Everything I Know About Style I Learned From Mary Tyler Moore

Remembering the queen of office-appropriate go-go boots

Last summer I moved into my first apartment with three roommates. I was working a temp blogging job where the pay was low and it was unclear whether my coworkers knew I existed. Being an independent woman was thrilling for about a minute, but mostly it was lackluster. I spent the summer sitting in my bare cubicle eating hard-boiled eggs so I could pay my rent and buy a dress from the ASOS clearance section. In the mornings, I would apply my makeup and dry my hair while watching the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

I used to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show on syndication (I truly think the most beneficial form of television for children is being forced to watch whatever reruns from decades past are airing on cable), and as a kid I thought Mary Richard’s life was much more glamorous than it truly was — the concept of being an adult, with a job and an apartment, struck me as an incredible accomplishment that I wanted so badly for my future. I thought watching it again would boost my morale. I, too, could feel like an elegant lady, throwing my hat in the air, confident that I would make it after all.

As Mary Richards, a single thirtysomething news producer and birth-control-pill-taker, Mary Tyler Moore embodied my ideal style: “practical glam.” No matter the harsh fluorescent lighting of the newsroom, or the fact that she was more likely to spend her time after work, say, sneaking into a club for recently divorced people to take advantage of its discount travel deals rather than attending a classy party, she was always dressed like a woman with sophisticated places to be. She was never afraid to crack a joke, never reduced to a mere straight woman, and she always, always did it with grace. In the first episode, her grumpy boss Lou Grant asks if she wants a drink during her interview and she boldly (read: cluelessly) replies that she’ll have a Brandy Alexander. He — definitely, obviously — has nothing more to offer than a bottle of whiskey. This feels like a metaphor for her entire style, and her work ethic. Now matter how crappy the bar, I want to enter looking like I deserve an elegant upscale cocktail. No matter how ugly the office, I want my style to reflect the same cheerful (read: clueless) optimism.

In early seasons of the show, the costume designer had an exclusive contract with Evan Picone, once an accessible and quality department store brand (they’re still around, although now they mostly produce polyester separates for JCPenney) that wanted to advertise to a new generation of young working women. She’d pick out a variety of pieces and then tailor them to Moore’s body like couture. This resulted in a variety of turtlenecks, A-line skirts, fitted coats, and knit dresses that Mary Richards would mix and match with low-slung belts and scarves like a real working wardrobe for a real working women. Throughout the show, her garments make more repeat appearances than any of the men she dates, proving that although love interests fade, a quality turtleneck remains the same.

When I was purchasing work clothes last summer — which is really an impossible task when you’re both broke and too hot to wear anything other than a tube top — I bought two mock-turtleneck sleeveless bodysuits in black and white, in an attempt to pay some tribute to Mary Richards. I probably could’ve worn something else with neck exposure and spared myself the extra sweat, but I was committed to the look. Today, in my current job, I feel much more put together. Sometimes I want to experiment with trends, but no matter how many crop tops or chokers I incorporate into my life, I just want to look like Mary Tyler Moore. My future feels increasingly uncertain; I’m not sure what job title I’ll have in five years, or what my life will look like. Instead, I think of Mary Richards in her chic and easy separates, and I hope that wherever I end up, I’ll be wearing office-appropriate go-go boots.