January 27, 2012 9:57 pm

Mystery Shopper: Who’s wearing the trousers at Davos?

Finding the balance between trying too hard and not trying hard enough is daunting

As clothing challenges go, packing for Davos is up there with ... I don’t know. Maybe those work trips that cross northern and southern hemispheres (ie, climate zones)? A presidential inauguration? Christmas at Sandringham with the Duchess of Cambridge? Actually, I think this is more complex. It’s certainly the most complicated dressing challenge I have faced (and I’ve had a few, such as how to dress for Nobel ceremonies that last a few days, or a dinner meeting with a head of state, or even to deliver a keynote speech in Hawaii).

Consider the problem: five days, thousands of world leaders, global opinion shapers, politicians, bankers, business professionals and royalty (some gangsters too), all with average age, IQ and median income at least two standard deviations above the average; below freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall and a schedule that includes sessions, panels and introductory meetings that take place every 10 or 15 minutes.

There is no leeway for recovering from a bad first impression.

On the other hand, fashion conformity (aka the black trouser suit) makes it hard to distinguish one person from the next, and it is usually an accessory that serves as an identifier: “I’m the one with the red purse.” Finding the balance between trying too hard and not trying hard enough is daunting. My solution: be comfortable, sartorially forgettable and completely focused. Which doesn’t mean scrimp on the clothes.

Better, I decided, to take too much and exercise my options than find myself stuck with bad choices and no fall-back position.

So here is what I took:

1. No ski wear (my snow bunny days are long past), although I did allow for some Gucci snow boots.

2. A Maison Martin Margiela dress that has a long-sleeved mock-wrap silk charmeuse top attached to a wool gabardine skirt.

3. A Rodarte black panelled dress with a beige turtleneck collar.

4. Three of Jil Sander’s knee-length black dresses and two pairs of lean trousers with matching blazers bought separately (they are not trouser suits) paired with stretchy Wolford high-neck sweaters (my winter essentials no matter where I go).

5. For evening events, which include official dinners, industry-hosted parties and government ceremonies, a charcoal wool Alexander McQueen suit dress, a Donna Karan infinity wrap dress, Balmain low-rise black leather pants with a Rachel Roy leather-edged viscose batwing blazer, and a MaxMara backless patent leather turtleneck bodice top with a peplum and wool jersey sleeves, plus Balenciaga black trousers.

6. Three pairs of boots (ankle, knee, thigh).

7. Spanx, for containment of the fondue-induced bulge.

8. A Smythson of London thin carryall to serve as a purse (I don’t carry a regular purse).

Looked at objectively, and strewn over my bed, I must admit that the outfits above looked pretty similar. And yes, they were all black. But I got them in one suitcase, which is a good thing, because in the snowy Swiss town this week (record snowfall, incidentally) listening to Angela Merkel (who was herself wearing – what else? – a neat black trouser suit), I found that all I really wanted to wear was trousers, a black sweater and the warmest jacket I could find.

Yes, I went shopping. Yes, I bought a black wool Armani blazer with a ruffled collar. But after hearing the likes of David M Rubenstein, managing director of the Carlyle Group, debate the future of capitalism, it felt less like failure, and more like action.

The Mystery Shopper is a globetrotting executive who shops as she travels for work

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