Now We Don Our Sartorial Armor

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sartorial armor
Turtleneck from Universal Standard, joggers from Spanx, boots from La Canadienne, bag from Dagne Dover, mask from Candace Cort

Yesterday on Instagram I shared this photo as an example of my sartorial armor. What is sartorial armor? It is what you put on to feel strong, feel fierce, feel ready for the battle of life. Maybe it is donned to stride into a boardroom to knock the socks off a client or to stride with others to protest injustice. Maybe it is just to give you the strength to get up and get through the day. Now, more than ever, we need to gather our sartorial armor. This year has been extremely difficult, and a presidential election, no matter how it turns out, isn’t going to make everything better. This year has shown how our society is so incredibly broken, and it will take more than a few new politicians in position to heal it. We as a people need to rise up and battle for what is right, to keep fighting even when we’re exhausted because we have the ability and the privilege to do so. It’s not superficial to care what you’re wearing. It’s not vanity, it’s sartorial armor.

Yesterday I wore my faux leather joggers because they were warm and comfy and looked more polished than sweats. But by wearing them, I realized they made me feel fierce. I felt protected, stylish, and strong. I felt capable thanks to pockets to hold my phone, but also my hands when I don’t know what else to do with them. I felt nimble thanks to stretch fabric, an elastic waist, and enough room at the rear and knees to move how I wanted to and needed to. I felt beautiful by wearing a soft luxe sweater (seen in this blog post) that felt like a hug and a silky knit turtleneck that, honestly, made my bust look amazing without exposing me to the cold or the world. I wore boots that were comfortable and supportive while also being tough enough to survive cold mud and slippery grassy hills.

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For some, sartorial armor may be a fiery red lipstick; for others, it could be a badass pair of boots. And for some, it may be that well-loved flannel shirt that has gotten you through Finals Week all-nighters, the flu, and many late election nights. No one but you can decide what is going to make you feel strong enough to get through what life is throwing at us and will continue to toss our way this year and the years to come.

We can’t go back, and there is no past when America was great for all of its citizens. We need to move forward to make our country safe, healthy, and equitable for all. It’s scary, it’s exhausting, it’s overwhelming, but we need to continue to fight and speak up. We need to muster up our courage, continue to be involved, and don our sartorial armor to remain strong.

what is sartorial armor

My favorite items for sartorial armor will be different from yours, but I want to share some of the things I put on when I need extra courage:

  • A Great Bra. I have had a large bust most of my adult life, and when it is lifted and shaped, it makes me stand taller and feel more confident.
  • Badass Boots. When I worked in Corporate America, it was a pair of slim-heeled almond-toe boots that would give me a bit of height and style. I had a knee-high pair that a cobbler tailored to perfectly fit my legs, and an ankle-length style to wear with trousers. These boots made me feel like a badass as I strode into convention halls and conference rooms. Now that I work from home, my badass boots are ones that keep my feet warm and dry while also looking expensive and stylish. They remind me that I can be supportive and practical while looking like a million bucks.
  • Graphic T-Shirts. Good messages, good bands, good graphics, representing good causes… graphic t-shirts are not only comfy but they remind me of what is important to me each time I catch my reflection.
  • Makeup. It’s less the makeup and more the ritual of applying makeup that helps me focus, slow down, and turn myself into a work of art.

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I shared the concept of sartorial armor yesterday on Instagram in my Instagram Stories and several shared their versions of sartorial armor. I’d love to hear from the rest of you. What can you wear to make yourself feel strong, especially right now?

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. love all of this!

    Sending lots of wishes for hope and compassion to the US and looking forward to seeing all the great things that will be achieved. Bon chance!

  2. I never heard the word sartorial until I started seeing sartorial used with blazers and I realized that in its strictest sense, it has to do with well-tailored clothing. My sartorial armor tends to be a suit or separates with a strong blazer, especially the Italian-made ones I’ve scored on Yoox. I can be all over the place in US sizes, but I find that Italian size 46 fits me almost every time. The Italians know how to cut clothing to flatter.

  3. Great post! When I had a job I was way under-qualified for that involved interacting with lots of older, more experienced, intimidating executives, I discovered the power of the suit. I still remember one particularly stressful day literally feeling like I was donning armor to walk into a meeting with Legal.

    I still feel most powerful in some type of blazer or jacket – I need shoulders (it must be growing up in the 80s with all the shoulder pads.)

    Now with the pandemic, I’ve realized…I no longer have any sartorial armor. Soft clothes all the time = soft exposed underbelly and vulnerability. Maybe masks are our armor now?

    1. Adding…have you seen the Vogue video on YouTube where AOC shares her makeup routine? She talks about how when a really long, hard day is coming up, that’s when she pulls out the “big guns” makeup-wise and does a full face. I could so relate to makeup as armor. Maybe one reason the masks are so hard to deal with…I can’t have my red lipstick armor showing!

    2. Great point about how our current lifestyle softens our armor. Masks do make me feel strong and protected. Heading out of the house in strong boots also help. I’ve also been focusing more on my brows since they’re on display more, whether it’s wearing a mask or being on a Zoom!

  4. My armor is definitely graphic t shirts — last night was my one that says “Nolite te bastardes carborundum” over and over again.

  5. I’ve been reading your blog for ages and over all of the years, your best outfits, the ones that to most reflect you, have had an element of “badass” to them. Thanks for the inspiration. Have a great week.

  6. You look fabulously fierce in the last photo with the column of all black and the mask, Allie.
    And I am impressed with an experienced K teacher with an apron changing into “stompy black “boots and charging into middle school to teach teenagers. Is that B in your name Badass, Linda B.?Allie, please get her to write a guest post.
    You both have strengthened and supported us today marvelously. I’m going to factor in fierceness as I choose my outfit. Quite a change from the past when it was mostly based on “does this make me look thin?”.
    Stompy black boots—we all need a pair of them for sure!

  7. Posts like this are why I read your blog. You’ve always got the perfect angle on the collision of life and clothing and reality. Well done, Alison!

  8. Love this post, Now more than ever we need to feel powerful and focused on making the world a better place and reflecting that in your appearance/attire is key. At least for me.

  9. Always something that acts blazer-like, because I am from the era when that was what women had to wear to exude any authority. It might just be a knit blazer from Eileen Fisher or even a tailored v-neck cardigan. I add a Dr. Birx-like silk scarf in cooler weather. Today, however, for my inaugural meeting as a member of my city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, via Zoom, I am just going to wear a thin v-neck sweater with a necklace to fill in the neckline. Going crazy!

  10. This is fantastic, thank you so much.

    Before today I’d never heard the phrase sartorial armor, but I identify so strongly with this concept. My sartorial armor, as a cis/het white man attempting, with a *decidedly imperfect* track record, to battle toxic masculinity and white supremacy, has been to embrace my most flamboyant self: flowers in my ever-longer hair, rainbows, unicorns, and so forth. These “superficial” flourishes are often helpful when I’m trying to decondition myself and unlearn the lessons of my childhood (and adulthood!).

    It will always be a struggle but I’m learning; the armor helps!

  11. Great post and great discussion! Thanks, all! I have a black leather motorcycle jacket I bought about 25 years ago at Tannery West. I definitely feel bad ass in that! Definitely a strong lipstick and fitted black clothes, as well!

  12. My sartorial armor is a leather ankle boot, and when I know my hair looks good. I’ve been going through a curly hair journey similar to yours, and when the curls are good I feel SO fierce.
    Also I’ve always felt more in-control with glasses on. I wear readers for computer work, and most of my career have been the youngest authority person in the room. I feel more confidence with glasses on!

  13. I sew most of my own clothes. Right now, my armor is going out in a home-sewn outfit with a home-sewn mask made in the same outfit. Our masks are a reminder that we’re still dealing with a virus, that people have sharply divided opinions on wearing them, that so many of the rules of our society have been flipped on their head.

    But my matching mask/outfits have delighted so many people, some have even been dissapointed when I arrive and my mask does NOTmatch my outfit. I’ve struck up conversations with strangers about sewing – with people who also sew, people sharing memories of their mothers or grandmothers sewing, or something handmade that they treasure. When I match my mask to my outfit, it’s a reminder to people that we can still have fun and be unique even in 2020. It may be silly….but my mask is actually my armor right now.

  14. >>We can’t go back, and there is no past when America was great for all of its citizens.

    This is such a great point. I need to keep it at the forefront of my thoughts.

    Re armor. For me, it’s a scarf. I love the element of mystery and sophistication.

    Alison, may I suggest you order another pair of those Spanx leggings? I know you love them, and in this case, stocking up with another pair would ensure your armor lasts for more than one season, LOL.

    1. I’ve learned to not buy multiples because I’m finding at this age both my body and my personal style keep changing. And then this world right now is changing so much. It’s so tempting, but I am going to hold off and see how they hold up and how they work with my ever-evolving style!. As for your armor, scarves truly are great for that, love that combo of mystery and sophistication!

      1. Very wise. I now am stuck with multiples of my favorite office wear — only I doubt I’m ever going there again. Grr!

  15. I learned about sartorial armor before I knew that phrase! First, it was when I was a kindergarten teacher, nearly 30 years ago, and found that wearing an apron in the classroom was literally and figuratively a kind of armor (for everything from paint spills to snotty noses to emotional outbursts.) Many years later, in a summer workshop for middle school teachers, one of the presenters (a lovely French woman, by chance?) suggested that for those of us new to teaching this age (which I was) that we should change how we had dressed for the elementary grades into something that made us feel more sophisticated and badass (my words, not hers, but it was what she meant.) I followed her advice, and it worked like a charm; my best element for days I really needed to feel badass with those kids was a pair of Clark’s heeled desert booties. Fast forward to the current day, in my second year of retirement, I find I feel most badass in skinny jeans and one of my pairs of booties, especially the “stompy” black boots I got last spring. A black turtleneck is also a great boost.

    Right now, we so need our badass clothes to help us feel empowered to keep on with the work ahead. . .

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