Vicky Buelens about dressing in the law industry and work fashion for Gen Z
Vicky Buelens has been active as a lawyer for more than 20 years. She specialises in labour and company law. Yet Vicky cannot be described as your average lawyer. Her approach is surprising, innovative and above all imbued with passion. Thus, immediately after her internship, she started her own office in her grandfather's old photo shop, launched a webshop for legal advice in 2013 and assists companies in a committed, solution-oriented and above all cost-efficient way.
How does she manage this successfully? By being able to look at each case from both perspectives. In addition to being a lawyer, she is also an entrepreneur in the creative industry. Together with her two teenage daughters, she founded Strawberry Secrets, a lingerie brand for teenage girls with the aim of empowering and creating a healthy body image for young girls.
As if this were not enough, Vicky is not only a lawyer and entrepreneur, she is also the author of the book Fired Up, in which she aims to break the taboo surrounding dismissal.
Listen to the Work Fashion Talk episode here in Dutch or read the summary in English below.
Vicky's definition of Work Fashion
Work fashion is a broad concept for me. This is due to the fact that I am active as a lawyer in various fields. You see all forms of work fashion there. Work fashion for one client is an overall, for another a tailor-made suit. For me, it goes more in the direction of a. A lawyer is expected to look good. That is also a form of respect for your client, a confrère or colleague. For me, the concept is a bit narrower, but when I look around me, we have evolved to a society where a lot is allowed in the field of work fashion, and you no longer have to look too narrowly at that concept.
Moreover, to me, work fashion is also empowerment. There are different tools for empowerment and clothing is definitely one of them.
My power outfit is dark jeans with high heels and a blazer. That is an outfit in which I feel most comfortable to be professionally active. If I give a lecture, it will probably be a classic tailored suit. The jeans are also a bit of a hidden form of rebellion towards a conservative profession and to make a mark.
Of course, it would have been a different story if I had not started my own office. I don't know of any offices that would say jeans are not allowed, but unintentionally you always let yourself be influenced by the dress code of the organisation you are working in, to blend in. I would have dressed more conservatively in a more classic structure. By starting my own office, I had the self-confidence and the threshold was lower to say "I'm doing it my way".
For me, the emphasis is on the internal feeling of dressing. I'm not very interested in what others think about what I'm wearing, but I am interested in the power that clothing has on our mental state. For example, I would never go to court in a flat shoe or in jeans. Even if I'm wearing a toga, what you wear underneath determines how you feel. I wouldn't be able to do certain aspects of my job properly in the wrong outfit.
For Strawberry Secrets, on the other hand, I would never be able to do anything in a tailored suit. The energy would be completely different and I wouldn't be able to think of anything in terms of design or marketing. With Strawberry Secrets, I also stay more in the background. It's actually my daughters' story. So that makes me less concerned about how I present myself. Of course I'll be well groomed, but I'll adapt my style of clothing. Much more casual and down to earth. On the one hand, that is an expression of the creative part in me, but on the other hand, because I am the person who stays behind the scenes.
Work fashion in the law industry
Why casualisation is limited to casual Fridays
There is a trend of casualisation, but I can't really identify this trend in the legal sector yet. In our profession, you often don't get further than casual Fridays. Although this is not really something we expect from each other - among confreres - unless, of course, I go to court. Then I always take my outfit into account.
A client, on to the contrary, still has a certain image of a lawyer that they want to see answered in order to feel supported and involved. Of course, if you have been in the profession for years and appear on talk shows, then a casual outfit will also work, but most people have no personal connection with a lawyer and only need them a few times in their life or career. Then that image is important. The "right" car, briefcase, coat and outfit is what clients expect and determines why this professional group still dresses traditionally. In itself, there is nothing wrong with that. It is a form of respect towards each other and towards yourself.
The dress codes have therefore more its roots in the relationship with the client than in the work environment, because the casual Fridays within organisations do work. After all, Fridays are usually a day where people work behind closed doors to complete deadlines or have meetings. It is a day where usually the team works internally and then it matters less that you are among each other in a more casual outfit.
Navigating as a woman in a by men dominated industry
For me personally, in my career I have never felt that I had to stand my ground in a man's world or wear a certain outfit to be taken seriously. For me, it mainly gives me strength. That I feel good and am in my power. Although I have always found a good appearance automatically important. I do suspect that if I had dressed more casually at a young age, I would have been taken less seriously and there would have been a certain impact.
Of course, if you clearly stand up for your opinion, an outfit makes less of a difference in order to be heard. I am someone who makes her voice heard anyway, but the power to actually dare to do so can be given through an outfit. Moreover, for me it is mainly about male and female energy. The legal sector is an environment with a lot of male energy. Think of conflict situations and negotiations. In order to get into the right mindset there and to effectively knock on the table as a woman - not out of ego but because it is your job and you have to represent your client's interests - it is important that you get that strength from somewhere. From experience and preparation but also from your outfit. But again, I have never had the feeling as a woman to be heard, but maybe I am in a luxury position.
Work fashion for Gen Z
I hope that Gen Z will be so strong that they will not need fashion to express their identity. That they can choose whatever fashion expresses their personality. That they are free in their minds, also in their clothes. They will get to know fashion in a quality way, it has power when it is of high quality and they will use it where it can give them something. That they do not experience it as a barrier or have the feeling that they have to wear something to fit into a certain picture or to satisfy an expectation, but get to know the power it can give them. That they can benefit by thinking about what they put on. That they experience what feeling it gives them, contributes to how they are perceived and to where they want to go.
My vision from my background in labour law and what I see for myself in companies is that it's not going to be the companies that are going to be able to impose a dress code on that generation. It will be Gen Z who will determine how they want to be dressed to work in a company. Companies will therefore have to give themselves an identity that fits with that generation. Young people will no longer want to take a job because of the paycheck. They do for the atmosphere, the mission and vision of a company and the meaning of the job. How they express themselves through their clothes has to fit in with that. Companies will therefore have to place greater emphasis on respect and a well-groomed appearance. Traditional costumes will no longer be able to hold their own in organisations that target young workers. It is all about authenticity, finding somewhere to fit in and having the right to decide for yourself.