As a young girl, I often found myself watching reruns of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” with my mother on our early 2000s new wide-screen, yet still box-like, television my family kept in the living room. Hailing from the 1970s, the show often appeared dated and backwards in all the ways you expect. Still, my mother had her reasons for loving the show: Moore was a woman who chose to leave her fiancé, move out on her own and start a professional career as a single, independent woman. The sentiment at the time was almost unprecedented. As I grew older, I came to learn that Moore was the first woman to wear pants (capris at that, how daring!) on television—giving girls everywhere their first taste of women in professional dress within the media. Men have been represented as professionals within the media since its genesis, while women have just recently made their media debut in professional garb. The expectation for women to understand how to dress professionally still exists, despite many women having little to no guidance. Luckily, modern-day feminists and businesswomen like Naida Rutherford, of Columbia’s own Styled by Naida, are acting as a liaison with women working toward a common goal of closing the gap within the professional realm between women and men.
Naida is a modern Mary Tyler Moore. Single mother of two young boys, trained nurse practitioner, and a former foster child who worked diligently to graduate at the top of her class in college. Naida has taken leaps of faith and conscious strides toward success, leading her to the woman she is today. Styled by Naida is a thrift store that opened in the Vista this past March, but it is also a resource to countless women and female students transitioning into the workforce who receive assistance, donations, classes and scholarships from the Styled by Naida Foundation.
When I meet with Naida in her store, she is pulling collections for an upcoming fashion show that serves as a fundraiser for the Styled by Naida Foundation. She does not hesitate to give me a warm welcome as I enter the store. Naida is just as vibrant as the inside of her boutique, which is hard to believe, considering the diversity of her store. Bold prints, bright colors, and everything from business suits to swimsuits line the wall in a way that can only be described as tempting – especially because there is hardly an item over $15. Fundraisers are not the only means of how the Styled by Naida Foundation typically get the financial means to run the programs offered to the women of Columbia and various areas around the country.
“A dollar from every sale goes directly into the Styled by Naida Foundation,” she says with a ferocious smile. “Making women feel beautiful is addictive, but to then have the purchases they [customers] make help fund the foundation – that is even more addictive.”
So, what does the Styled by Naida Foundation do exactly? Naida explains, “The foundation is to help people who are like me, or yourself. People who came from poor situations, no matter what that may be. You can be rich and still come from a poor situation. Maybe you didn’t have the family support, maybe you didn’t feel loved. It doesn’t matter, we all have battles to fight. My foundation is to help students who don’t have the resources to do what they want, and to look the part for what they want.”
The foundation consists of three classes: code switching, dress for success, and resource management. The classes include topics like communicating professionally and managing oneself in the workplace.
Due to not having these types of resources accessible to her as a young woman, Naida developed the programs with students and women like herself in mind. She jokes with me that she was clueless as to how much she was judged by what she wore as a woman in professional settings until a professor pulled her aside to discuss her clothing. This left Naida more aware than ever of how little resources female students like herself had to pull from to know how to dress.
Bombardment from media of how a professional woman should dress in conjunction with lack of education or resources leaves female students exiting college to join the workforce confused and anxious, which has led to a proliferation of articles in the New York Times in the past five years discussing the difficult intricacies of female dress in the workplace. Those driving forces lit a fire in Naida - “I said, one day, I’m going to help others” - and now she is doing just that by filling a void in Columbia many communities still experience. With all of the confusion on how we, as both students and women, are to represent ourselves as we begin our lives as professionals, Naida lets me in on some wise words.
“Dress the way you want to be addressed. It’s a timeless concept. What you wear matters for where you are trying to go. The first part is knowing what your foundation is: what are you trying to do and where are you trying to go?” Naida is aware that every job has a different expectation for office attire.
“The second part for that is, are you dressing for your body type? A lot of women don’t understand how to dress for their body. And then, what does what you’re wearing say about you?” Naida says these are some of the many concepts taught in her Dress for Success Program within the foundation.
Still, being able to express yourself isn’t off the table either, says Naida. Small and unique touches to an otherwise plain work outfit help fuel you as an individual during office hours, while the concept of ‘code switching’ allows for women to still dress how they'd like in their time out of the workplace. 'Code switching' is the ability to separate your work-self from your everyday-self – essentially, knowing how to act and dress both when and where.
“Did someone teach you how to dress [professionally]?” to which I shake my head ‘no,’ realizing the closest thing I’ve ever had to a professional dress lesson was via the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and Instagram models. Yet, Styled by Naida and the foundation have fostered an environment where women and students no longer have to look to intangible resources for assistance, but can interact with a physical touchstone in the community instead. Women in Columbia transitioning from college to the workforce can rest assured that Styled by Naida will help us learn even the simplest of lessons.
“The most satisfying thing about what I do is helping women see they have the ‘it’ factor," Naida says. "You don’t have to be famous, you don’t have to have society’s ‘ideal’ body type. You can be just how you are: with your size, with your cellulite, your lumps and bumps and rolls, and you can still be and feel beautiful and confident about what you look like.”