June 22, 2010

Men in bras

In 1986, I was charged with establishing The Women's Business Council of a local chamber of commerce. As the staff member leading a group of member volunteers, it was my role to implement the member's vision of the Board of Directors directive to serve the needs of women in the business community. I was filled with a passion for celebrating modern empowered women. I came to my first meeting with the group armed with a folder full of workshop and speaker ideas on accessing capital, establishing gender-neutral employee policies, sexual harassment awareness programs, etc... All designed to provide cutting edge information and strategies to liberate us from the oppression of the patriarchal business culture. The group wanted to host a fashion show.  I wanted to cry.

"No!" I railed. I probably said something like "Over my dead body", but I can't be sure, it is a blur, a big pink blur. But I am sure that I tried something along the lines of..."Ladies, we have been given an opportunity to be taken seriously, to rise above the ranks of the secretarial pool, we must provide programming that not only serves women but sends a message to the entire community that women in business must to be taken SERIOUSLY!!!!! They stared at me. "Oh".

Keep in mind that my manila folder full of ideas was the ONLY accessory to my plain blue suit with sensible flat-heeled shoes and understated (if even existent) jewelry. We were dressing like men so that we would be treated like men. Those of us at the helm of the womens' business movement were denying our every feminine quality.

Twenty-five years later, I would host a fashion show without a second thought. In fact, Mary in the Morning and Marigold are the proud sponsors of the National Cherry Festival's Royal Pageant of Fashion . Whodathunkit? So what's changed? We can now be WOMEN instead of men in bras.

The worlds of feminism and fashion have always clashed. When I think of an over-the-top hard-core feminist I see a hairy arm-pitted woman in no make up with stringy, if not un-brushed hair. She's not prettying herself up for a man! Well, the message is she's not prettying up for ANYBODY! 

Nowadays, I'm perfectly comfortable expressing myself through fashion and beauty as a complement to what I have to contribute to a conversation. I see a fashion show as an opportunity to preview what is available in stores to help save me precious time when I need or want a new outfit. I am definitely not a fashion plate and consider myself to be fashion-challenged, so for me, a fashion show is like spell check, preventing me from making gaffes that would be potentially embarrassing to "Brand Mary".

I hope to see you at The Royal Pageant of Fashion!

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