want him thinking I “waste” my money on high end designer bags and shoes, thus do not need an increase at my annual performance review.

  • FashionableLena

    I worked as a teacher, and I think that it depends on the environment. Most of my co-workers thought more of my Coach than my Marc Jacobs (not MbyMJ), Fendi, vintage Prada, etc. Coach is very popular amongst the teachers. Only one other teacher in my school carried high end handbags. It wasn’t an issue since no one really knew a Gucci from a Pucci.
    I could have cared less anyway, and I’ve been like that since high school. I figured out what I liked to spend my money on and forgot the rest. I like jeans, handbags, and sunglasses. I wouldn’t dream of wearing expensive shoes while a lot of my co-workers would spend upwards of $200 or more on a pair. If money were no object, I’d spend $200 on a pair of jeans not shoes.
    To sum it up, life is too short to worry about what people think about how you spend your money. It’s not their business. Enjoy your material things and don’t let anyone steal your joy or make you feel guilty.

  • Maria

    Totally. Interesting post. I work as an engineer. I am in the early stages of my career though. I certainly think that wearing certain items in the workplace may have a frivolous connotation and may diminish the thoughts of my colleages on my capability to achieve stuff or be good in my technical domain in general. It’s such a male dominated industry, with old conservative males. Furthermore, we have clients, and it’s even more important to promote a professional look and feel about yourself to them, so there’s definitely a bit of a compromise between what I wear to work and in my own free time.

  • lavinia

    that’s a very interesting question I made myself too. Amanda lately you are doing really well on this subject. My compliments again. Being a normal employee in a big corporate it sounds strange to many when you allow yourself expensive bags (I have many and let me say I saved to buy them) as I do and many collegues (feminine) use
    to say “I cannot afford a similar bag”. But this is the matter: if you buy an expensive bag (just one) and take it for let’s say 4/5 years. Take another woman who decides to buy a bag on the local market and pay for it 10-20 Euros (I live in Europe Milan, Italy) each and she buys 5-10 bags per year, because she likes to change a lot. How much do they spend in 4-5 years? I say that after this time the first one with the designer bag can NOW also re-sell her bag and gain some money too…but what about the other one??? Let me say that every woman for me is free to do as she pleases but please let me do my way too. For ex. I love my black Prada because it’is the lightest bag in the world it can become very little when you travel and is nice enough for every moment of the day. The texture (gabardine nylon) is fantastic you can clean it a million times and always remains the same… Men use to buy expensive cars, watches, shoes but nobody should say a word about it. Men “are” their watches and shoes, women “are” their bags. :)

  • anorthwind

    I work in fashion and have a mid level title. On the one hand, I won’t wear an expensive bag to work because I don’t want my boss to think I make enough money to afford such things [I don’t anyway] and also I don’t want to get mugged for it either. Maybe some day I’ll make an investment bag purchase, but not any time soon. The bags are way too marked up for what you get, even if I could, I would not feel confortable wearing $2,000 plus on my arm. I don’t think it is fair to judge others for doing it though. If your well paid and in the public eye [or not], you should be able to wear luxury items, your obviously working for them!

  • T Tara Bagnista

    Time to start shopping again for my next conquest. I just got an email that the YSL sale started today. Gucci can’t be far behind.

  • Scottsdale Kim

    If you pay your bills and do not rely on society or friends and family to carry you, why should you have to defend what you pay for a handbag?

  • Scottsdale Kim

    On another note, I am in sales and I get stressed if I cannot have my handbag on it’s own chair when I take clients to lunch. Do any of you go through this? I would never place them on the floor and I would not want to hang most of them from the back of the chair.

  • Katie

    If a designer bag got in the way of a promotion (which is as much about perception as it is skill and competence), I would shelve it…as much as I love my designer items, it’s not worth the risking my career, my ability to provide for my family and living the life to which I’ve grown accustomed to (including said designer bags).

    Jealously is a very powerful motivator and for anyone unsure of the effect of your designer items on your career trajectory, think about it this way- would you rather wear your LV today and antagonize the snobs or be like me and brush past them, Hermes in hand, to hit the button for the top floor in the elevator tomorrow because you played it smart…it may not be what some would think of as strategic career management but it’s certainly worked for me (and being damn good at what you do never hurts!). Happy shopping, all!

  • loany

    I work in the engineering business & most of my coleagues are senior engnrs. Some do recognize a high end bag or an LV bag because is so common now in NYC for a woman to carry one. I’m a midlevel engnr but yet looove wearing high end desiners bags. It makes me feel happy but I do hate when one of my colleagues make some comments like “oh is that another new Coach bag”. At first it made me uncomfortable but then when he saw me carrying another bag which was not a Coach bag either. I told him “this is not Coach. It’s MARC JACOBS. I dont like Coach” he was stunt. I turned away and said well u asked for it. Then he apologized and said he didn’t mean anything and actually was so happy someone in the office had a high end taste. So ever since we talk about his love for Mont Blanc, Burberry, etc. I got it say men do treat themselves too. :-
    I also agree that some of us like to splurge ourselves on certain things Aka- high end bags – but I don’t like for someone to come and tell me why dI’d I spend so much on it. Its my savings not yours. This was a comment I told this senior female engineer once the day of my 30th biryhday carrying my whole savings for chanel bag . I told her that while some people spend so much $$$$ on things that I’D NEVER ever consider on buying yet they do and love it I prefer to invest my $$ on my bags. That makes me happy and will last for ever. She never said anything again.
    Bottom line is people are nosy not because they can’t afford it but just annoying nosy.

  • http://bubbabel.tumblr.com bubbabel

    I am a Secretary working on the Construction Site. I wear Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) i.e. high vis shirt and trousers and steel cap boots to work everyday. That hasn’t stopped me from bringing my lux bags to work. Who says fashion has to stay on the runway? I say fashion is all about the attitude.

  • Hal Amin

    I love my bags and peolple do get scandalized but with each one, they soon become blase. My designer bags run from See by Chloe to Chanel and even the simple totes I use are by Longchamp and Marc by Marc Jacobs tate. Soon they cannot be bothered. My work often speaks for itysself. I excelled if i dare say way and above my colleagues and darn I enjoy my bags.

  • kymmie

    I routinely carry Balenciaga, Vuitton, Chloe, Marc Jacobs, Burberry as well “contemporary designers” such as Kate Spade and Longchamp to teach Kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten!

  • Guest

    some times i worry about this thing.I’m working in co-operate environment might be people not commenting on you but they will defiantly