Hi Mara — you have some great references and points.
I hadn’t read the Tressie McMillan Cottom piece, but I thought it was great. I am actually not entirely professional. I’m a white male with a liberal arts undergraduate degree and M.B.A., but I’ve been underemployed for two years. While constantly looking for a full-time job, I’ve been freelancing and consulting. Still am. Meanwhile, I write articles here and on my blog :)
I don’t think I have any issues with being presentable, but I also recognize that I had the advantage of growing up with two parents who had jobs and money and were able to dress ‘the part’ for their professional lives all along the way. We were in no way wealthy, but compared to many, I’m sure we had a comfortable lifestyle in comparison.
There are some great books about conformity and standards of dress, for men, for women, and the professional setting. When it comes to dressing “for work,” I must admit I’m a little lost myself, even though I love clothing and style.
I worked briefly as a personal stylist at a mall in Tampa, Florida and it was interesting trying to help people find fun clothes as well as things they could wear to work. I feel like my aversion to synthetic fabrics made it even harder.
I ended up at Ann Taylor a ton with my female clients, though I know even that isn’t very affordable for many.
My mom was a huge Stein Mart shopper — I think those are still around. But she, like many in the 90s and 00s, was comfortable with digging through racks and racks at department stores for deals, for hours.
Getting back to your points about AOC and privilege and perpetually poor: one of the things that always occurs to me in so many articles, either writing them or reading them, is that our country and even global society really can’t move on to more trivial problems until it solves the inequality issue. And to me, that can only be done through not-for-profit public education, free basic services like healthcare and childcare for all, and a massive reigning in of corporate power.