I bet you’ve never heard of these brands making modern workwear for women. Since I have been working with clients lately who need reasonably-priced basics of good quality and care about the origins of their garments, I’ve learned more about these new, mostly online-only brands changing the landscape of women’s workwear:
- Argent • made in NYC, love the colors and hip silhouettes; see detail below
- Nora Gardner • made in NYC, somewhere between Ann Taylor and Brooks Brothers but better; see detail below
- Cuyana • for more casual workplaces
- MM.LaFleur • made in NYC, build a bento box of looks with their stylists
- Of Mercer • made in NYC, perhaps the younger version of above brands
- Grana • based in Hong Kong with a very New York feel, focus on affordable luxury fabrics like cashmere and silk
- Ministry of Supply • focus on 3D printing and active, technical alternatives to delicate materials like silk
Here are some comments from a friend in D.C. who is familiar with Nora Gardner and Argent:
Over the last two years, I’ve made an effort to patronize independent, women and LGBTQ-owned businesses. This is fairly easy with fashion, but harder when it comes to attire for a business formal environment. There are two brands that are killing the game right now.
Nora Gardner is a NYC-based designer who left Wall Street to make workwear for women that makes them feel “confident, attractive and comfortable.” Her line ranges from sheath dresses in neutrals and bright pops of candy colors to monochrome multi-piece suiting that interchanges seamlessly. It reminds me very much of the wonderful women’s line Quincy that existed briefly in the early 2010’s, but is still entirely in its own category when it comes to quality and craftsmanship.
I now ask myself three things when considering any new piece of work wear:
“Is this actually flattering, or can it only be worn on certain days when I’ve feeling svelte?”
“Is this professional enough that I’d feel comfortable wearing it into a last-minute meeting?”
And lastly, “How hard will this be to clean?”
I now own three versions of her iconic Evelyn dress, which meets my desired “Senator from Space” personal aesthetic. Proof that it meets these three requirements: This is the dress I reach for when I need to go from an 8 a.m. client meeting to a 5 o’clock reception, to a 6:30 p.m. business school class to a 9:30 group project meeting, without looking like a wilted flower by late afternoon. Though it comes with a “Dry Clean” tag, I can throw it in a cold delicate wash in a garment bag and hang to dry–and it comes out looking brand new. It’s also the dress that garners more compliments from strangers or DMs from friends: “Where did you get that dress?”
Her spring collection is just starting to drop–and I know I’ll be adding more of her gorgeous dresses and hopefully one of her sleek suits to my closet. Her customer service is also out of this world – Nora herself has responded to inquiries, and shipping is lightning fast. Additional bonus: ALL of her wares are manufactured in New York’s Garment District.
Argent has also stolen a piece of my heart lately with their quirky pantsuits for working women. Started in 2016, Argent is a bi-coastal business founded by a former J. Crew designer (Eleanor Turner) and a former tech executive (Sali Christeson). You can see the playful prep influences in Argent’s line of double-breasted blazers and cropped trousers, but the delight is in the details, with mesh lining for ventilation and zippered interior pockets so you can truly go hands-free for the day.
The only reason I haven’t bought one of their suits yet is I haven’t been able to try on tops and bottoms in the same colorway, in my size, at their D.C. showroom. So, Ms. Turner and Ms. Christeson, I beg of you–please stock more sizes!
Thanks Catherine! She is a fellow alum of New College in Sarasota and is currently working on an MBA at Georgetown.
If you want to ditch your iron and still want to look sleek but comfortable, Ministry of Supply is my go-to. I like the simple color palette and the fact that they engineer their clothing to fit all female forms. They even provide tailoring services if you need it.
I love the range of styles and price points in these brands, as well as their unique points of view. There are, after all, millions of women of different shapes, sizes, and attitudes toward clothing in the U.S.
Each brand listed above is also helping to solve one problem or another, whether the price of finely-tailored workwear, the traditionally bland color palette, or the care and maintenance requirements.
Since I love accessories, here are some work-friendly handbag designers that are surely underrated too:
- Campomaggi • rustic and beautifully Italian, carried at Barneys and in local boutiques around the U.S.
- Little Liffner • simple and modern in varied textures, it is a marriage of Swedish design and Italian quality
- m0851 • Montreal brand established 30 years ago, with 90% of production still residing in Canada
- Frances Valentine • new brand of the Kate Spade, of Kate Spade New York, which is now owned by Coach
- PB 0110 • carried by the likes of goop (Gwyneth Paltrow’s brand), Phillip Bree makes simple, elegant bags in the Czech Republic
Footwear is an important part of a comfortable work wardrobe (arguably the shoes you spend the most time in), so here are some similarly modern and disruptive brands making delicious shoes appropriate for the workplace:
- Everlane • made in Italy (shoes) and with prices around $160 for heels, totally affordable
- M.Gemi • also made in Italy, and not totally distinctive, but reasonably priced for staples
While Bloomberg paints a sad picture for the state of affairs in American apparel and retail, I don’t believe that clothing is of diminishing importance to Americans or will always be a smaller share of wallet. It’s just that experiences and food are having a big moment.
The startups listed above are changing the way we think of modern workwear, and making it easier and more affordable to be stylish, polished, and still get the craftsmanship of made in North America or Europe. Many of them are also supporting domestic manufacturing, another downward spiral I see slowly reversing.