What to wear when you work in a whirling vortex

Few opening lines are as addictive as the one novelist Leo Tolstoy created in the late 1800s: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  

Strangely enough, it’s a sentiment that inverts when modern-day work environments are involved; it turns out that dysfunctional workplaces are so alike that consultants make enormous sums measuring them against standard “winning to woeful” markers.

Some might think the majority of vortex workers are those whose positions involve high levels of danger, literal life-or-death decision-making, or lots of time with the vulnerable or suffering. Surprise! Frustrated, confused, fearful, and stressed workers can be found in all types of organizations.

Assessing Whether You’re in the Vortex

Worried you may be in the vortex? See if Gallup’s findings on US employees’ health and productivity resonate with you:

  • “The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect.”
  • “Being engaged in an activity at a deep, natural level can result in a lack of the sense of passing time, and indicate a level of engrossment that is consistent with strengths usage. So, apparently, time not only flies when we’re having fun, but also when we are using our strengths—both act to reduce a person’s chances of feeling stressed or worried about the present or future, and make life feel meaningful and productive.”

If those statements represent your current attitude about work, congratulations: you inspire both envy and hope in others. If you’re mystified by the research results, see if you identify with any of the below scenarios…and read on if the answer is “yes.”

  • Truly senior leadership doesn’t exist, because all the high-level players come and go quickly—as do their initiatives.
  • Departures are no longer mentioned in organizational missives, because the quantity is so high it “leads people still here to wonder why they’re such losers.”
  • Workers are openly told “like it or leave,” but somehow the directive never shifts to “like it or leave with this 6-month severance package and paid-up health care benefits that will help you weather a dismal job market.”
  • Colleagues are escorted out immediately upon axing, and managers don’t address the fact there and then with the remaining team. [Though a half-eaten scone may sit on the ousted one’s desk all day to serve as a poignant reminder of life’s randomness.]

Dressing for Days in the Vortex

Set your boundaries, be they wide or narrow. If variety energizes you, spend more time dressing for work and thinking up combinations that bring you delight and liven up the visual landscape. If less is more, though, there’s no shame in a low-key, grab-and-go “uniform” that works for your environment.

5. Whether drawn from real-life touchstones or escapist fantasies, incorporate items that have positive associations.

You may not be able to run free with 50 yards of silk like the powerful and dynamic Cyd Charisse, but hey: why not choose a scarf with movement, something worn on a day filled with happiness, or socks/underthings/clothing in your favorite athlete’s colors? It’s an easy way to keep in touch with the qualities you like in yourself or admire in others.

Tip 5a: Dress in a way that lets you channel a role model (here, a scarf very loosely inspired by the bold and free Cyd Charisse in Singin’ in the Rain)

Tip 5b: Pluck an item with pleasant memories from your closet (here, a blouse worn to visit Vancouver BC gardens)

4. Soothe your senses by minimizing color combinations and maximizing the Pajama Alternative Factor.

From knit-on-knit action* to whisper-soft Ts, shirts, and scarves, comfort-food dressing can make long days more bearable. [Despite the examples below, there’s no need to avoid color-color.]

Tip 4a: Find your slanket alternative (here, a grey cashmere sweater and black knit separates)

Tip 4b: Never underestimate the joy of repetition or the power of comfort-food dressing (here, my standard monochromatic trousers/sweater combo with a cozy velvet scarf)

3. Send subliminal signals by dressing for offense/defense.

The opposite of number 4 above, for days when you know it makes sense to show you’re as serious as a heart attack. There’s a reason for the clichés about power suits, ties, and colors. However despondent the game makes you, gird your loins and protect your hide.

Tip 3: Invert tip 4 on days you anticipate needing a good offense/defense (here, protecting my hide with a leather blazer and girding my loins with a multi-chain belt)

2. No matter how low morale and how casual your workplace and/or your Fridays, beware of looking too relaxed, ratty, or whimsical.

Do you really want to be wearing a sweater dress with missed patches of cat hair, a Hello Kitty sweatshirt, or wrinkled clothes when the CEO drops by to announce more strategic “reworking”—especially in case it’s you being cut?

Tip 2: At minimum, play in your organization’s nicest end of casual to avoid feeling worse when the Powers That Be drop another bomb (here, none-too-trendy dark wash jeans + blazer)

1. Stock your closet with whatever passes for interview wear in your region and industry.

Naturally your CV, accomplishments, and references are updated and ready to go….

Tip 1: Keep your closet stocked with the right stuff for interviewing in your industry/region (here, a black pantsuit + black shell + collared, blue/grey leopard print silk shirt + bold shell ring)

* Déjà Pseu of Une Femme d’un certain age has a flair for this type of dressing…and as it turns out we have sibling grey/black knit-on-knit outfits


For the last few weeks I may as well have been trying to ice skate in a roller rink.

Contemplating alternatives to my rather disturbing effort-to-momentum ratio led me to Edward de Bono, who says:

It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all. 

Given my scoreboard, I’ve reluctantly and temporarily decided to agree with him.

Does that mean I’m giving up hope that he or someone else will find a statistically viable third option? Never. Because surely there’s a way for me to have ideas by the bushelful while being always, indisputably right.

…thankfully, others’ creativity—no matter how humble or grand the execution—provides us with something tangible to ponder, critique, bask in, challenge, or admire no matter the current status of our own imaginative powers…

(top to bottom: “Washed Ashore,” a sculpture series by lead artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi + volunteers, repurposes plastic items washed upon Oregon shores; Claude Cormier’s “Blue Tree” challenges observers’ views of the natural world; an urban artist’s viewpoint is far from fenced in; “Poet and Muse,” by Niki de Saint Phalle, welcomes visitors to Balboa Park’s Mingei International Museum; a garage wall makes a bold statement)

Ringside at Fizz’s Genie/Bottle bust-out [pt 3]

Earlier, I described how Ms Fizz and I purged her closet; I then shared the technical and logistical challenges she felt impaired her efforts to be more stylish. Now it was time to dig a little deeper.

Like many people or perhaps just me, my friend Ms Fizz looked at her clothing in aggregate one day and realized her method of event- or desperate-need-based shopping had given her a pretty useless closet. The majority of her so-called wardrobe either didn’t fit, didn’t flatter, or didn’t reflect who she was or how she lived.

So she decided to change. She wasn’t looking to be a head-turning fashion plate or an object of desire; she just wanted to look like she thought about style a bit. And color. Because it’s never a bad thing to go a little Pleasantville on one’s closet, as long as one avoids tossing in random shades of non-black willy and nilly.

Bring on the color!

As we immersed ourselves further into Operation Overhaul, I could tell that Fizz had thought through ALL the factors that contributed to her style stagnation. Despite being one of those tantalizingly private types, she selflessly agreed to go public with her shopping skeletons.

Q: Aside from fit and logistical issues, were there any other barriers that brought your closet to this really sad place that does not at all reflect your fabulously-extroverted, very generous, mega-sparkly personality?”

A: “Being driven by the cheapness factor didn’t help; despite being lucky enough to have some savings to spend on clothes, my default is “Why buy 1 expensive top when I can get 3 cheaper things?” I don’t necessarily buy 3 cheaper things, of course–or if I do I don’t buy the things that would really help update my closet.”

Interior demons discussed? Check. Now for the external influences. I knew Fizz had worked in some pantyhose-n-heels places in the past as well as a setting she describes as “no shirt, no shoes, no problem.” [No, not a strip club: a start-up.]

The latter was hardly a place of style inspiration, but what about her most recent job? Oh right: she was part of an organization with a dress code I’d have to label as “Aggressively Casual.” Less Hiking to the Latte Bar mellow, more I Could Kick Your Ass Without Messing Up My Look. With some Just Rolled Out of Bed, You Wanna Make Something Of It? subsets.

Q: If you were a tree in your workplace, what kind of tree would you be? Talk to me about cultural expectations.”

A: “There are places that don’t really care about the larger social signals clothing can send, and I know some people like that.

“But for me, the downside of working in those types of environments is that they don’t support or encourage doing more than basic self-care. People either don’t use clothing for personal expression or they dial their efforts way back so they fit into the overall culture.

“I’m realizing that I have a tendency to subconsciously absorb what others are doing, then incorporate it into my style or behavior. Between my co-workers and living in a very casual city, my wardrobe went into a death spiral without my really noticing it.

“I mean I didn’t give up entirely, I was trying…but I guess whatever I bought didn’t make enough of a difference.”

As I’d met Fizz for a Reunion Recap and seen her positively strutting down the street in her simple post-alteration cotton separates, I knew SHE knew how it felt to be a bit…intentional…about her visual presentation. And being both frugal and luckier than many these days, she had a nice little nest egg to spend on herself and on the economy.

In my completely unqualified eye she was ready, willing, and able to handle the massive amounts of shopping and relentless partial nudity that accompany a major wardrobe overhaul.

I, on the other hand, was in danger. Having spent most (okay, all) of my Fall/Winter update money, I’d have to violate my Mae Westian nature and actually RESIST temptation as I tromped around helping Ms Fizz find gorgeous things for her gorgeous self. Who knew that spending other people’s money could be so tough?

Next: Part 4 of Ringside at Fizz’s Genie/Bottle bust-out, aka Pictorial Payoff


Like many others families, the Vix Household has had QUITE a year. And by “quite” I mean way, way too many big tricks overshadowing delicious treats. In the spirit of the holiday and the proverbial picture/1000 word we’re talking:

But then as Mark Knopfler wrote and Mary Chapin Carpenter so cheerily sings:

When you’re rippin’ and you’re ridin’
And you’re coming on strong
You start slippin’ and slidin’
And it all goes wrong because

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug”

Damn GPS.

…oh I’m lazy enough to lust for a cruise-control life, but I guess there’s something to be said for constant course correction…

(Astoria Halloween streetscape)


I woke up one day last winter and realized that, apart from a short family-based trip, I hadn’t left the U.S. in 20 years. I’m still not sure how I let that happen; granted, I have a tendency to sleepwalk through my life when I’m not making fairly substantial changes but REALLY.

While financially it was not a great time for me to travel farther than the corner market, I was determined to celebrate my 40th by going somewhere I’d always wanted to see, someplace crumbling and splendid, bustling and languid, illusory and workaday.

Someplace as contradictory as I was feeling.

So I started making plans, and once Mr Vix got on board, we even decided to squeeze in a little second-city stop-off on the way home. Though of course I would have loved to roam even longer.

…my trip made me as happy as a raisin in a rum cake, and today’s a day I need to revisit the smaller moments that made me smile…

(top to bottom: Mr Vix wandering in Venice; Amsterdam carnival vendor; a midnight vap rider brightens the Venetian scene; Amsterdam window display; strutting it Amsterdam style; old meets new on an Amsterdam canal bank; a central city carnival flashes against Amsterdam’s grey sky; Murano factory sign; orange bag huddle on the Riva degli Schiavoni; memento from G. Nason’s studio)