STYLE IN THE CITY/Susanne Seidman – Fashion courage


We have all stood facing our wardrobes hand on hip or finger to mouth, I know you closet nail bitters are out there, faced with the eternal rhetorical question, “what do I wear?” 

Having ended the call on my blackberry to the Nordstrom PR team, I was pumped up to attend the Nordstrom Designer Preview Fall 2008 runway show and Designer Boutique shopping event benefiting Knock out Abuse Against Women.

But did I have the fashion courage?

This would be my debut in the fashion press community. Thinking about the hostess committee and the blogs I had heard existed solely for the purpose of cranking up the anticipation in the DC social scene for this champagne and caviar evening, I felt suddenly very mainstream and slightly worn like the Barbie doll my son was holding. She was shiny and new once, my daughter’s first Barbie, with that signature blond mane and glittering clothes.

At the moment, her hair was huge, fluffy, and the strange texture only Barbie hair can evolve intoI wonder, could we solve a fuel crisis by recycling this strange coif phenomenon into a reusable energy resource? Her dress couldn’t quite fasten, the Velcro well worn from many quick changes.

As Teddy chanted, “Mommy, Mommy BARBIE!!!,” with a huge chesire cat grin on this pudgy sweet face,  I gathered my fashion courage and reached for one of the boldest new choices in my double closet. Barbie reminded me of two tricks I could pull offdazzle them with straight blond hair and work that Barbie asset, cleavage.

As I hung the Kara Janx Combo Dress in black and gold upon the antiquesque Anthropologie hook, my staging area, I considered the risk. If only designer garments or money grew on trees. With less than 24 hours to go, I could not will myself into a dreamy number from of the just out of reach headliners of the show.  Despite a little research, I felt in a fashion no man’s land.

Previous year’s event photos on line did not yield a time of day, and I still had no idea what to wear. A luncheon is a slam dunk, slip into darling day dress or well tailored suit. For a cocktail party pull out a little glitz, show a little leg, or choose an LBD (little black dress for short).  Black tie requires prep, tough to find a dress that fits on the fly without alterations, but there is always the option of trotting out a previously worn fave with a new pair of shoes, bag or statement jewelry. A friendly piece of advice from wise me who sits on my shoulder next to foolish and harried me: always try on a few days in advance to avoid a fit crisis.

Memory can be more forgiving than an actual garment. How quickly we forget the flaws in an outfit painfully learned on the first wear, while tugging or constantly adjusting, and substitute the blissful feeling we enjoyed when first pulling it off the rack. I speak from experience. The first time I wore this Project Runway designer’s signature look I was surprised how low cut it was. I got ready in a flash at a friend’s home with out a mirror. Probably better.

We were out to reclaim our glory days with two couples that evening. With nursery school just out, we thought we would do something fun like sing karaoke or hit a bar. Let’s just say the staff at Famous Dave’s pressed our hands with free BBQ sauce and the waiter showed us his tattoo inside his mouth reading “GET SOME.” The beer flowed at the Village Warf, where we turned more that a few heads as the band played hits just slightly slower than real time. That dress was really low cut!

When I arrived at the National Building Museum I was greeted by friendly Nordstrom exec John E. Bailey, who advised me to stake my claim early in the media row. I bravely introduced myself to veterans from the Washington Post, Washingtonian, and The Georgetowner as the new style kid on the block. We laughed collegially about flat shoes stashed in our bags, just how much gear we needed to leave out on seats from a business card to our bags, and set out to mingle with fashionistas, while checking out the collections. They all had tiny notebooks. I set forth with my oversized steno. What can I say, I talk a lot and I write even bigger. I was convinced I couldn’t put my finger on just who that handsome star must beit dawned on me I recognized that tanned and well dressed man as Old Towner and Nordstrom Tyson’s Corner Salon Shoe Allstar Joe Scozzafella. 

When we reconvened at our seats in the front row, talk about bravery, I remarked how women here in Alexandria and metro DC make their wardrobe choices not just from their vantage point or wallet, but with their hearts. We fall in love with a look and make it our own. The evening’s attire of stylish guests ran the gamut. 

Alexandria women went for sexy from a va va voom Dolce & Gabbana cocktail dress on one Belle Haven’s fashion mavens, Stephanie Stack, and a plunging David Meister dress on another sassy Alexandria shopper, Laura Niswander. 

I must admit my heart was captured by a beautiful and bold cancer survivor from the Eastern Shore, who over a inaugural ready stunning, draped, pleated, and beaded Carmen Marc Valvo Couture dress, opened up to me about her breast cancer survival, reconstruction surgery, and her own emerald and white mod patterned dress from Walmart. She looked young and healthy and her attitude was her best accessory, earning a purple heart of fashion in my book.

Highlights of the collections included super wearable pants and jackets by Jill Sander, comfy cashmere with pockets by Michael Kors, and fun and fabulous dresses in black rosette and gold square-paillette sequins by Bluemarine.

I couldn’t get enough of a French quasi rap tune about Camembert cheese during Roberto Cavalli. But the real fashion surprise for me was how honest the committee chair, Cindy Jones, was about the fashion and cultural courage it took these couture ladies to broach the topic of domestic abuse on the social scene. It is easy to sponsor a luncheon for childhood cancer research or pass the hat to save a historic building falling ruin, but asking women to talk freely about domestic violence and how it harms women and children of all socioeconomic groups can prove more challenging.

This trail was also blazed by fellow sustainers of the Junior League of Washington. So ladies, I raise my glass of pomegranate champagne to Knock Out Abuse Against Women.

Hears to antioxidants, anti violence, and everyday fashion courage!

Susanne Seidman is still dreaming about a certain pair of kelley green Gucci sandals at Nordstrom and can be reached at