by Sarah Davin
When the cold weather dissipates, Vermonters have a rare opportunity to express themselves in fashion. While Montpelier’s proximity to fashion may be likened to Pluto’s orbit around the sun, there are a few fun and eye-catching fashions that emerge on the street once the ice melts: hippies with their earth tones and baggy pants, vintage-loving hipsters with their aviator glasses and grandpa shirts, the masses of caps-n-flannels, the pastels and patterns of Millennial sweethearts, and a few strikingly edgier styles. One group that perhaps stands out the most is the State House worker, clad in sleek suits, tailored silhouettes, and even shiny manicures.
Bailey Road specializes in helping the professional women of the State House and other high level jobs find that delicate balance between authority and expression, to help them be heard. While addressing society’s biases, even in the #MeToo era, is a long arduous process, attention to fashion can help a woman achieve two things: shape how others see her and change how she experiences herself.
Sarah DeFelice, owner of the upscale Bailey Road boutique on Main Street in Montpelier, sees all ages of professional women enter her store—from their early 20s to their 80s. “The majority of Bailey Road customers are the working professionals: teachers, lawyers, lobbyists” DeFelice notes. “National life, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and VCFA are all large companies that have professionals that support shopping local and Bailey Road.”
As a stylist, DeFelice faces a challenge, not solely in regards to making her clients look great, but also approaching styling in a way that also encourages her clients to feel assertive. Though there have been recent efforts by different designers to be more size-inclusive, some put-downs are still built into the way we talk about women’s bodies. For example, it is not uncommon for fashion and fitness magazines to compare them to fruit. If a woman isn’t the ideal, non-fruit “hourglass” shape, then she has to endure the indignity of being called a “pear” or “rhubarb.”
DeFelice agrees that such practice is unflattering and absurd, and that generating confidence comes down to honesty. “If I am worried that someone is about to leave with a piece that doesn’t work for them, I will let them know.”
Honesty is also about pointing out the positive. When we shop on our own, it is so easy to focus on the parts of ourselves we don’t like and ignore the other aspects of our shapes that we could be embracing. The extreme and exclusive images of beauty, especially in regards to women, are overwhelming, and the anxiety that comes from not meeting these impossible standards may make shopping for clothing a self-effacing experience. With that in mind, DeFelice does not allow negative body talk during her personal styling sessions. “It is important to dress for the shape you have, not five pounds from now.”
What are the women of Montpelier looking for when shopping at Bailey Road? She says that Renuar pants are one of her most popular items. “They are easy to wash and wear, great for traveling (no ironing required), they pull right on with no button or zipper so they leave a smooth front for blouses, and they have a slim silhouette.” In addition to a good pair of pants, Bailey Road’s dresses are also popular. “Dresses are the perfect one-and-done wardrobe piece.”
Generally, women leave the shop with their heads held up a bit higher. “The confidence that women gain from a Bailey Road dressing room party or style session isn’t created at Bailey Road, but found, or just rekindled here. Sometimes, the power of wearing an outfit that screams ‘you’ can get lost in the clutter of life—aka your closet.”
What role does this type of clothing play in shaping how people see Montpelier’s professional women? DeFelice says she hopes that it’s the women themselves that make the difference. “I would hope that it isn’t our clothing that enhances how women are seen in the workplace, but the confidence that she exudes when she feels good in what she wears.” After all, it’s the effort women put into their work, and not merely their looks, that makes them an essential part of the professional world.