Is Boxed Dressing for You?

Is Boxed Dressing for You?

Workwear Kits for Women: A Breakthrough or a Bore?

Some women feel boxed in by the prescriptive work wardrobes that services like MM.LaFleur deliver based on your career needs. Others can’t imagine life without them

The Elements in a Typical Career-Dressing Kit: Companies like MM.LaFleur, a version of whose ‘Bento Box’ package is pictured below, make work wardrobes a no-brainer. All items available at mmlafleur.com. From left: The Gloria Top, $145, and the Phoebe Earrings, $155; ‘Wear to Work,’ a guide to office style by MM.LaFleur, $26; The Woolf Jardigan, $195; The Foster Pants, $195; The Lagarde 2.0 Shirt, $190; The Catherine 2.0 Dress, $295
The Elements in a Typical Career-Dressing Kit: Companies like MM.LaFleur, a version of whose ‘Bento Box’ package is pictured below, make work wardrobes a no-brainer. All items available at mmlafleur.com. From left: The Gloria Top, $145, and the Phoebe Earrings, $155; ‘Wear to Work,’ a guide to office style by MM.LaFleur, $26; The Woolf Jardigan, $195; The Foster Pants, $195; The Lagarde 2.0 Shirt, $190; The Catherine 2.0 Dress, $295 PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, STYLING BY ANNE CARDENAS
Why We Hate Them

MANY PROFESSIONAL women find that getting dressed for work is, well, work. That would explain the rise of personalized-box shopping services like MM.LaFleur, Stitch Fix and Trunk Club, which take the legwork out of the equation. Though all the services ask shoppers to fill out a survey about their style and needs, each takes a slightly different approach. MM.LaFleur sends a “Bento Box” of coordinating, office-appropriate pieces, designed in-house, based on that information. Stitch Fix and Trunk Club, meanwhile, have a stylist pull appropriate pieces from an array of brands to fit the bill. All allow no-sweat returns of items the customer finds wanting for any reason. In most cases, it’s a one-time deal; no subscription required.

Such services may be a boon to many professional women seeking an efficient wardrobe solution, but you could argue that they’re making career dressing a soulless, personality-free proposition.

After all, this is 2017, not 1987. “The rules of workwear are much more fluid now,” said designer Adam Lippes, whose colorful and feminine—but still office-going—clothes have earned him a devoted following. His customer, said Mr. Lippes, has strong opinions about her personal style and wants to wear his clothes—say, a pinstriped shirt dress with floral embroidery or a pair of tailored, high-waisted dark denim jeans—her way, not as prescribed by a pen-pal stylist.

Plus, we live in a world where we’re surrounded by information. With a flick through Instagram or a skim of the editorial section of sites like Net-a-Porter, a woman can find ample inspiration for both her work look and off-duty wardrobe. Because even if buying clothes is admittedly a chore, you risk squandering all the fun of fashion when it’s mostly prefab.

In some ways, these companies are playing to many women’s fear of fashion. “Fashion can feel like such a exclusionary sport that women reject it before they feel like it can reject them,” said Leandra Medine, founder and chief creative officer of the Man Repeller website. Ms. Medine suggests examining what you like about the way other women are dressed. “Those are usually signs of your personal style,” she said. Ms. Medine believes in the power of expressive fashion: “Getting dressed lets me feel like a better version of who I am, or escape the reality of what I don’t like to be.”

Why We Love Them

FOR THOSE who think that box-service uniform dressing takes the fun out of fashion, consider this: MM.LaFleur and its peers aren’t necessarily targeting magazine editors and aspiring style stars. (Though Stitch Fix does encourage women to explore unknown brands.)

Rather, their value is expediency. Busy women, with obligations tugging from every side, don’t have the luxury of time to shop. And in real life, women also have jobs where wearing the latest Prada platforms might be frowned upon or in violation of the dress code. From that vantage point, dressing for the office starts to seem a lot less exhilarating.

“There’s a big disconnect between the fashion world and professional women,” said MM.LaFleur founder and CEO Sarah LaFleur. She realized this when she met creative director and co-founder Miyako Nakamura, a fashion designer who was then head designer at Zac Posen, and began to talk about her idea. “I said, ‘I’m thinking of the lawyer or the banker who walks to work in flats and then switches out to heels in the elevator.’” At the time, Ms. Nakamura had little awareness of these professional women and their particular needs.

Ms. LaFleur was talking about women like Megan L. Brackney, a Manhattan attorney, and Kim Lear, a Minneapolis-based consultant, who are both MM.LaFleur devotees. “I don’t like to shop. I don’t have time for it,” said Ms. Brackney. MM.LaFleur “doesn’t have a ton of stuff, so you’re not sifting through 150 pages of crap.” Ms. Lear began wearing MM.LaFleur about a year ago. Among other things, she appreciates that the fabrics don’t wrinkle and that the company often sends things she might not have chosen. “The real value is that they kind of force you to try stuff that you wouldn’t normally pick out for yourself,” she said.

MM.LaFleur is so popular among women lawyers, said Ms. Brackney, that she often runs into other women at conferences wearing the same dress. She is unfazed by it, amused even. In one instance, the twinning pair took a photo together. And anyway, there’s a double standard when it comes to uniform dressing. “I’m at a conference now,” said Ms Brackney. “Seventy-five percent of the men are wearing khakis, blue shirts and a navy blue blazer, and they’re not walking around upset.”

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