What Diplomats Wore

The annual, global diplomacy-fest that is the United Nations General Assembly is in full swing in New York. On my first morning, as I was waiting in the main entry hall, I couldn’t help but notice with fascination the outfits people were sporting as they made their way to the assembly.

I realised there and then that I must present evidence that first of all, women are numerous at these meetings, and second, the stuffy old diplomat dress code (similar dark suits for both men and women) has largely been replaced by fantastic, bold and feminine choices.

As I am principally supposed to be working during my work trips instead of checking out people’s outfits (shocking, I know), the quality of some of the pictures is not as good as the subjects would merit, as I was snapping away in a hurry. Also I did not capture nearly all of the super intriguing choices, as photographing was not appropriate everywhere. However, herewith a small selection of what diplomats wore, the 2019 edition.

  1. Dresses

A dress was the choice du jour, a favourite all the way up to the highest political level. Among the Head of State -level dress-wearers I spotted at least the Presidents of Estonia and Slovakia.

This is an important signal to women in all stages of their career: a dress is a serious and appropriate workwear alternative. There’s hardly ever a compelling reason to wear a black trouser-suit to work, unless you work as a pallbearer.

First exhibit: The Austrian Federal Chancellor (the Head of Government).

Second: The Foreign Minister of Norway (colour-matching with her adviser)

Please also note the matching of tones for dress, shoes and handbag:

A classic with polka-dots:

The perennial workwear-classic: the wrap-dress!

2. Shoes you can actually walk in

Forget about any Sex and the City –related Manolo-fantasies of running around Manhattan in vertiginous heels. We are adults here.

My personal conference-day walking record is 14km. That is a very long way to walk in any shoes. Heels can be fabulous, but I would still advise to carry flats in your handbag. This is annoying, because it adds to the amount of stuff that needs to be schlepped around. But your feet will swell, making afternoons pure agony. Slipping into ballerinas or trainers will be a blessing by the time it’s 5pm.

Also, trainers have officially become appropriate footwear to high-level gatherings.

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3. Pattern

Mix, match and be bold.

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4. Uniforms

A woman’s workwear can also be a uniform. Herewith two different examples:

An official uniform:

A fashion uniform, in this case head to toe Gucci:

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Here you are. Quite a family-photo they would make together, the women above.

When It’s August And You Want Everything

It’s the circle of life: after two months of being swaddled in shapeless linen sundresses we are all ready to dress in proper clothes again. Remember the things with sleeves, waistbands and zippers? As mornings inevitably start getting crispier and the September issues hit the shelves, Scottish plaid starts to look inexplicably alluring again.* 

Continue reading “When It’s August And You Want Everything”

Fancy Feet

It has come to pass that my meticulously maintained morning coffee and croissant habit has been severely interrupted by my having to haul my ass to a pilates class at the crack of dawn these days. This is because I am a long-time sufferer of every postural problem ending in “-sis“, such as lordosis and scoliosis, and the pain was starting to hit new limits, making daily life pretty much intolerable. Also I was starting to look like a middle-aged female Pisa.

Continue reading “Fancy Feet”

How to: When Everybody Leaves Town

As is characteristic to Brussels and the expat community the world over, people change jobs and consequently their country of residence in the summer because of school holidays and also it’s more fun in sweltering heat. Thus, ’tis the season of goodbyes and people trying to get rid of their house-plants and unwanted kitchen knick-knacks by smuggling them to office in the name of “circular economy”.

Continue reading “How to: When Everybody Leaves Town”

I’m Really Busy Right Now

For reasons I cannot fully explain I continue to be obsessed with finding out what kind of daily routines interesting people have. Therefore imagine my delight as I ran to ​Daily Rituals – Women at Work this weekend. It’s a compilation of habits of 143 female authors and artists by Mason Currey, whose first book on the habits of great minds concentrated on men, and he wanted to make amends with the second book dedicated to women. 

My work does not allow me to fully be the master of my calendar and I live in a busy-culture. With busy-culture I mean the kind of culture where people ask “Are you busy?” instead of “how are you?“, and you’re expected to reply by assessing your busyness on the scale of “yes, very” to “it’s fucking killing me”. You must be busy, otherwise there’s something very seriously wrong with you or – and this is the worst – you are not very important. The busier you say you are, the better you are allowed to feel about yourself. 

I’m interested in habits and routines because I believe they must be the key to creating more space for thinking. Hands up everyone who has taken part in an office brainstorming session where people are seated in a meeting room with a numbingly meaningless consultant-speak slideshow on the background and those who are not jumping up and down, excusing themselves for “having to take this call” are checking their social media feeds on their phones?

Our brains are required to produce creative ideas in the most absurd of circumstances.

While (successful) creatives might have the autonomy to decide on their daily comings and goings, I thought I could still get some transferable inspiration. Herewith some of my favourites:

Coco Chanel’s team would spray a mist of Chanel No. 5 near the entrance of the rue Cambon offices every day so that Coco could walk through the cloud of her own signature scent when she came to work. There was an alert from the Ritz when Mademoiselle was on her way so that the perfume-spritzer could get ready. 

– Elsa Schiaparelli was famously punctual to the minute. She rose every morning at eight, had a glass of water with lemon and a cup of tea, read the papers and tended to her private correspondence. Oh, and gave the menus of the day to the cook.

– Songwriter ​Carole King found that the key to not having a writer’s block was not to worry about it. Ever. “If you are sitting down to write and nothing is coming, you get up and do something else. Then you come back and do something else. Then you come back and try it again. But you do it in a relaxed manner. Trust that it will be there. If it ever was once and you’ve ever done it once, it will be back.”

– Writer ​Susan Sontag believed it would be the best to write every day, but she barely managed this herself, usually writing in “intense, obsessional stretches”, often motivated by “an egregiously neglected deadline that she finally couldn’t ignore any longer. She seemed to need the pressure to build to an almost intolerable level before she could finally begin to write”. 

– Virginia Woolf valued privacy and “space to spread her mind out in”. This meant problematic relations with real people. ​”The truth is, I like it when people actually come; but I love when they go”. Woolf’s friends remembered her as an inattentive and borderline rude host, to which she responded “I wake filled with a tremulous yet steady rapture, carry my pitcher full of lucid and deep water across the garden, and am forced to spill it all by – someone coming.” 

– In the acknowledgement section of her novel NW writer Zadie Smith thanked two pieces of Internet-blocking software called Freedom and Self Control for “creating the time”. Smith does not use any social media.

– Artist Tamara de Lempicka strived to have a regular routine for the sake of her daughter. After she had put the child to sleep, Lempicka hit the Parisian nightlife in search of her preferred drugs: pellets of hashish dissolved in sloe-gin fizzes, or hits of cocaine sniffed from a miniature silver teaspoon – together with anonymous sexual encounters. She claimed “it is an artist’s duty to try everything.” Returning home, she would paint nonstop for hours. To calm her nerves for sleep, she turned to herbal supplement valerian. No matter what, she made sure to be up in time to have breakfast with her daughter, regardless how little sleep she’d gotten.

– The French novelist, playwright and screenwriter ​Francoise Sagan did not want to fall into habits: “The material problems of day-to-day living bore me silly. As soon as someone asks me what we should have for dinner I become flustered and then sink into gloom.”  

As various as their approaches to their creative processes were, there’s the one thing they all have in common, and Sagan put it very simply: “I had a strong desire to write. I simply started it.” 

There’s another excellent book about writing by Stephen King, and his message is very much the same as ​Sagan’s. In his book he discusses his writing routines at length, but what I loved best was his reasoning why writing retreats are not all that: 

​It is the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl,
not pearl-making seminars with other oysters. 

From On Writing by Stephen King.