Fast Fashion Five: Marketing 101 TA Alice Lee On Commanding Authority With Your Wardrobe

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Fast Fashion Five: Marketing 101 TA Alice Lee On Commanding Authority With Your Wardrobe

Alice Kim

From bartending at Smokes to being a Marketing 101 TA, Alice Lee is making her way around the Penn circle. After graduating from Wharton in 2011 and moving to New York to work in investment banking and private equity, Lee has returned to Penn for her MBA. Read below for Lee’s advice on dressing in the finance work-sphere, the unexpected benefit to being one of the few women in the office, and a glimpse of past Penn fashion.

How has fashion changed for you in each stage of your career?

I feel like I’ve always dressed maturely for my age. I don’t know why that is, maybe it is because I wanted to be taken seriously when I was younger. I remember when I was in high school I wore a lot of J. Crew – that was before J. Crew got as big as it got. And then J. Crew got really big when I was in college, so I wended off of that.

After I graduated I had to wear business formal everyday. Which was really annoying. I mostly wore skirts because they are more comfortable. Then when I got to private equity it was such a relief, because it was business casual.

One of the “advantages” of there being very few women in finance is that there are very few people to compare your wardrobe to. Men have a very strict guideline of what they can and can’t wear, because there are so many other men. It’s like, “that guy is wearing a tie, should I be wearing a tie?” There really weren’t that many women in the office so I kind of felt like I could get away with more. I did end up skewing very casual at the office. I was wearing a lot of corduroys and Vince joggers – they’re super comfortable and if you throw on a pair of heels they look formal.

Is there a dress code for TA’s?

No. But I feel like when I first started TA-ing I felt like, ugh, I have to command authority. So, I felt like I had to dress up. I didn’t wear a blazer but I definitely was trying to dress with a little more authority than I usually would, instead of just slumming around. But after about two weeks I stopped caring.

But I think when you are women sometimes in a position of power especially if you are a younger woman, yeah you probably want to wear things that command authority you probably want to wear like a pantsuit. It’s a subconscious bias thing.

I definitely also try to avoid anything that makes me look really young – frilly, lacy, bows. Subconsciously I tend to stay away from bright colors. But now I’m realizing my wardrobe is really depressing.

Do you think fashion has impacted your career?

I think in finance there is a very specific way you are expected to dress and should dress. And I think I have managed to successfully stay in that but also retain a bit of my personality as well in a way that’s advantageous. Because when I was working at a consumer fund they probably wouldn’t have thought very highly of my ability to pick brands that consumers would like if I didn’t appreciate great clothing or fashion trends.

Do you think Penn Fashion has changed since you were a student?

Oh definitely. I do have to say, I went to Smokes – don’t judge – to say hi to my old boss and I was struck by how old I felt, and also by how trendy everyone was dressed. Everyone was dressed really nice. Everyone was wearing floral off-the-shoulder tops.

What’s a trend you remember from college?

Everyone had Blackberry’s. BBM was all the rage.

Also, I’m from the west coast so there are certain things that really stood out to me when I first came to Penn. I was like what are all these bags that everyone has. Turns out it was the Longchamp bag. Everyone had one. People probably still use those. Everyone had the Hunter boots and the Stuart Weitzman 5050’s. Oh and Tory Burch. The Tory Burch flats were everywhere. I don’t see those around much anymore.

What’s your tip to looking professional or a secret hack that makes looks more put together than you really feel?

Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. This book will change your life. It’s written by this Japanese woman who is a professional tidier. It’s short, it’s a good read. But the thesis of it, is that you should cut anything out of your life that doesn’t bring you joy. So she has all these theories for how to pair down and encouraging you to live with just the stuff that makes you happy. She has a bunch of videos too.

I haven’t followed it religiously but I’ve started to a little bit and I feel pretty good about it. And, honestly, I’ve always been good about throwing this out that I don’t like. So I do a big closet clean out every six months. I think when you’re pretty happy with everything in your closet you can just grab whatever and leave the house. Like, I can run out the house and still feel relatively ok. Also, one benefit of having no colors in your closet everything goes with each other.

-Meredith Mitchell

Video courtesy of  Karen Yang

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