From Russia with style // Style Counsel

Sartorial tales from across the world

By Emma Williamson

On Friday July 13th, 2012

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One night, during my recent trip to Russia, I found myself at a restaurant in Moscow, listening to funky Russian music and tasting ice cold Beluga vodka for the first time. But instead of chatting with my friends, I was watching the Russian girls at the next table. Their outfits: ultra-glamourous. Their hair: woven in intricate designs. And when we headed out the next morning for a day of museum-hopping, I seemed to see the same bevvy of gorgeous women…in the same outfits. My memories of Russia are of stunning Russians rocking long skirts, leather leggings and shoulder sweeping earrings — all on the Metro during rush hour!

And then I came home to Toronto, land of suits. Here’s a brief comparison of Moscow to Toronto for my dear readers:

MOSCOW’S IS TORONTO’S
Red Square
(Saint Basil’s cathedral, Lenin’s body)
Dundas Square
(Ads — lots of ads)
Red October club district
on a Monday night
King & Brant
on a Saturday night
Secret decommissioned nuclear bunker from the Cold War Fort York? (No comparison here — yes, the bunker exists, and I was there!)

The major cities of Russia and Canada are complete opposites, and that includes fashion. My ten days in Mother Russia introduced me to the basic elements of Russian style, which is as fascinating and eclectic as the country itself. So here are my tips for incorporating some Russian style into your everyday work look:

Don’t be afraid to accessorize
Ladies in Russia don’t focus on one statement piece. They don’t ascribe to the notion that less is more. More is more in the land of caviar and vodka! In Moscow and St. Petersburg, women accessorize with necklaces, bracelets and earrings. They even decorate their hair with jewelled clips. On the flip side, we Canadians tend to rely on pearl studs, maybe adding a necklace if we’re feeling saucy. True, as lawyers, we have that whole professionalism thing to worry about. Working in a conservative profession in a relatively conservative culture (at least style-wise) means that we can’t necessarily morph into Russian fashion models overnight. But I strongly encourage you to branch out when it comes to accessories, and add just one more piece before you head to the office. Just one more!

Be creative, and experiment with your look
I like my standard uniform of dress with blazer. It’s easy and quick, with innumerable combinations. But the women of Russia are much more creative. Just check out the hip fashion blog Büro 24/7. Ok, so I can’t read it — but the photographs aren’t in Cyrillic, and they are fabulous! Oversized jewellery, interesting proportions and tons of cropped pants. Why put on that black suit and dress shirt when there are plenty more interesting options? Russian style is a way of carrying yourself, a non-manufactured manner of dressing that is self-expressive while also being chic. And we can all put that into action when we choose what we wear to work, even if we’re lawyers.

Try a long skirt or dress
I felt out of place in Russia with my boring, knee-length cotton skirts, surrounded by glamazons in silky, ankle-sweeping numbers. But today, I am taking a chip off the old Russia block: I am wearing a long skirt to work for the first time, paired with a plain knit black top, cropped jacket and black flats. I admit I wouldn’t wear this to a client meeting, but it actually works for casual Fridays. The key with wearing long skirts or dresses to work is to avoid the beach/prom look, and try to balance the length with crisp separates and low-key accessories. If you just can’t stomach ankle-length, try a below-the-knee skirt, being careful not to enter frumpiness territory.

When my post-vacation letdown ends (which, hopefully, will happen any day now!), I plan to get back to reality and my normal life. For now, though, I will spend my days looking through my photos, remembering Russia and all of its beauty and glamour. Hopefully I’ll be seeing lots of you ladies wearing fabulous outfits incorporating my tips above, so I can prolong my love for Russia as long as possible. Na Zdarovie!


Emma Williamson is a fashion-obsessed corporate commercial lawyer at FMC. Her mission is to inspire Precedent’s female readers to break out of a style rut while obeying obvious and not-so-obvious workplace dress codes. Followe her on Twitter: @EmmaWorkStyle.
Have questions or a column idea for Emma? Send them to [email protected].